A Dry Spell and Then a Premier Cru

It is true that I drink wine nearly every day. But recently, I went three days without. . . .very purposefully. It was less a personal decision than a public parenting demonstration. Alcohol is not a necessity. I only hope it worked.

I was in Madison, Wisconsin, with my middle child, Max — 18 years old this week — who has been accepted to the university for fall. This was my birthday gift to him: a weekend in a hotel in the town where he will soon be living, a tour of the local restaurants, a shopping spree for Badger gear.

We shared a hotel room to minimize costs. And he was courtly and careful, changing in the bathroom and muting the volume on the televised basketball game he was watching when I wanted to go to sleep. I, in turn, tried to tone down my female-isms and Mom impulses. I dealt with being sweaty after the two-hour campus tour and wore no makeup and ate tabbouleh for breakfast when that’s what he craved.

And I decided not to buy wine at night.

When I travel with my husband, it’s a sacred ritual: that bottle from a local wine shop that we open with our travel corkscrew and drink out of Lucite "glasses" in our room. But traveling alone with my underage son — in a town that I’m growing to love, but where I saw people drinking beer, A LOT OF PEOPLE DRINKING BEER, for breakfast — it just didn’t seem right.

One of my greatest concerns about Max’s leaving for a Big 10 school is the alcohol element. I know, as a college professor, that drinking begins on Thursday night and continues, pretty much unabated, through every weekend. Home games are an excuse for alumni to come into town and "tailgate," which means sitting in a parking lot and cracking open a Budweiser at 8 a.m.

So it just didn’t feel right to me to comb the streets of Madison for a liquor store and buy cheap wine and schlep it back to the hotel room. Mom with the monkey on her back. Instead, I got us a six-pack of mineral water to keep in our mini-fridge and share.

It was a wonderful weekend. Max got comfortable in the place that will be his home for the next four years. He caught a wave of school spirit (the Badger scrubs clinched the deal, I think). And he seemed even to be excited about school itself: the massive biology building, the lakeside Union, the main library where he logged in with his student ID and discovered he already has an account.

It was only after we arrived home that the reality hit me. This kid is leaving.

Technically, Max is my younger son. But because his older brother has autism and his father left when he was nine, Max has aways straddled a strange role. He’s been protector and consultant and cook. At 10, he made a Thanksgiving turkey. At 17, he stood by his catatonic brother’s hospital bed at Mayo and debated the risks and benefits of electroshock. He has been my mainstay, my rock, my comic relief. And now, I have to let him leave.

It’s a little like tearing off a foot-long strip of my own skin. Which is why I insisted he go to an out-of-state school– because I wanted too badly for him to stay close to home.

Sunday night, around the time I was realizing all this, my husband opened a bottle of Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils Beaune de Chateau Premier Cru 2005 that we’d been saving for a time of need. Pure pinot noir from Burgundy, this wine is silky and deceptive. It feels light in the mouth, nearly sweet and purely fruity at first. But then there is a streak of oaky dryness that runs straight down the tongue and lasts for a long, long time. This makes it incredibly easy to drink but satisfying. Perfect alone. Even better with food.

Me? I wasn’t in the mood to eat. Only to drink my wine and mull the four months I have left with this large, serious, clever boy. The dry spell was over. But it was worth every abstinent minute. And more.