Hi Friends on the Internet,
I hope you are all very well and that you all had spectacular holidays.
I have something to report from the parenting front. I haven’t mentioned this in this column before, I don’t think.
I have been sober for a long time. When you don’t do something, it doesn’t necessarily come up, I have found. It just is.
So that’s how I’ve been going along with this parenting business, not drinking. I just don’t drink, and when you just don’t drink, your friends tend not to be the kinds of people who have boozy kid birthday parties on Saturday afternoons. When you just don’t drink, the people who do drink, and are serious about it, don’t really want to be around you. So it’s sort of a natural parting of ways. You don’t have to say anything.
This is how I’ve been going along. And now time has passed—I love/hate how that happens—and I’ve been sober for 25 years. I quit drinking long before my kids—who are 12, 9, and just 5 now—were born. I was lucky enough to quit drinking when most of my peers were just getting started.
But my oldest said something recently that made me want to discuss the issue. The five of us were at home together, talking about something, and he exclaimed, “People who drink beer are alcoholics!”
I was taken aback by that. It was a statement that was so wrong and so right simultaneously: it isn’t true generally, of course, but it is, in fact, exactly true for our house.
I decided I needed to speak with my oldest, at least, about my not drinking and why. I wasn’t even sure he knew that I didn’t drink. It’s hard to say what kids notice.
I spent a few days waiting for something to come up, like some beer ad while the football game was on. And, of course, because I was looking for something: nothing.
And in the waiting I realized that I was nervous about talking to him, and in that regard, I was forced to recognize that I was trying to influence how my kids view me, which is not what I had thought about myself. I had thought I was someone who didn’t try to do that, because I know from my own childhood that you can’t. Whatever my own parents didn’t want me to know about them, I knew, and their attempts to whitewash their problems only made me pity them. I didn’t want to be like that.
And yet here I am. I spent a lot of holiday break thinking about this issue, an issue which I hadn’t even thought of as a thing to think about, not a week before. And it made me see how I had, in fact, been trying to control my image of myself for my children by not exposing them to what I think of, without sounding too dramatic about it, as my “dark” side. I had just presented to them this person: a mommy who doesn’t drink. It was like I dropped from the sky, fully formed, glowing light, no shadow. It was like I had had no life before them, like they were the ones who had birthed me.
I was thinking about this as the holiday days dragged on with no—as usual! so frustrating!—talk about beer. And I went to see The Nutcracker, as I always do over the holidays, and I can’t say too much about The Nutcracker here because The Nutcracker is so massively, gorgeously crazy that it deserves its own book, which I hope I will write one day, but for now let’s just say that one of the most moving parts of The Nutcracker for me is the scene where Clara watches her familiar living room, with its beautiful holiday decorations, completely change in tone and timbre: it is still beautiful, yes, but it becomes even more beautiful, and in order to become even more beautiful something has to happen, and that something is that it has to also become terrible.
This is what happens as the tree grows to a gloriously menacing size. In this new landscape, Clara is very small, with a small army of small friends. Her comrades stand stoically, at attention, as this transformation takes place; they are a part of it and they are witnesses to it. Clara, in contrast, can only react. How she adapts to this new context is up to her.
I was thinking of this image as I waited for a Budweiser moment with my son.
I want to be a good mother. I feel like a child as I write that. Parenting is hard; it can be very hard to be good all, or even part of, the time. But I am pretty sure, at this point, that even more than being a good mother, I want to be a whole person.
I finally stopped waiting. I talked to my kid.
Yes, he had noticed that I don’t drink. Of course you don’t drink, he said, “because you are a sensible adult with children.”
“But lots of sensible adults with children drink alcohol sometimes,” I said.
We talked some more. I told him my story in a sentence. And then he noted that alcohol was bad for your criminal and driving record, and I concurred.
“But smoking is worse,” he said.
“Smoking is bad for you,” I agreed.
We talked about something totally different, and I felt happy that we got to the heart of the matter.
Happy New Year to Everyone, and may we all be more terrible this year, if it is in service to being more fully unbroken.
— Love, “Doc” Fuss