Late last Friday night, I approached the front door of my apartment after an evening out. As my key hovered just short of the lock, I stopped, checking myself. Do I seem drunk? Will I sound drunk if I have to say anything during the long walk from the front door to my bedroom? Half-trusting my answers, I quietly unlocked the door and stepped inside.
I felt like a guilty teenager.
Except I haven’t actually been a teenager since before they invented Zima. I’m no longer fearing parental wrath when I get home from a night out drinking with my friends. Instead, it’s my own teenager who’s waiting on the sofa when I roll in, and his little brother seated beside him. Although they’re both busy watching YouTube videos or messaging their friends, none of us is quite sure what to do when a night’s worth of salted-caramel martinis is written across my face. Being a mother who goes out regularly, I haven’t figured it out yet, and I don’t know if I ever will.
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Mothers, we’re constantly told, have the sacred duty to create a steady, dependable, predictable space where their children can safely, predictably grow. And drinking is the opposite of those things. It’s loose and open and unexpected and rife with random possibility. Interacting with my kids when I’ve got that possibility-filled buzz on — even mildly — feels really bizarre.
It’s a relatively new feeling. For my first 10 years of motherhood, I could be sure that my kids would be asleep by the time I got home. Whether I’d had one glass of wine or four, only grownups were around to notice. Now these boys are old enough to stay up late on weekends. And our family has left our quiet American suburb for a few years of intense city life in Bangkok, where everybody takes taxis or trains when they go out. Nobody is a designated driver here, so everybody’s having the next round. And with a cool new bar with exquisite cocktails opening practically every week, I’ve embraced this incredibly social city and found a fascinating group of friends from all over the world. It suits me. A long, late night talking to interesting people over good cocktails is pretty much my favorite thing.
But I’ve also raised my children during the post-9/11, safety-at-all-costs era when parenting, more than ever before, is all about controlling the variables. It’s about making sure everything’s carefully planned and locked down and everybody’s buckled into their five-point-harness carseat until they’re practically old enough to drive the car themselves.
By these laws, my best move would be to keep any hint of a buzz out of their sight until my kids are out on their own. Like a decade from now. When I’m really old.
My oldest will turn 14 in a few months. He’s in full absorption mode, noticing everything. What’s the impact on him as he sees me go out for drinks with his dad and our friends — not nightly, and not to the point of passing out, but pretty regularly? Will it have a good influence or a bad one on how soon and how much he eventually drinks? Will he be more honest with me about his own alcohol consumption because he knows it’s not foreign to me and not something I freak out over? Or could it mess him and his brother up in ways I haven’t even thought of yet?
I’ve got no template here. My own mother got married, had babies, and moved to the suburbs decades before “Mom’s Night Out” became a thing. She lived out her 40s and 50s in a town where many women struggled with the loneliness and isolation of stay-at-home motherhood, and sometimes found unproductive and even damaging solace in bottles of wine.
I know that coming home at 11 p.m. after two glasses of Shiraz isn’t the same as some mom in the kitchen sneaking glasses of cooking sherry when she thinks no one is looking. But I don’t want to screw this up. I love these kids. So I wonder some evenings whether I’m making the right choice by having more fun lately than I’ve had in years. I know our boys need to know that their parents are normal, flawed people who don’t do everything right and even have their failings and vices. I don’t believe they should see us as perfect, because that’ll only give them an impossible ideal to aim for.
I’m on the right track. Just asking myself these questions helps. It’s still difficult, though, when I stand outside our door wishing I could snap myself instantly back to being the level-headed, highly organized, rock-steady nurturer they’ve always known.
I am that. I am this, too. I think I can be both.