Peanut butter and jelly. Soap and water. Meat and potatoes. Old folks and tapioca. Moms and wine.
To disassemble any of these dynamic duos feels unnatural to the tongue and unsettling to the gut. Go ahead and picture an old person fresh out of tapioca and try not to cringe. And peanut butter without jelly? If I didn’t have mad cotton-mouth from the dry-roasted formula, I’d spit at the abomination.
But imagining a mom without wine doesn’t conjure the same kind of passionate distaste as the others. The image evokes pity at the thought of her alone in her house with only her children and hyper-aware-because-they’re-stone-cold-sober nerves to keep her company as her friends socialize over mimosas at the local diner with the newly renovated playscape. Without her.
How the [bleep] is she going to get through her day? How will she ever be able to collapse the air of resentment that she carries on her shoulder if she can’t at least have a beer or two or six? Or in my case, how can she numb the agonizing solitude of joint custody when she has to go all week without seeing her young child?
It’s a tired and true joke on Facebook statuses and Instagram memes that moms love to get wasted. It initially sounds very understandable; after all, if any job deserves a happy hour, it has to be what we all know as “the hardest job in the world,” being a parent. I will challenge anyone try to diffuse the demonic tantrums of a toddler without having a sudden craving for a shot of tequila.
There’s nothing like knowing anything you say can and will be held against you in your child’s development to bring on the pressure. And from my observations, parents in general are anxious creatures. The only thing that compares to the backbreaking labor it takes to deal with a difficult child is the backbreaking labor it takes to maintain a well-behaved one.
When all you want to do is collapse in bed with your child to get sleep, that huge pile of laundry and stack of dirty dishes will bow up to you chest-to-chest like the neighborhood bully who stole your bike and growl, “What sleep?” Our jobs are never done, so when our children finally fall asleep, the first thing many moms do after shouting out hallelujah is reach for the bar cart.
Now with a welcomed glass of red in hand, you happily submit to the chore bully, reach for one of your favorite pair of linen pants on top of the laundry pile, notice and then stare at the streaks of melted red crayon vandalizing the crotch area, turn to the kitchen, and reach for your handy bottle of Cabernet with only your thirst for anxiety-relief keeping you from shattering the bottle against the wall.
Congratulations. You’re now a walking eCard that’s on its way to being shared 756,872 times.
But sometimes, the joke stops being funny. Glasses become bottles, bottles become hangovers, and hangovers are another layer of hell when you’re completely responsible for the care of a little human.
I began drinking after my divorce, but only every other day when my infant child was with his father. This past summer, I began attending group therapy for OCD, a fight I’ve fought daily since I was in 4th grade. The group therapy slowly began to work. But by refraining from indulging my compulsive routines for perfectionism, the drinking became more frequent. And now that my son is 6 years old, he spends longer chunks of time away from me. The combination of these events was like a giant Jenga puzzle that had been stacked too high and off kilter.
I was in denial for quite a while. I came up with dozens of other excuses as to why I needed to not feel the pain of being a failed bride and half-time mom. When I was sober, I felt as though my brain was becoming chemically imbalanced with the unexpected absence of my baby. My entire body and emotional state would tense painfully tight, signaling pure grief.
I told myself that I couldn’t possibly have a drinking problem if I didn’t even like alcohol (which would only make me drink quickly, to get it over with). And if I were truly an alcoholic, wouldn’t I be drinking every day, not just the days I wasn’t occupied with my child? I actually had little desire to drink when he was with me, often weeks at a time. So would I still be considered an alcoholic? I’m not sure if that is accurate or if it’s an overstatement, but I do know I had to accept that alcohol can no longer be a part of my life.
But no matter the reasons why we drink, most of moms will share one nightmarish question: How could the little social life we have be maintained without cocktails? Are we all supposed to just gather around and sit on our hands, failing miserably at ignoring our impatience for not just our kids but now each other?
Living in Austin, a city rampant with the hardest-working party animals known to man, has been a major social challenge in staying sober. It’s not just the university life or the young tech professionals who reign over the north’s happy-hour scene that contributes to the culture. I’ve personally never been to an organized playgroup gathering where the host didn’t make absolute sure that adult beverages would be close by.
Playdate in the morning? Mimosa time! Playdate during the day? Mama needs a beer if she’s going to be out in this Texas heat. Playdate after 5? Someone Google where we can find $2 margaritas. And if it’s free, it’s for me.
Before the drinks even arrive to the table, I can already feel the tension in the group start to reduce. The women smile a little wider, speak a tad higher, and sit up a little straighter, not attempting to conceal their excitement for their little vacation-in-a-glass. To be frank, they instantly become more pleasant.
I want to be more pleasant, too. I want to have whatever is making them look happier. I don’t want to feel like the uptight female lead in a Judd Apatow film anymore, either.
Add the infamous “single” label to your title as mom, and you’re now exposed to a whole other species out there known as the modern single men of Austin, or as the locals call them, the Lost Boys, forever young and never dull. I call them the Keepers of Fireball for short. One thing that is harder to be sober around than a mom group is being sober on a first date with the Peter Pan across the table who can’t stop talking about how at 37, he’s just not quite ready for anything serious.
The temptation is everywhere. I tried not to leave my place unless I absolutely had to, but I couldn’t even escape it on my social media as I scrolled through pictures of elaborate Bloody Mary’s and stories about gifting your kid’s teacher a bottle of wine as a new school year gift.
Slowly my phone grew quieter, friends less visible, and my loneliness at a painful high. Isolation wasn’t the answer, either.
And to be honest, I still don’t know the answer. But I do know what my first step is–woman up, face adversity head on, and insist that I bite down hard and feel every pain and every sorrow I’ve never given myself permission to feel. With all the time and energy I’ve spent on my child to make sure he’s aware of his feelings, what he needs is a mother who leads by example, not a mother whose happiness solely depends on anyone or anything else, not even his presence.