Yesterday morning, I came across the story of Takeimi Rao, the 14 year old girl who was found dead after a night of drinking at a slumber party in her own home, before I even got out of bed. As I read the story, all I could think of was the horror her mother must be going through, losing her daughter in the blink of an eye over something that could have easily have happened to any young teenager. I thought of her friends, who couldn’t possibly have known the outcome when they experimented with alcohol the night before. And I thought of my own daughter, now 13 years old, and the fear gripped me over the fact that I could easily lose her the same way.
Any of us could lose our teenager this way.
It was fortunate that my daughter needed to be driven to a friend’s house yesterday morning, so she was up early and sat next to me in the car as we drove. I shared with her the story of Takeimi. It was shocking to her knowing that someone so young was suddenly gone, a real in-your-face brush with mortality. At this point, we had no idea what the girls had experimented with. It sounded like alcohol, but there was speculation that it may have been something worse. At any rate, I took the opportunity to talk with my daughter about the dangers of experimenting with unknown substances, and with mass amounts of alcohol.
I have talked to DQ and her brother many times before about drugs and alcohol. They have witnessed the effects firsthand as their father struggles with addiction. They know the choice of abstaining from alcohol by several family members who have given it up completely upon realization they lacked self-control. And they know that alcohol isn’t evil when it is enjoyed properly and in moderation. I have chosen to not make alcohol a mystery to them by always being open with them when I do enjoy a drink, and even allowing them to taste a sip when they ask.
And I thought about my own youth, when I was around the same age as these girls, mere days away from leaving the 9th grade.
One of my friends brought a water bottle to school, and passed it around to a bunch of us. We weren’t in the dark about what was in that bottle – pure vodka. It looked like water, making it easy to drink without any teacher knowing what was going on. And we all took sips, nervously giggling as we passed it around. The liquid burned going down. It tasted gross but it gave a warm feeling as it traveled to the pit of our stomachs. At that age, it was unclear how much it would take to get us drunk. And I seriously doubt any of us even drank enough to get to that point. At least I didn’t. But it felt good to be a part of something secret and so grown-up. That is, until one of the teachers discovered what was going on and gathered up every girl thought to be in on it. I was missed in that gathering, and escaped punishment. The other girls took the heat and were suspended the first week of our sophomore year.
The whole event was without incident. No one died, or even got sick. But easily, it could have been different. A young teenager who is unfamiliar with alcohol can easily think that all alcohols are the same. If you can drink a bottle of beer, why can’t you drink the same amount of vodka in one sitting?
All day yesterday, I sat at my desk as the whole newsroom gathered information about Takeimi and the events surrounding her untimely death. As the day wore on, it became apparent that she died from either alcohol poisoning or from choking on her own vomit. The mood around here was somber as several reporters pitched in to gather enough information about what happened. I read several comments from readers and from those who were a part of the story that revealed negative feelings about reporters being intrusive, and wondering why they couldn’t just leave those involved alone. But the truth is, this story became way more than a job. Many of us here are parents, and the news of a young girl dying so tragically hit all of us to the core. I know I was consumed by it all day, and my thoughts centered on all three of my kids – DQ, Taz, and Mr. W’s teenage son. Telling Takeimi’s story was way more than a news article to the reporters who covered her story. It was sending a message of awareness to both parents and teens. And it’s probable that many families, including ours, sat down for a discussion about experimentation with drugs or alcohol with their teens and preteens after reading about Takeimi.
If any time a news story is vital, this is it.
I picked up my daughter after work from her friend’s house. When I got there, I was still reeling from a day of hearing morbid details about Takeimi’s demise. And without apology, I talked with DQ and her two friends as the grandmother stood by.
“Don’t drink,” I told them firmly after I explained exactly how Takeimi had died. “But if you do, it only takes this much,” and I pinched my fingers a half inch apart, “to get you drunk.” DQ’s friends looked at each other amused.
“I can’t believe she just told us how to get drunk!” one of the kids laughed.
“No, I’m telling you not to drink,” I corrected him. “And you shouldn’t. But I’m also telling you this because drinking too much can actually kill you.”
