January 3, 2014

A Glass Of Hope


An NYC mom of three reconsiders her relationship with white wine

By Wendy Bradford


Illustration by Justin Winslow

Illustration by Justin Winslow

When I write about wine, it is often with the staggered view from a meaningful relationship. We were in love. We broke up a few times. Then met again, had a good time at a party. We got back together. But I’m not sure that we’re meant to be.

Late on a cold afternoon, the kids and I return to the apartment. It’s the second day after the end of Daylight Saving Time, and the sky is already a delicate darkness. My son flips on the main light, revealing breakfast leftovers still on the table. The afternoon has been long: school, gymnastics, playground, sushi dinner. They run to put on pajamas in exchange for a promised dessert from their dwindling stash of Halloween candy. The evening appears endless. Alone in the kitchen, I approach the wine fridge. You again.

A cold glass of white wine would take the edge off a frustrating day and get me through the next couple of hours of homework, iPad supervision, disputed countdowns to bedtime. It would lessen the likelihood of my screaming for them to brush their teeth. I have heard this from other mothers with small children: drinking makes me a nicer mother. It’s hard to argue with something that works.

But I like to wait. The moment I look forward to is pouring a glass after the kids are in bed. I check on them, and return to my laptop to work, cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc at my side. I write, stop to pour another glass, go back to writing. Having a husband who works late, wine is a giddy and reliable companion. It fills the loneliness, the boring hours, and even conceals the terror of a blank screen.

Tonight I grab a Diet Coke from the wine fridge. I examine this love affair of mine from time to time. During Superstorm Sandy, when we lived in hotels for two weeks watching helplessly as our neighbors suffered greatly, it was easy to face my fears and sorrows with wine; more recently, I was embarrassed by the number of bottles left in the recycling at our vacation house. Still, in our quiet apartment at the end of a draining day, when there is silence and time for worry and obsession—wine is a preferred comfort. With wine, I feel a familiar bravery about life’s challenges, and the thoughts come and move about without judgment or impulse. With wine, I am a handler.

The problem is that in life, I am not. I am bruised easily by the events of the world, rattled by the chaos in my home, immobilized by my doubts. Caring for three young children, always, is infused with a mix of agitation, fierce affection, and unimaginable fear of what is beyond my control–their ability to make friends, do well at school, thrive when I am not with them. Two (or three) glasses of wine over several hours at night takes the edge off the panic. I never get drunk either. But since the summer, an exquisite kind of guilt steals in, after a night with even a little wine: this relationship may not be the best for me.

One Sunday morning this fall, my 6-year-old and I were reading books. She read Creepy Carrots, and I read Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. She put her book down and sat close to me, reading the page I was reading. I helped her sound out: “…I could see the possibility of a life in which I would be defined not by who I was but by what went from a bottle into a glass and then into my mouth.”

She asked what the author was talking about.

“Alcohol,” I said.

“Do you love that author?” She asked.

“I do.”

“I have two authors I am falling in love with: Joy Cowley and Peter Brown.”

I picked up my coffee, re-read the page, thinking, once again, how many of my favorite women writers had, at some point, stopped drinking. The universe, my first grader had stumbled upon, is stubbornly ambiguous. As with relationships, we are always looking for something to guide us clearly: a sign? A lesson?

New Year’s promises are daunting and useless to me. My relationship with wine won’t be part of a resolution. Once, I misguidedly resolved not to curse. I won’t make that mistake again—not with cursing and not with drinking. If there is drinking this year, let there be less. I hope for a prevalence of peace in the world, revelry with my family, clarity within my mind. Of these, let there be so much more.

For more of Wendy Bradford, visit her blog, Mama One To Three at mamaonetothree.com

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  • Allison Slater Tate

    Great piece, Wendy. I admire the crystal clarity with which you are willing to examine your life as a woman and parent in this day and age. I hope for you both more and less of all the things you wish.

  • Jamie Krug

    A fantastic and honest look at something so many women and mothers struggle with… Am I a good enough mother? Do I need alcohol to make me better? To make me the patient, and kind, and engaged parent that my children deserve? Bravo to you for being brave enough to say what so many mothers are thinking and feeling…

  • oohshinyobject

    I hear you. I recently decided to scale back from 1-2 glasses (also sauv blanc, what a coincidence) per night to 1-3 per week. So basically no wine at home, only during dinners out, things like that. So totally taking away the “end of day, ease the transition from work to kids” thing. Part of it was because of some medication I needed to take, but a lot of it was because I had wanted for awhile to ditch this habit I had created over the last 10 years of parenting. It was every day, without fail, and I didn’t like going places where wine wouldn’t be available around 5pm. I wondered if the daily wine was the reason I fell asleep early and felt sluggish in the morning. So time to reassess.

  • Allie

    I really appreciate this. I’m on my “January cleanse” and it is funny how once something can’t be a part of your life….you really think too much about it! I’ve also noticed that many writers I admire write about alcohol and their relationship with it, and how many stopped drinking altogether. I’m a bit fascinated by this.

  • pia

    As the daughter of an alcoholic I would urge any one reading this who feels that alcohol may help their parenting or that they need to drink several drinks per day to please closely examine their relationship with alcohol and get some help. You don’t have to match a stereotypical image of an “alcoholic” to have an alcohol dependency that is damaging to your relationships. Also you are modeling behavior that will shape your children’s relationship with alcohol. I apologize for being preachy but really just wish I could have saved my dad (and our family so much pain). Thanks for talking about this.