Thursday, August 31, 2006


“Mommy, you need to sign this sheet on our ‘Drug and Alcohol’ unit,” Grace says, shoving a piece of paper in front of me and nearly knocking my martini over.“Hey, hey, watch my cocktail there!” I say. Grace giggles and I’m grateful she isn’t one of those self-righteous kids who protests if you have a drink.

It’s common knowledge around the ‘hood that once they hit the “Drug and Alcohol” unit in fourth grade science you may have to go underground with your cocktail. I have one friend who started hiding her vodka tonic in a coffee mug. Can you believe she does that? It’s barbaric; the only thing one should drink from a coffee mug is coffee. A good cocktail deserves the proper glass. Are they teaching that in the drug and alcohol unit?

I look at the worksheet Grace has dutifully filled out for today’s assignment. It covers the dangers of using someone else’s prescription drugs. Well, I’ll drink to that. I peer at the paper,looking confused.“I don’t get it, Grace. This isn’t teaching you a thing about drugs and alcohol. Like how much Vermouth is in a dry martini? Where to go to score some smack? Now how are you supposed to learn that stuff?” I ask her.

“Mommy,” she sighs then peers over her cat glasses at me and shakes her head in exasperation. She’s an old soul and deserves a better mother than the one she got.I sigh too. I long for the days before someone told us to just say no. I prefer to just say, “Sure why not,” and “You can just freshen this up”. The sad truth is that I was born several decades too late. I want to go back to the days when mommies were encouraged to have cocktails while playing bridge and daddies had three martini lunches. When doctors handed out Valium like mints to harried housewives. Nowadays you have to see a specialist just to get Prozac. Hell, my doctor wouldn’t give me antibiotics without a full physical.

Instead of all that, I'm left with a paltry five o'clock cocktail. It does the trick, I suppose, but even that some people frown upon. They should know, I didn’t always have a cocktail at five o’clock, but then again I didn’t always have kids.

As any mom knows the five o’clock hour is known as “the witching hour”. Like the perfect storm there are many forces at work that converge at once to form the witching hour. They are as follows:

1. Playdates, formal or informal come to an end as most mommies start to gather their brood for the evening.

2. The kids start to melt down: regardless of age, from infancy to teen-hood this is the time of day the child realizes he has not had enough of something. Not enough sleep, food, social interaction, time to get homework done…whatever; he hasn’t had enough and it’s time the universe paid for this injustice. He decides to take his frustrations out on the universe by (depending on the age of the child) wailing inconsolably, whining until his mother’s ears bleed, or sulking conspicuously (which isn’t noisy but does have the effect of sucking out all positive life-force in the room).

3. Market forces begin to take effect: the value of the TV sharply declines as PBS Kids winds down causing the value of the Play Station II to incline sharply. The result is that all the children in the household will begin to fight over the PS2.

4. The mommy realizes that, yes, once again, she has neglected to figure out what dinner might be. This is because after months or years of trying to feed her children properly she has lost a wee bit of her enthusiasm for this task. In fact, despite the fact that she is resourceful enough to come up with a Halloween costume that doubles as a winter snowsuit she can no longer think of a single meal that simultaneously meets her criteria and the children’s criteria for a proper dinner. Her criteria are that the foods must be healthy, contain no refined sugar or flour, no trans-fatty acids, be pesticide-free, and ideally be served with three vegetables. The kids’ criteria are simpler: no vegetables and all food must be white. Now if you draw a ven diagram of these two subsets you will see there is no overlap whatsoever. Oh, and I forgot, it should be something her husband likes to eat too, on the off-chance that he may get home in time for dinner. Which leads me nicely into item number 5.

5. The daddy calls from work to say that he will be late. By late he means later than his usual 7:00 p.m. time. He means well after the wild and chaotic time of day that the family euphemistically calls “bedtime”. He also does not mean he will be toiling at his desk through dinner, snacking on a banana and a glass of skim milk. He means he is headed somewhere for cocktails, adult conversation, and a meal prepared, served, and cleared away by someone else. This makes the mommy a bit resentful.

