Suspended for using alcohol may be the cheapest lesson they’ll ever learn

There are some people who think Hillary Clinton is solely responsible for the phrase, “It takes a village”. They blame her for the whole touchy-feely, new age-ist concept that children are not raised in a nuclear family but in some hippie commune sixties environment. I’m sorry to inform them that this concept cannot be laid at Hillary’s feet. It should be laid at my mother’s feet.

Growing up I thought of this as being raised by committee. My mother did little with her children that didn’t start off with a phone call to her sisters and sisters-in-law.  Great discussions were had about “those rotten kids” and the responsibility of the collective we called our family to see that they grew up to be productive adults. We never complained about this group effort because we knew that if being disrespectful to a parent brought you one step closer to a painful death, being disrespectful to an aunt or uncle brought you right to death’s doorstep.

And yes, until I was about 16, I thought my first name was some variation of “you rotten kids”.  Since it was said as often with laughter and affection as exasperation, I wasn’t insulted. After all, I have a cousin in my family nicknamed Pumpkin. Who am I to complain?

So the concept of child rearing as a communal practice is one with a long history for me, and one with which I was immediately comfortable when I first arrived in Barrow. If you wanted to know what communal parenting meant in a small town, you only had to watch the Mother’s Club make their rounds at curfew to see that all children were home where they belonged. If a wayward child saw them coming and it was past curfew, they ran like they were being chased by the devil himself. In fact, if that mother caught up with them, the devil was going to look easy.

Then big money hit town with the boom and communal parenting stopped being so wonderful because way too many members of the community seemed to forget how to parent. Kids lost respect for adults who couldn’t control their drinking and drug use and parents were often too wasted to be bothered wondering where the kids were. The Mother’s Club quickly became inoperable.

When I saw the article in the paper the other day about the suspension of most of the starters on the Barrow Whaler girls’ basketball team, two things immediately struck me. One was dismay that in order to drink those girls had been foolish enough to risk what should have been their triumphal senior year as basketball players in a town that, like so many in Bush Alaska, all but worships basketball players. The other was joy that the community seemed to have found its way again and was doing the right thing in supporting the school district’s decision. Because, quite frankly, not all that long ago, the coach might have been hounded out of town for trying to do something like this and would have had little support from the community.

But Barrow is awake now to the damage done by alcohol and drugs in a way it hasn’t been in a long time. It’s awake to the fact that a sober future is more important that a basketball championship. Barrow seems aware of the need to make Inupiat values more central to everyday life than basketball scores. While I’m sure there are still some people who will grumble and growl about the decision, the fact that the school district made it and is getting support for it is a major step forward.

Hopefully these girls have learned that no matter who you are and what your skills, alcohol can and will destroy your dreams and your life, just as it destroyed their senior dreams of playing on a championship team. To be quite honest, if this is the worse thing that alcohol ever does to their lives, they will have learned a critical lesson at a very cheap price.

I think the women I remember from the Mother’s Club would applaud the idea of the community holding these children to a standard they will need to be successful in the rest of their lives.