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For young single women, every night is Ladies' Night. For Brett Paesel and her friends, Friday happy hour is all they get—if they can wrangle a babysitter. Like most mommies, they support each other through pregnancies, sleep deprivation, and the need to talk about it all. Instead of meeting at the playground, they convene at the local watering hole while sipping Black and Tans and flirting with the cute bartender. With a poignant voice and a fresh style that makes this memoir read like the best women's fiction, ...
For young single women, every night is Ladies' Night. For Brett Paesel and her friends, Friday happy hour is all they get—if they can wrangle a babysitter. Like most mommies, they support each other through pregnancies, sleep deprivation, and the need to talk about it all. Instead of meeting at the playground, they convene at the local watering hole while sipping Black and Tans and flirting with the cute bartender. With a poignant voice and a fresh style that makes this memoir read like the best women's fiction, Paesel navigates mommyhood in all its forms—the ecstatic, the terrifying, the tedious, the hilarious, the transcendental, and the sticky. Paesel's laugh-out-loud perspective will appeal to all women who are braving the new world of motherhood, where the secret question on their minds at playgroup is "When is it too early in the day to start drinking?"
What we'll do is rent a limo. We'll do the cocaine at my house, then take the limo to a couple of clubs," says Lana.
"Great," I say, even though it's not great. I can't imagine doing cocaine since giving it up twelve years ago, but I don't want to be left out. I don't want to be thought a forty-four-year-old mom who is too tired to have a wild night out and too chicken to engage in a little illegal high jinks. Which is, at this point, exactly what I am. And what Lana is, though she's less likely than me to say it.
Lana takes a sip from her tall vodka tonic and looks out at the clientele gathering at the bar.
It's Friday cocktail hour at Bird's, a local pub, peopled by trendy Hollywood types. Thin girls with enhanced white smiles, and boys who look like they just woke up from a two-day nap. Some older rocker dudes who probably belonged to the same hair band, twenty years ago.
Lana, Michelle, Katherine, and I have been meeting here almost every Friday for the last four years. But today it's just Lana and me. Michelle isn't here because she's getting her daughter Faith's astrological chart done. I know nothing of charts butam curious about how you do an accurate reading for an adopted Chinese kid who was abandoned on a dirt road. Michelle says you work backward, eliminating traits, until you find a likely rising sign (she's pretty sure Faith was born in December). Katherine's at the dentist with her son, Jake.
Lana's cell phone rings. She dumps the contents of her purse onto the bar and finds the phone.
"Yes," she says. "Uh-huh. Just ask them for a cake with The Little Mermaid on it. Or anything with princesses."
She pauses while her ex, Tony, presumably absorbs the instructions for ordering their daughter's birthday cake.
"Not Sleeping Beauty."
She pauses, listens, and takes another sip.
"Then ask them for anything Disney," she says, and hangs up, returning to the cocaine conversation. "So it's just you, me, and Katherine. Michelle said she won't do blow because it would be her first time, and she thinks she'd be too freaked-out. And my guess is she would be."
"Oh, yeah," I say, remembering the one and only time Michelle went over her two-beer limit at happy hour and had a panic attack in the bathroom while the rest of us comforted her from the other side of the door. She finally brought herself down by repeating incantations from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
"The thing is, where do we get it?" Lana asks, looking at me like I would know. Because we've known each other since I would have known where to get it. Back when I would have had a dozen connections. Most notably an Iranian high roller who I had to call from a pay phone using the code words "atomic action."
"Uh-hmmmm," I say. "I don't know anymore. I could maybe ask my ant man."
"What's an 'ant man'?"
"The guy who comes in and takes care of my ant problem."
"You're going to ask your ant man for cocaine? Why would he know?"
"Looks like the type."
"You can't ask your ant man for an eight ball. He'll think you're out of your mind."
"Look," I say, "you asked me. Why don't you ask the transgender guy at your gym?"
"I barely know her."
"And another thing, if we do this Sunday, I've got to be in bed by at least three in the morning. Spence wakes up at seven for preschool, and I need some downtime."
"There's no getting to bed by three when you're doing blow."
"Okay. So let's do it the Saturday after this. Then we can sleep in a bit that Sunday morning."
Lana grabs her daybook and flips through it. "That's Saturday the ... nope. Can't. Daisy and I are going to a theme birthday party that morning. All the kids have to dress like the Hulk, and all the food is going to be green. I'm not facing that without a full night's sleep."
We pick through the best evenings to have our wild night, rejecting many because of the demands of the next morning. Lana takes two more phone calls. One from Tony, who says that he couldn't get a princess cake so he had to go with a sea creatures cake, and one from a mommy who wants to switch a play date to two weeks from Sunday.