These five things almost always happen at just around 5:00. Together the fine balance of order that has been established since the children returned from school collapses like the house of cards it always was. Children begin screaming, mommies begin slamming cupboards and pots and pans, pets howl, and potted plants wither as an evil wind blows through the household. It was at just such a moment as this on a Tuesday in February (is there anything drearier than February?) that I had an epiphany. I was dumping the Kraft Mac-n-cheese into the pot (the creamy kind not that powdery stuff, what kind of mom do you think I am?) when I thought to myself, “If only it were Friday, I’d have a beer.” Then I thought, “Wait a minute! I’m not pregnant. I’m not nursing. I’m over 21. I could have a beer on a TUESDAY!” and I popped open a Sam Adams and began a new tradition.

Now when the witching hour starts winding up I simply walk over to the fridge and say hello to my good friend Sam. He takes the edge off. I’m able to concentrate on whipping up a healthy meal (like homemade macaroni and cheese) and calmly and quietly referee the melee around me.

I have shared this revelation with many friends. Most are already aware of the medicinal effects of the nightly cocktail. Some are a little concerned that it is a slippery slope that could lead to substance abuse. It is my job to reassure them that there is nothing wrong with a single cocktail. Look at the French! They have wine with lunch and dinner and have you ever seen a more relaxed country? They can’t even muster the energy necessary to fight back when invaded that’s how relaxed they are. I’ve become sort of the Dali-lama of the drinking mom set. They come to me with their concerns.

Isn’t it wrong to drink alone? Hey, you’re not alone, your kids are home (remember they’re the ones who drove you to this to begin with).

But I look so forward to having my cocktail, isn’t that wrong? You look forward to a cup of coffee and a good dump too, does that mean you need to cut them out of your life? Christ, we live in a puritanical world when you go hunting for reasons to give up the things you love.

Besides, after having given up booze for the last decade when you were trying to get pregnant, you were pregnant, and then you were nursing, you’ve got some catching up to do. Remember that wedding you went to with your office mates when you were eight months pregnant and the only sober one at the wedding (besides the flower girl) was you? Didn’t you have to watch as your friends, co-workers, and husband did the conga line through the kitchen, leaving you to waddle to the bathroom, sober as a judge. What you’ve seen sober no one should have seen. You’ve earned that drink.

My husband has no problem with this habit of mine. In fact he encourages it. On the nights when he does come home early enough, he and I have a cocktail together in the living room, threatening the children with the following: “You may not disturb us unless there is blood, vomit, or broken bones involved,” (which is exactly what we tell them when we take our Saturday afternoon “naps” too).

Even with this threat, our youngest has managed to inveigle her way into our ritual. She found my collection of tiny martini glasses; the ones I stuffed in my purse after I sampled a half-dozen Apple-tinis that those cute little girls from Absolut were serving at a fundraiser. She likes to fill them with apple juice and join us in the living room. She never interrupts us so we let her stay.

Recently, we had friends over for drinks and Lilly went and fetched her mock-tini and sat down. Our friends, parents of a newborn, looked at her slightly amused and partly horrified.

"What is that?" asked the mother.

"It's from her 'Barbie Cocktail' collection," I said smoothly. They didn't know if they should laugh or call DCFS. I ignored their faces and called Grace into the room.

“Grace,” I said, “Look at your sister. Now she’s going to do well in the fourth grade when she gets to the ‘Drug and Alcohol Unit’.” Grace shakes her head and walks away but Lilly, who is in first grade, raises her mock-tini in salute.

“Cheers, Mama,” she says.I raise my glass in return.

“Cheers indeed.” It’s nice to know a mother can pass on her wisdom to at least one of her children.

By Judy Zimmerman

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