Other Moms Tell Me to Drink

This part is important

 You are not alone

But these days, those jokes do make me feel alone.

Because somewhere along the way, it seems like “Mother” became synonymous with “Wino”. It feels like you can’t open Facebook without seeing a drunk mom meme, can’t visit a gift shop without a rustic farmhouse ‘Moms Need Wine’ sign offered at 50% off. We have booze dispensers disguised as diaper bags and babies wearing ‘I’m the Reason Mommy Drinks’ onesies. Even on the most soul-fortifying mom shows like This is Us, we’ve got all the characters cozily nuzzling glasses of red wine despite the fact the hero patriarch was a recovering alcoholic, the son is an addict, and the daughter has food-addiction issues. Strangers at checkout lines joke about an amusing alcohol dependance simply because a child is holding your hand.

Anyway, I know it wasn’t their intention nor their problem. It’s my problem because I realized it was a problem apparently I’m a highly suggestible person. Because when all the kids came over that evening, I did remember the words from the dollar store and I did feel a pang of nostalgia:

Remember how you used to do this glass-in-hand? Remember the taste? The instant zen? The way that first sip felt like a blanket, like a sigh, like kicking tired feet out of tight shoes? It really took the edge off the squeals, turned the volume down. Made you more fun, sexy; super laid back as far as the kids were concerned… until maybe drink three or four got you tired and irritated. Or until you snapped at your daughter in front of her friends while making resentment-laden pancakes because you woke up sore and parched with a headache and because the dog is going crazy because no one’s walked her and you blame everything on the fact that the kids kept you up late as you tuck empty bottles into a recycling bag and sneak-grab the red-rimmed wine glass from your bedside table.

No. That was enough to keep me on sparkling water.

So I leaned into the craziness and learned about a favourite aunt and what it’s like to live with step-siblings. I learned every girl hated feeling too shy to sing. I learned how secret crushes were okay as long as no one took them too seriously (how’s that for keeping 2018’s resolution?) I learned that Caily is really funny; that her humor is sarcastic, self-depreciating, and biting in a pretty awesome way I hadn’t seen before. I learned how sensitive she is to the needs of her guests, saw how she made sure each girl was equally included. I met my kid in a new way and I really liked her. I really liked her funny, sweet, intelligent friends, too.*

*Seriously, if you need more hope in your heart, listen to a girl. The whole world would be so lucky.

And the next morning, I walked the dogs before the kids woke up. I marvelled at the night’s hoarfrost and I said a quick hello to one of my favourite neighbours. I laughed with the awkward-dancing, terrarium-building, now-singing children as we made pancakes with nothing but joy and flour and chocolate chips. I took a short nap later that day. I watched Anne of Green Gables with my daughters. And I gave so much thanks for them both, for the last nine years, and – especially – for the last fourteen months.

And I decided not to post this:

Don’t do it, Katie. This really is only your problem. It’s nothing – just an innocent joke between strangers. Don’t call out the normalization of drunk-mom culture. Even people who love and support you will groan.  Everyone has a right to enjoy lame jokes as they like. It’s at no one’s expense. No one else cares about this. People will tell you not to take things so seriously. They’ll say you’re a kill joy. They’ll kick you out of the cool mom club. They’ll tell you to lighten up. They’ll say you’re judgemental. They’ll laugh to one another that this rant is exactly why you should drink. Nevermind Glennon Doyle says the world needs women with less chill. You do need more chill! Have all the chill! Chiiiiiiilllllll!

But then: Caily, recovering post-slumber-party on the couch:

“Remember that lady at the dollar store, Mom? Do you think she wanted you to buy two bottles of wine so that we could have one? Because I don’t think kids should drink wine.”

(We were watching the part when Anne Shirley accidently gets Dianna smashed.)

“No!” I laughed. “She was just…”

How to explain this? 

“She was just making a joke.”

“About getting drunk?”

“About how crazy kid’s parties can be.”

About how they assumed, Dear Daughter, that I would have to be heavily intoxicated in order to tolerate you and your friends.

Caily’s face fell. “Like, she thought we would be really bad? Like, you would want to get drunk?”

“Oh, I don’t think she thought that.”

Caily went quiet. She knew there was something of a lie in what I just said.

Did those ladies think mom would hate the party? Did my mom fake having fun?!?

“Mom, do you think we were bad?” – a catch in her very small voice.

“No!” I said. “No, Caily, I had the best time. I would never need to get drunk to hang out with you. I like hanging out with you. You and your friends are awesome. I had fun.”

She smiled. “Me too.”

Then I realized, the joke was at someone’s expense,

Hers: the birthday girl’s, the one twirling in the aisles, so excited to hang out with her mom.

Friendly strangers had trashed my beautiful, beaming, pink-dress wearing daughter and hadn’t even realized it. I hadn’t even realized it. I had laughed along with the joke, being polite. Out of three women and one girl, only the child heard the insult.

The rest of us thought it was normal.

I tried to imagine what it might feel like if someone laughed to my husband or best friend that they better get wasted in order to spend time with me. If they chuckled, as if I wasn’t there. I thought about what it would feel like if grown-up Cailena made that same joke about me, standing there in my favourite dress, just an excited old mama thrilled to share an hour in a discount Dollarama.

Damn it, I thought.

Where are all the real Moms-Who-Have-Been-There?

‘Cause we could really use that advice now.


This article originally appeared at KatieBickell.com.

Katie Bickell
Katie Bickell
Katie Bickell is an award winning short story author. She's currently writing her first novel, and blogs at katiebickell.com about writing, motherhood, recovery, and more.

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