When we lived in Denver – around 1999 – Nick and I saw Paul Simon and Bob Dylan in concert. We were huge Paul Simon fans and decided that, so long as Dylan was there too, it might be kind of cool to see such a legend perform – but we definitely didn’t attend the show because of an abiding love for ol’ Bob. When all was said and done, it was kind of cool to see him perform (and kind of fascinating/scary to see his fan base losing their minds when he came on stage), but we still felt the same after the show that we’d felt before going in: he’s one heckuva songwriter, but we could do without having to listen to him.
One of my favorite Dylan songs is titled “My Back Pages” whose chorus contains the lyrics,
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
When I first heard them in high school, I thought those words were deep and meaningful and poetic, so I latched onto them because it seemed the intellectual, teen-angsty thing to do. As I grew, I learned to appreciate the song lyrics from a different perspective (and lo, I’d thought I was so wise back then… but nay, now realize how foolish I was… IRONIC JUSTICE, MR. DYLAN).
I don’t necessarily feel younger now than I did when I was, well, younger, but in many ways, I do feel more fun.
Case in point: at Emi and Matt’s wedding, I got drunk. I could phrase it nicely and say I was over-served or that I had too much to drink, but if I’m being honest, I got drunk. I was silly and loud and danced in ways that I didn’t know my body could move (and maybe shouldn’t have moved) for hours on end, all the while having an absolute ball. Later, I apologized to my mother-in-law for my nutty dance moves, and remarked that this was the first time she’d ever seen me even a little bit tipsy — the first time in twenty years. (That’s not because I hid my debauchery from her for all those years, but rather because, up until quite recently, I rarely drank at all, and certainly didn’t get drunk.) Her response? “You were having so much fun out there. I loved it!”
Back in high school, it never crossed my mind to have even a sip of alcohol. This wasn’t some moral or religious stance, nor was it something my friends and I discussed – we didn’t head up the Substance Free committee or sit around denouncing the evils of beer – but it just didn’t happen when we were hanging out. I knew other kids drank, sure, but I wasn’t into it. When I got to college, I had the occasional drink – and even, on very rare occasions, drank enough that I could be considered more than slightly buzzed – but, overall, I really wasn’t interested.
In fact, I was sort of proud of not wanting to have alcohol. I don’t need to drink to have a good time! I can do all of the other absurd and moronic things that college students do without alcohol to fuel it! (And, oh, I did…) But there was more to it than that; although I never said so out loud, I definitely looked down on people who did drink. Oh, you’re getting together and having a few? Hm. Too bad you can’t enjoy one another’s company without it revolving around libations.
And so it continued through my twenties. I drank every so often, became marginally inebriated maybe once every three or four years, and quietly passed judgment on everyone who consumed alcohol – including my family and friends. Certain circumstances warranted the booze, of course – weddings and bachelorette parties, for example, so long as you never drank to excess. It was also acceptable to have the infrequent glass of wine or beer with dinner, provided that you drank it slowly and stopped well before you began to feel the effects. I’d thumb through Hallmark cards for friends’ birthdays and would scoff at how many of them contained casual mention of wine. Is this really the way that people connect? How sad.
Then, around ten years ago, something began to change. Maybe it was the birth of Eleanor, maybe it was just growing up and meeting more people who looked at life differently than I do – but who, I discovered, were (miraculously!) still good, smart, honest, hardworking, likable, trustworthy people… but I no longer began thinking that it was so awful to have a drink every now and again. My knowledge of alcohol was limited to what I’d known in college and shortly thereafter – Boone’s and Natty Lite and wine coolers and frou-frou girly drinks – which tasted like perfumed bath water, so I took it upon myself to become more knowledgable about all manner of spirits.
Nick was really into craft and local beers, so I learned about those. Realizing how woefully ignorant we were about wines, we took a couple of wine courses; we’re hardly experts now, but we have a pretty good idea of how wines are made, what the different varietals taste like, and – most importantly – what we like (and don’t like) and why. We took cooking classes specifically geared toward how to pair alcohol with food, learning how each brings out the goodness of the other (if you pair them correctly). It was… really fun.
As I discovered what alcoholic beverages I enjoyed (no more Bartles and Jaymes, thank God), I began to drink more often, too. A glass with dinner went from a semi-annual occasion to a semi-weekly occasion. I started to find the wine-themed birthday cards funny. I also began to understand how fabulous it could be at the end of the day, when I’d been puked on and broken up three fights and dropped the milk in the checkout line and both girls had a fever, to sit down with a drink. A drink drink.
Necessary? Nope. Delicious and wonderful? Oh heck yes.
