To kick off the week leading up to Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life — the highly anticipated revival of the quirky, poignant mother-daughter series that everyone, it seems, will be cozying up to on Thanksgiving night (12:01 a.m. on Nov. 25, to be precise) — we’ll be celebrating some cool moms we know and the parenting styles that are uniquely their own, through a weeklong essay series, #MyMomStyle.
Last winter, my children’s all-inclusive Brooklyn Scout troop decided to host a getaway weekend for the whole family in the lovely Catskill Mountains. We would immerse ourselves for two days in outdoor activities that eluded us in the city, sip bottomless hot chocolate, and sleep in bunk beds. The kids — my son, now 10, and daughter, now 6 — were brimming with excitement and feverishly discussing their plans for the following 48 hours: Snowshoeing first or cross-country skiing? Snow tubing by day or night? I was preoccupied with the sleeping arrangements and shared bathroom situation, and the fact that this was going to be a dry weekend— not fooling anyone with my nonchalance.
Our first full day was more fun than even I could have imagined, and at the end of it, we descended exhaustedly upon the enormous cafeteria for dinner, grabbing orange trays and circling through the dining options. We filled the folding tables, the room loud with laughter and clanking cutlery, and took turns sharing our favorite tales of zipping down the snow tube run and nipping on the ice fishing line. After eating, the children dispersed. A few grownups left to read in the library and a handful of parents remained in the dining hall.
“Who brought the flask?” I joked.
It wasn’t surprising that the small group chuckled, with my laugh the loudest. Yes, yes, all lightheartedly admitted to missing their cocktails. I could relate the most to one dad who had planned ahead by scheduling in his weekend drinks on the just-passed Thursday. Genius, I thought.
But then I thought of what I’d realized that summer, when our family had visited Croatia for just over two weeks, and every single night, my husband and I split a bottle of local wine at dinner with the kids. Back at the rented apartment, one of us would oversee pajamas and teeth-brushing while the other discreetly poured bottle number two into coffee mugs, because of course we wanted to set a good example of not drinking too much — by hiding it. The irony might have been glaring, but the lure of the buzz made it peripheral.
I come from a boozy family. A favorite story was shared for years about me pouring drinks at a family dinner party and filling Uncle Vinnie’s brandy snifter to the rim. I vividly remember him roaring with laughter as I set the glass down in front of him, Cognac spilling down the sides. I was 11, and yes, he finished the drink. I graduated to bartending for my dad when I was 12, because he could trust me not to water down his nightly Scotch. By the time I was 15, all champagne bottles were handed to me for corking, and I felt proud.
I got drunk for the first time in high school and passed out face down on the front lawn of my suburban Pennsylvania home. That pattern continued through college when my petite roommate would scoop me up off the bathroom floor to carry me to bed.
Once I became a fully employed adult in my mid-20s, I settled into a respectable routine of having drinks on the weekend — which often started as early as Wednesday. After-work drinks, dinner parties, special celebrations… Alcohol was synonymous with having fun.
Everything changed when I became pregnant at 35. My husband and I were over the moon, and despite having been a regular drinker for much of my adult life, I eagerly gave it up and never missed it. Because of my boozy upbringing, it was important to me that as a parent, I would never be a daily drinker and I would always be careful how I interacted with alcohol.
Still, as the children grew older and less dependent, my discipline slipped. The two glasses of wine easily turned into four, Tuesday night book club always included drinks, and we bid farewell to most weekends with Sunday-night cocktails. By the time I was giggling nervously at the dry Scout weekend, my promise to be careful was already shaky.
Our time in Croatia motivated me to wipe the slate clean by abstaining for 30 days, and my husband was on board. The first few days were a cinch as we busied ourselves with a return to the routine. Things grew challenging when we faced our first alcohol-free weekend, white knuckles revealing just how much we depended upon alcohol in the routine. We weren’t getting smashed every Friday night, but a drink was the trophy for completing another week. Sharing a bottle of wine at dinner signified a special occasion. Going on vacation meant inviting excess.
Most glaring during the month was the disparity between the fantasy of myself as exceptional parent and the version rooted on planet Earth. As a toddler, my son knew when I lazily skipped a page at bedtime, even if he didn’t always call me out on it. Now 10, he has likely pieced together that I don’t drink coffee, let alone at night.
I do not condemn drinking — at all. Nor do I feel solely responsible for the eventual relationship my children have with alcohol. But the month of abstinence did inspire my husband and me to make a routine less obvious. We don’t automatically have Friday night drinks. When we go out to dinner, we sometimes get wine, other times we do not. They see us have one. We never deceive them about our consumption.
Parenting is one of life’s greatest privileges, and part of having a close, trusting relationship with my children is to not cram axioms down their throats — do what you love, don’t drink too much, manage your stress and anger — from behind a mugful of wine. Even though I have not been an exemplary role model, or even honest with myself on something I meant to care about in practice as much as theory, the benefits of seeing things as they are will empower my children exponentially. They are certainly worth our very best — albeit imperfect — efforts. And in my case, more than that dining-hall flask.