By Jessica Zucker
“Mama, put down your beer so we can play tag!” says my son, alerting me to the fact that the drink in my hand is not only being noticed by my 6-year-old but might also be informing his idea of leisure.
It wasn’t until I became a mother that beer became a dear friend of my fridge.
I don’t drink to get drunk, I rarely if ever have more than one or two beers, and it’s not like my IPA intake impacts my overall functioning. But what it does do, in those final hours before my children go to bed, is punctuate my adulthood in a world of diaper changing, Pokemon cards, and pasta sauce stained ceilings. It provides me with my own personal pause button, calming the mood.
When I talk about beer, I’m not referring to just any beer. I mean the rich, warm-noted kinds that hug the belly and enliven the throat on their way down. These ones make a robust statement; they create an experience. The comfort found mid-way through is reliable, a guarantee. I feel similarly about my morning cup of coffee, although the effect is different. But both drinks enhance the way I parent and you can’t make a claim this bold about many other things on days when kids are teeming underfoot, and pawing at your body.
A glass of beer creates an inch of space from my actual life.
It cools anxiety.
It marks celebrations, disappointments, and joy.
It provides refuge in a chaotic kitchen.
It is a comma.
But, I have to ask myself what my son is seeing and what my daughter will eventually drink in of my actions, if I continue to crack open liquid getaways in front of them on a nightly basis.
For months now I’ve assumed that my sips don’t have meaning to them, even though they hold great relief and pleasure for me. But, last night when my 17-month-old daughter uttered “hold it,” referring to my Racer 5, something clicked. “Oh sweetie, this is mommy’s drink,” I said shamelessly as I held the bottle to my lips. “Would you like your water?” She studied me.
In the dimly lit part of our mornings together my daughter presses me for my coffee. “Hold it,” she says with great hopefulness. I beam with excitement that my girl has begun putting two words together, and once again respond, “This is Mommy’s drink. Would you like some water, honey?”
I have two drinks that are mine and mine alone, off limits for these little people who mirror back my every move.
Do these drinks that I hold in my hand at the start of the day and the end of some of my days—the first a stimulant, the last a soother—assuage feelings I’m loathe to embrace? Am I playing hide and seek with my emotions?
I’d like to argue that I’m just as present when I have a beer in me than when I don’t, but that’s probably not altogether true.
As I happily play with my kids I’m simultaneously enjoying what I have come to think of as an adult-only party, at 5 o’clock. There’s something about this private experience that feels juicy and somewhat stealth.
“I’ve earned this!”
Like so many other aspects of parenthood, though, I am required to consider what this small but profound decision means to my children, if anything. It’s not just about me anymore. I vacillate between feeling like this benign ritual is simply that, and wondering if they will begin to question my reasons for it, whether I’m overwhelmed, overworked, or overextended.
I wouldn’t want my children to internalize my desire for an end-of-the-day drink as being a result of their exuberance: their excited questions, their whimsical ways, or their attempts to learn something new in moments of burning frustration. It’s not. They are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. Being little people, growing at a pace none of us can actually keep up with. And, here’s the thing: I love every inch of this madness, even when I don’t, even when a beer feels like the wisest way to pave a little more grace into our nighttime routine.
After my daughter’s insistent “hold it,” it dawned on me that perhaps this 17-month-old utterance could eventually morph into, “Why do you drink beer when we are together, Mama?” And it is this imagined future question that gives me pause.
My kids may never explicitly wonder why I often had a beer in hand during many of the evenings when they were little. And yet, that beer I down in front of them at the end of a long day still might have to go. Not because I no longer receive massive enjoyment from it, but because I’m anxious that I’m making some sort of imprint I won’t be able to erase. I want them to see that playtime doesn’t necessarily include the older people in the room psychologically escaping to another place. And I want that to be true for me: I don’t want to be constantly trying to take the edge off when I am with them.
My morning coffee feels like a parental requirement. A mainstay. But my evening drink, my beer, is a liquid I’m willing to consider letting go of, at least for a time.
Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and writer. She launched the #IHadaMiscarriage hash tag campaign with her New York Times piece in 2014. Find her online: www.drjessicazucker.com and on Twitter: @DrZucker.