Going by the feeds of most of my Facebook friends, it would appear that the adult relaxant of choice is, without question, wine. I’m sure we’ve all seen the memes — “You know what rhymes with Friday? Wine.” “I’m having fruit salad for dinner. Well, it’s mostly grapes, actually. Ok, all grapes. Fermented grapes. I’m having wine for dinner.”
And if you’re a parent, oh my goodness the wine memes. “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.” “The terrible twos should come with a complimentary bottle of wine.” And so on. Apparently the leading cause of alcoholism is a four year old showing up at your bedside at 6am in hysterics because he doesn’t know if Captain America wears a necktie with his costume. So I’ve heard.
My wife and I, however, have a different dependency when it comes to coping with our children’s peccadilloes. It’s not that alcohol plays no role in our lives; of course it does, but wine is something we drink with a nice dinner. Our default booze is, well, booze. Extra dry gin martinis and well-crafted Manhattans are why we’re married. Gin and tonics and Moscow Mules are how we beat the heat of Boston summers. Limes, olives, and Maraschino cherries fear us. When we’re sick, a toddy made from whisky, hot water, whisky, lemon juice, whisky, honey, and whisky is how we nurse each other back to health; when we’re healthy, we have the same thing except we skip the hot water, put it in a tumbler, and call it a Gold Rush. The first thing that happens when we know adults are coming over is we put cocktail glasses in the freezer. The presence of Maker’s Mark and Bombay Sapphire in our kitchen means our relationship is healthy. We drink together to enjoy each other’s company, not to dull the pain of dealing with irrational small people. We wouldn’t waste the good stuff on something as obvious as that.
No, for coping with parental stress, we turn to sugar. And, by “turn to”, you understand, I mean “suck up like vacuum cleaners do dog hair”.
Every night, as soon as the kids are down, my battle-weary wife comes out of their room and goes straight for the bags of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips, the Reese’s peanut butter chips, and possibly a jar of Nutella if it’s handy. She thinks I don’t see her do it. Of course I do. I’ve even made sure to replenish the stock of everything at the last shopping trip. I say nothing when she walks by, nonchalantly pretending that her mouth isn’t full; I only hold out my hand. She looks sheepish as she pours me a handful from the bag of evil, like we’re six year olds getting away with something when our parents aren’t looking. “I’m hardly judging you,” I tell her. “I’m just sharing the burden.” Maybe she murmurs something about “enabling”, but it’s so hard to recall every last tired word said in the late evening hour, don’t you find?
It’s not just handfuls of chocolate chips. There are the days where we’ll have eaten dinner, the children will be asleep, maybe we’re about to watch an episode of something we can’t watch when the kids are up, like, well, anything, and my wife gets a familiar look of yearning. “I want something sweet,” she says. I offer out an arm as though she could take a bite out of it. “I’m sweet,” I say. “No,” she says, giving me a tired face.
“I want cookies.”
Now, I spent a number of my teenage years and the better part of the decade of my 20s doing theatre, enough to know that the first rule of improvisation is always, when your scene partner says something, the answer is, “Yes, and…” The nature of our married life has been significantly improvisatory, let’s say, and what I have learned over the years is that this is my best default answer when she says something like “I want cookies.” “Yes, and…” I begin; “…and I’ll help bake them and eat them!” is how I usually finish. By the time we’ve polished off an entire plate fifteen minutes into an episode of The Flash, she typically looks at me and says, “I feel gross, and I blame you.”
Do note, however, that all of these dolce indulgences happen after the the kids are in bed. When our kids are awake, you would think that we’re both diabetic dentists. “No, honey, no candy, it’s got sugar in it.” “No, you’re drinking water, not juice, you’ve had enough sugar.” “Okay, for dessert, we have a rice cake topped with sugar-free peanut butter, wheat germ, and shaved carrots. Mmmmm, isn’t that tasty? No, we can’t put raisins on it, those have sugar.”
And here’s the thing: there’s a reason we have to do it that way. If our four year old boy so much as hears the words “ice cream” after 7:30pm — which is often when we’re only just sitting down to dinner, forget about dessert — he becomes a human pinball with all of our furniture being bumpers and we the the parental flippers. Meanwhile, his fearless sixteen month old sister is looking at him doing backflips off the couch, and she’s got a look on her face that says, Bro, I could totally do that.
And then, of course, it’s exactly this behavior that drives us into the arms of Reese and Ghirardelli once the children are in bed. The flipside is that the fit they pitch if they don’t get ice cream means we’re double-fisting the handfuls. Children make hypocrites of us all; as my wife said the other night while we were watching TV, looking at what was now but a plate of crumbs, “You know, when I was a kid, I used to wonder how the cookies seemed to get eaten so quickly.”
I just smiled, laughed ruefully, and offered to make her a Manhattan.