Lana snaps her phone closed. "That knocks out that Saturday night too. Frankly, her daughter's a bad seed. I can't watch her on a massive coke hangover. I'll have to get up early that Sunday morning to hide all the matches and knives."
It becomes clear over the next hour of happy hour that we are not going to have our big night. Neither one of us says it. The notion simply dilutes and mutates into an afternoon of facials and eyebrow waxing.
The light fades as we ask for the check. It is close to six o'clock and we are leaving as more hipsters push through the swinging door into the bar. Before Lana lays down her cash she sends a drink over to Jon Anderson, lead singer of Yes. She nods to the long-haired, middle-aged rock god. He raises a glass to her.
As I watch their exchange, I am filled with nostalgia for the girls Lana and I once were. The girls we were before we had children.
I walk home from the bar having promised to watch Daisy on Tuesday so that Lana can go to a movie by herself. I walk slowly because I want to think. I want to think about how I started out being that girl who would have easily spent an evening doing half a gram of coke in the back of a limo with her girlfriends, and ended up being this woman making slow progress home to read stories to her two children (before curling up on a couch to read her own book while her husband watches Celebrity Poker on Bravo).
I think about the hazy, lonely months that followed my first son's birth four years ago. I remember being desperate for relief and looking for answers in books. Books with titles like Surviving the First Year, The Girlfriend's Guide to the First Year, What to Expect the First Year, So It's Your Baby's First Year, The Natural Mother's Guide to the First Year, The Dummy's Guide to the First Year, First Year-Best Year, and When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Months of shapeless afternoons fuzzed into each other while Spence slept or ate or cried. Sometimes, as he screamed, I'd put him on his back on the living room floor and go into my room to lie on my bed. The bed would become a floating raft. I'd close my eyes-Spence's dissonant aria stereophonically blaring from a distant shore-and drift, the books hidden in the folds of musty blankets. Eventually, I'd pick one up and turn to the index to look up "Crying." When I'd flip to the indicated page, I'd find a paragraph that told me to burp my baby, walk him around, check to see if something was poking him, feed him. Of course, I'd done these things. Then I'd flip to the index to look up "Nonstop, nonspecific, hostile crying." No listing.
None of the books had chapters on what seemed immediately relevant to me. I'd imagine chapters like:
STOP YOUR BABY FROM CRYING-FOREVER. Six foolproof and safe ways to make your home a crying-free zone.
EASY, TWO-WEEK PROGRAM FOR GETTING YOUR PERSONALITY BACK. This program concentrates on exercises that remind you of the woman you used to be. Exercises include making lists of things that used to interest you and looking at old picture albums to remind yourself of what you looked like before someone's life depended on you.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR BABY'S BIOLOGY. Invaluable suggestions for ways to keep a stimulating conversation going while nursing or changing a diaper. Beginning with the admonishment to steer away from openers like "Sam did the cutest thing" and "Should I be concerned about mustard-colored bowel movements?"
And I dreamed of chapters like:
SMOKING: THE ROAD BACK TO SANITY AND A GOOD FIGURE.
YES, SOME BABIES HAVE DIED WHEN LEFT ALONE IN THE BATHTUB-BUT HERE ARE MANY WHO SURVIVED AND THRIVED.
TAKE A VACATION. Studies debunk the "first five years are the most important" theory in favor of research that shows that most successful and happy children's personalities were formed when parents were away in Europe.
And, of course:
WHAT PARENTING EXPERTS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT THE SECRET BENEFITS OF COCAINE.
I began to realize that no book was going to tell me what I wanted to hear, which was that I would be the same person after the baby as I was before the baby.
I spent the days mourning the loss of my past self with as much intensity as I would the death of a lover. I raged against the limitations mommyhood placed on me. I rebelled against what seemed like an American groupthink about what mommies should be: dull, doughy, desexualized, and almost pathologically interested in all children and all things having to do with children. Parenting magazines showed me how to make jiggly lollipops out of Jell-O, how to have fun with felt, and how to make little forests out of broccoli in order to interest my child in eating it. When what I really wanted was a stranger to fuck me blind in a parking lot after loading me up on margaritas and Thai stick. Or at least the strictures of my Lilliputian life make me think that's what I wanted.
Those first few months that I spent listening to Spence's crying started to form a shaky bridge to a new country. I felt the slowness of the days. I felt the weight of his dependence. I looked back with vague longing and could not look forward, because the terrain was wholly different and unfamiliar.
It was terrain I would begin to explore with others of my kind.
Excerpted from Mommies Who Drink by Brett Paesel Copyright © 2006 by Brett Paesel. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted October 27, 2007