Finally, I learned that it is sometimes just really damned enjoyable to drink enough to feel it. I’d never understood that before – why on earth would anyone want to lose themselves? To feel wobbly or spinny or crazy? To not be in control (which, quite frankly, seemed scary as hell)? Well… maybe because it’s (wait for it)… fun. It can be incredibly freeing to lose yourself for a couple of hours, to momentarily forget what’s bothering you. It can be wonderful to have your pain temporarily lessened, your heartache soothed, your worry eased. It can be simply marvelous to laugh more quickly, to smile more often, to make connections with everyone around you. It can be delightful to let go of your carefully-constructed control, like releasing an enormous breath you didn’t realize you were holding.
(Lest I give you the wrong impression, I’m not, in any way, saying that I now think you need to drink alcohol in order to have a good time, that drinking to excess on any sort of regular basis is okay, or that relying on alcohol is okay. Drinking problems are not something to be taken lightly; alcoholism is a serious and heartbreaking disease, much like depression. Drinking and driving is never, ever acceptable. Just so we’re clear.)
To many (most?) of you, this is ludicrously obvious. Um, yep. People drink because they enjoy it. People sometimes drink too much on purpose because they like it. You’re just figuring this out now?
Well, not now now, but more or less, yes. I am just figuring it out, and it’s one helluva realization. More importantly than discovering that I like Sauvignon Blanc, however, I have (finally) stopped thinking negatively of everyone else who’s out there enjoying their wine and beer and cocktails. And, as a result, we have a lot more fun together! Not because I drink more often than I used to – the alcohol isn’t really the point – but because I’ve stopped being quite so uptight and judgmental, in general.
For years, I’d been so caught up on Doing The Right Thing and Following The Rules that I didn’t even realize how much those were, ironically, doing just the opposite. By attempting to Do The Right Thing and Follow The Rules, I wound up judging everybody around me about just about everything that differed from my Right Things and Rules. These days, I’m working on taking that judgment out of every single thing (although, I’m not gonna lie, it’s totally still there, just not everywhere). It’s hard and it’s shitty sometimes because, damn it, being all judgey is easy and, in a crazy way, makes me feel good because it’s neat to feel superior (ew). But it’s so worth it because, frankly, living atop that high horse was awfully difficult; the view sucked because I was so far away, and the balancing was exhausting.
It used to be that Annie and Ella had to eat a certain way, all the time. The Right Way, of course, which included specific amounts of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and an avoidance of nearly all crappy foods. I hid veggies in baked goods and watched them like hawks around relatives (so they couldn’t be slipped anything unsavory). My sisters-in-law still recall how I was so determined to get my kids to eat “right,” I used to call fruit purees “special sauce” so I could trick the girls into eating them. I WAS A TOTAL BLAST, AMIRIGHT?
Then, it became too much. And, in truth, I just plain grew up. So now, yeah, their diets are still pretty darn healthy. They read labels and avoid HFCS and even count grams of sugar. But they also have dessert every single day. They eat anything they want all day long at the Minnesota State Fair each year. They – gasp! – order soda when we go out. And they’re allowed to have full-on junk food days when they’re with their relatives. Screw The Rules! Which, hands down, is a helluva lot more fun.
The girls used to have to go to bed at a certain time; we were militant with our bedtimes and nap times, and I certainly judged anyone who took their still-young-enough-to-be-strapped-into-the-cart child to Target with them at 9 p.m. on a school night. (Well, I guess they just don’t care about instilling proper sleep habits. Tsk tsk.) Now, Ella and Annie still have a bedtime – it’s not just a free-for-all over here – but it’s more fluid. They stay up later some nights and go to bed far earlier on others. And it is FUN, I tell you. FUN! (Except when I allow them to stay up too late reading Harry Potter and they’re emotional disasters the following day; oops.) I don’t even look twice anymore if someone has their infant in the grocery store at midnight (well, maybe I look twice, but that’s mostly because I’m doing a double take wondering what the hell I’m doing in the grocery store at midnight). FUN, FUN, FUN.
I used to be absolutely un-budge-able with our Christmas traditions (nearly all of which I’d adopted from my own childhood, with Nick’s approval). This is how we do it, because it is always how we’ve done it, end of story. The mere thought of altering tradition made me break out in a cold sweat. But then, one year, things weren’t going to plan (Christmas will be ruined!) and Nick suggested another way and I got down off the horse just enough to actually listen to him and, whaddya know, change can be good… and it can make Christmas much more enjoyable for everyone.
I know that I’ll ever stop passing judgment; it’s an all-too-human trait and I accept that about myself, as much as I’m trying to do better. But I do know that it feels really nice to become less uptight and unfaltering, to realize that my perspective isn’t the only one that’s valid (although it usually is pretty fantastic), to try to be a little less narrow-minded. Instead of feeling scary and uncontrolled and wild, it feels freeing and relaxing and fun.
Sometimes, growing up has its perks.
If only I could stop looking down on anyone who misuses “nauseous” or “literally,” or on any kind of reality TV that involves a Kardashian, a bachelor(ette), anything set in New Jersey, or a real housewife, I bet I would be a freaking HOOT.