I stopped drinking wine 23 years ago. And thank God I did. Just in time I reckon. Because not soon after that, with the advent of the internet and social media, the whole mommy-wine-culture thing simply exploded. This highly-funded, slickly produced bit of propaganda seems hell-bent on getting American women and especially mothers to drink wine around the clock. Like a lot of women I see out in the world or that I meet in the rooms of A.A., I was a big old wino. I mean we can pretend that we are all oenologists or master sommeliers, discussing vineyards and apricot undertones, but the fact is that most of us are drinking to take the edge off. In my case that became the edge off of everything, including, but not limited to, falling asleep or doing laundry. At the end of my drinking I sipped warm vodka out of a Poland Spring bottle daily to keep the demons at bay but if you saw me out or met me for a drink or dinner it would always be wine that I was drinking. Here are a fraction of the messages that I have seen in the years since this campaign of "being a woman and especially a mom in America means you must drink wine, and a lot of it" started.
"This mama needs her wine." "This mom runs on coffee and wine." "I'm a woman with needs, pass the wine." "Mommy's best friend? Wine!" "You had me at merlot." "Great minds drink alike.” "3 glasses of wine a day will reduce your risk of giving a shit." "Stop whining, start wine-ing.” “Fact: wine is cheaper than therapy.” "I'm a wine enthusiast. The more I drink the more enthusiastic I get." "The most expensive part of having kids? Your wine bill." "I'm not a wino, I only drink wine on 2 occasions, when it's my birthday and when it's not my birthday." "Parenting is all empty threats and full glasses of wine." "This wine pairs well with bad decisions." "I'm in a dark place right now…not emotionally, physically. I'm in my closet with the lights out, hiding from my kids and drinking wine." "Me at a wine tasting: ‘I'm getting hints of cherry and a blackout’." And this one that I actually saw printed on the label on a bottle of rosé: "If you're drinking wine you're not a regular mom, you're a cool mom."
Hilarious...right? What the actual hell is going on? As Will Ferrell's character Mugatu says in the movie ZOOLANDER, "I feel like I"m taking crazy pills!" If I was a conspiracy theorist (which I am) I would say that the wine producers of America are trying to turn all women in America into alcoholics AND give us breast cancer at the same time. Because yes, the internet exploded with these cute little t-shirts and mugs and glasses and coasters all about how silly and funny it is to drink around the clock but forgot to provide us with the more important information about the staggering, scientifically proven and deadly link between drinking a lot of wine and breast cancer. This information is all over the internet and seemingly invisible everywhere but there. No slick marketing campaign for the link between wine consumption and cancer, no siree Bob, let's keep that one in the vault.
I grew up with alcoholic parents and I can tell you there is nothing cute or funny about being a child in an alcoholic home. It is scary and unpredictable and for me caused emotional and psychological problems that I battle with to this day.
I know where the "drink wine to be the cool mom" propaganda comes from. The wine producers and the advertisers. But where is the information campaign about the damage done by parents who drink too much? Damage to the family, to the children, to the drinkers themselves? The years of childhood, which should be carefree, simply destroyed for the kids? The PTSD that most children raised by alcoholics deal with in some form or another? The OCD that many children of alcoholics develop as it helps give them a sense of control in what seems like an out of control world? From a very young age I had this thing about tapping doorframes. 2 times passing through, 4 times on the way out, one on the top as I grew taller. As if that ritual would somehow protect me or make things a little less terrifying. Why is society sending this message…that to deal with kids or homework or school events or holiday parties or playdates or birthdays or hockey games or basically anything, you should have some wine? To help you cope. To make it all better. Alcohol is in the same class of drug as heroin, opioids, fentanyl. Where are THOSE fun t-shirts? Those cutesie little blush-colored napkins and girly printed wine glasses - all the words written in this nauseating "feminine" script, all soaring loops and curlicues? "These opioids pair well with bad decisions." "I'm in a dark place right now. In the closet snorting fentanyl and hiding from my kids." “Parenting is all empty threats and full syringes.” Not so cute anymore, is it?
I was already in recovery when I had kids and was raising them in Manhattan when we decided to move to the ‘burbs. One of the first events I was invited to, by a mom from our new school, was a "mommy and me" music class. It was nice to be invited and I knew no one in town so I went along. This was at three in the afternoon. When I got there the music was playing, the toddlers were trashing the place and the moms were all well into the wine. I couldn't believe it. They were sucking it down the same way their babies were sucking down their babas. Each mom there drank at the very least a half bottle of wine in the afternoon and then strapped their babies into their car seats and drove home to drink more wine and start dinner for the family. And they did this weekly, for years. I was horrified. I am horrified. If any one of those women had gotten pulled over they would have failed a sobriety test, with their kids in the car. Maybe that’s how they roll in the suburbs. But not me.
I don't ever want to be a person who "needs" wine to be a parent. Someone who can't go to a lunch or a game or a school function or even a goddamn baby playdate at 3 in the afternoon without my "mommy juice”. It's not easy being a parent. Sometimes it's not easy being a human. But I've learned the hard way that running away from the challenging aspects of being human is a disaster. I'm the sort who will run away from my problems so fast and so furiously that I can very well imagine myself running straight into an early grave. So I'm on high alert when I find myself in wine-drinking situations now. Because to be honest with you, that wine at that mommy and me playdate all those years ago sang to me. Tried to seduce me with this story: "You're in a new town, at a new school, don't you want to meet people?" "No one here even knows that you don't drink." "One glass of wine is harmless." "If you ever want to have friends in this town you sure as hell better have that glass of wine." And the classic "You are such a goddamn Loser.” (Yes with a capital L!) “You can't even handle a glass of wine?” Also the gentler, more playful "Stop being so silly, Blenderhead. It's a glass of wine. It won't kill you."
So there is this gross societal pressure put on moms to drink wine. A message that if we don't we will be boring, dull, uninteresting, uncool and basically zero fun. Doomed to the scrap heap of the "loser moms". Who would ever want to befriend them? Not me.
So I stay close to the rooms and far from the gaggles of moms who attend these boozy drunken mommy-and-me events. Or now that the kids are older, the drunken book clubs, ladies’ lunches or girls’ nights out. I do feel left out sometimes. Apart from. Less than. But I know that I am on the right path. There is a glass that I saw in a shop once that had WINE NOT? printed on it. I would love to go back and ask those women at the drunken mommy-and-me playdates my own question. Instead of WINE NOT? I would ask them WHY? What is it about your life situation? About being a new mom with babies and toddlers in a new town full of strangers and being uncomfortable, even scared. Is that what’s driving the reliance on wine for everything? Are you lonely? Does this feel a bit overwhelming to you? Now that’s a conversation I would love to have had with any of them because I was feeling it myself. In spades. It was a lonely and confusing time. I wish we could have all sat around and laughed at the kids’ mayhem and discussed our feelings. Because I’m pretty sure that we were all having those same feelings. But I was the only one feeling them in real time. Unfortunately that conversation could never have happened that day. They were all just too drunk, although not a one of them would ever admit to being drunk in the middle of the day with young kids. To driving drunk with those kids. That is a secret that they will all probably take to their graves and that I, God willing, will not.