Who knows if any of this sunk in? Truth is, it takes more than one conversation to get a message across to a teenager. But even when they don’t want to talk about it, we should. Takeimi was not a bad girl with an alcohol problem. She was a young teenager who wanted to have fun with her friends. And now she is gone.
Education is terribly important.
I got into a bad situation when I was 14, back in 1969- I got ahold of a half pint of Southern Comfort- an easy to guzzle heavily sweetened whiskey- and woke up in the hospital with an IV drip to a bottle of saline solution in my arm.
It was only about 8 oz. of 100 proof booze, but I was only about 90 lbs., and I drank it fast. Like a great many people to this day, I had no idea that drinking alcohol could lead to a lethal overdose.
Judging from the recurring stories of tragedy I’ve read over the years, I get the idea that fact often still isn’t taught in “drug awareness” classes.
It also seems that many drug education programs in this country aren’t putting much emphasis on the fact that alcohol increases the potency of a wide array of prescription pills, from Xanax to Clonopin to Vicodin and Oxycontin. One single beer can escalate the danger of sudden unconsciousness or lethal overdose substantially.
I have no comment on what those drug awareness classes spend their time teaching instead.
So tragic. But such an important story to get out there. I admire how you handled the situation with your daughter. Love the blog – excited to read more!
Thank you for your post!
“I too taught my daughter to drink” .So to speak
I showed her the shot glass size with my fingers and the amount of time it takes to take effect.
This tragedy has us very upset. We did not know Takeimi but she was good friends with my 12 year old daughters cousin. She is going into 8th grade and i remember that time being so experimental.I stessed to her how it can take just once and that we not only have a resonsiblity to ourselves but to others around us.To not keep quiet when we see a bad situation.
I believe she really listened.May God bless our children!
Whew! What a save at the end of your article, Crissi! Glad you didn’t leave out those last three paragraphs! I was worried there for a minute when I read the title. You are right about the need to be direct and clear to them about your hopes and desires for their lives. I had a similar talk Monday night with a couple of my teens after reading about the shocking and tragic news of Takeimi. I offer my sincere condolences to Takeimi’s family and friends, and I pray earnestly that their grief is soon comforted and healed.
As well as having this week’s talk, a couple of my teens and I have recently gone through the Start Smart program presentation sponsored by the CHP, which I highly recommend to all parents. Next, three of my teens and I will be going through the IMPACT teen drivers program to make them even more familiar with the risks of distracted and reckless driving. After the Start Smart presentation my teens spontaneously expressed a strong disinterest in drinking or experimenting with drugs. It was reassuring to feel that the evening’s investment was worthwhile. But, I have to worn you: the Start Smart program was not entirely a fun event. I’ll leave it at that.
I remember when I drank a bit more than I should have for a short time in high school. At the end of my sophomore year I had an experience that changed my life–a close call that involved alcohol I never wanted to repeat–EVER! Later, when I became a new father, I remembered with great motivation the experience. My decision was to completely eliminate alcohol from my home. The risks were simply too great, because I knew that I had received an awesome and precious gift in being a father. I didn’t want to squander that gift by allowing a simple yet tragic mistake.
Life went on for many years and when a broken marriage devastated my family, I self-medicated with alcohol for the following year or two. My consumption has now dwindled to less than a six pack of beer or bottle of wine in a month or less. Upon reading the news of Takeimi’s tragedy this week I have once again decided that it’s just to great a risk to expose my children to alcohol until they are more mature; my home will once again be alcohol free. This is my own personal choice, but one I have come to after seriously considering the value of my children’s lives with my pleasure of an occasional drink. I am not a betting man, and I don’t give the odds an opportunity at all, not with the stakes being something as precious as my children. You will no doubt make a different decision–one that fits your own sense of urgency and conviction.
Just remember: you MAY have learned how to carefully handle the deadly potential of alcohol, your children haven’t!
Half an inch? That won’t get anyone drunk. It’s a good article but when your daughter and her friends realize that a sip of vodka has hardly any effect they will drink more. You should just tell them that alcohol is meant to be enjoyed in moderation and that a sip will not get them drunk and it doesn’t have to. If you told them how much it would actually take and not to go beyond that you may be actually teaching them something.