At the first meeting for families at the co-op nursery school we have carefully chosen for our daughter, the food spread includes hummus, a farro salad and mac and cheese. In the coolers are flavored seltzers, cans of beer and bottles of wine. It is 6 p.m. on a Thursday.
I crack open an orange seltzer and no one bats an eye. I’m seven months pregnant, after all.
The fundraising team tells us about the two main events held for the school every year. One is a wine tasting. The other, a beer tasting. This year, the beer tasting is going to happen at the new local brewery. Someone suggests they brew a special beer for the event, a beer that bears the name of the nursery school. “It will be great! You can invite all your friends,” they tell the room of families.
I swig from my can of seltzer. I have no friends that I can invite to an event at a brewery. I shift in my seat but say nothing.
We chose this school, in part, for the built-in community that came with it. By sending our daughter here, we signed up to be part of the school by maintaining the school’s website and social media presence, but also by joining the community of families whose children attend. Three months later, I am no longer pregnant. I receive a cheery email from two of the other mothers, inviting the moms out for drinks at a local bar. I send back an equally cheerful reply that I already have plans that night. I don’t mention that the plans involve a party at my 12-step program sponsor’s house.
It’s not that I have a problem with people who drink. I’ve been sober long enough that I’m secure in my lifestyle. I’m not tempted by the beers at the all-family meeting, or by the social outing at the bar. It’s just that, after years of carefully curating my life to include mostly fellow sober people, I’m suddenly reminded that I’m an outlier.
It has been years since I’ve worried about social events that revolve around alcohol. I hardly ever have to respond to invitations to grab drinks with, “Would coffee be okay instead?” I’ve almost forgotten how much our world and our socialization involve alcohol.
My daughter’s nursery school was the last place I expected to be reminded of it.
I knew there would come a time when I had to explain to my kids why mom and dad don’t drink, why there’s no alcohol in the house, why they’ll never be able to sneak their first drinks from our liquor cabinet. I knew I’d have to tell them why their parents might be attending weekly meetings in the evenings, why we routinely read from that big blue book with our friends, why we’re a little bit different from their friends’ parents.
I didn’t think that time might come before they start kindergarten. But intoxication culture runs so deep, and is so normalized, that it’s infiltrated social groups built around preschools.
Staring at the invitation to the beer-tasting fundraiser (“Thirsty? Free tastings of diverse offerings of craft local beers!”) feels alien. I’ve been invited to a world in which I no longer belong. I used to slide into this world, and it felt like pulling on a well-worn, well-loved sweater — I was home. Now when I walk into it, it feels like I’m on another planet. I see people laughing and mingling, but it feels very much like I am outside the window and peering in; I am not really there.
I feel like I’m 9 or 15 or 22 again and desperate to be liked. I am completely unashamed of my sobriety, yet I fail to mention it to any of the parents. I want to be part of the crowd. I want to fit in. I want them to think I’m cool. This feeling is simultaneously juvenile and ridiculous. In fact, they’re much more likely to like me now that I’m sober. If I’d still been drinking when we enrolled my daughter in this school, I likely would have embarrassed myself at that weeknight parents’ meeting — flirted with someone’s husband, said something embarrassing, maybe even fallen down. I’m much more likable, if a bit more uptight, today.
Sitting at my computer, I take a swig from my can of lime-flavored seltzer water. I RSVP “yes” to the beer tasting. I mentally commit to attending the next Mom’s Night Out at the local bar. I update the school’s website, fulfilling my co-op duties.
At the next parents’ meeting, I might even suggest a fundraiser that doesn’t involve booze. Or not.
Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @britnidlc.