Dear Coworkers Everywhere:
As a new parent, I can no longer drink with you at happy hour.
It isn’t because I’m an antisocial freak. I’m actually a nice person who used to be considered fun. You would never know this looking at me now, as I dash out of the building at exactly one second after closing time with a perpetual worried look slapped on my face, but 10 years ago I used to go out—on “school nights.” I would hit up all kinds of bars with coworkers. Oh, there were wine bars on Prince Street and vodka bars on Broadway and good ole nasty cheap beer bars on Rivington Street. There was one bar in Chinatown in which you descended a deep staircase and could disappear into a dark hole-of-a-corner for hours. There was this other bar in East Williamsburg in which I witnessed people who made important decisions by day make horrible choices after 10 p.m.
But we had this social contract, one that built trust and improved our ability to work closely together. The following morning you simply agreed to forget everything you saw the night before. And then you closed a deal in unison. And then you went out drinking again and repeated the process. Cooperative is an important word in the modern work place. At work meetings we form little groups based on everything except our eye color, then we grab chubby markers and go to town brainstorming on large sheets of paper. This emphasis on groupthink also extends to shared experiences outside of the workplace—whether they exist in the form of mandatory professional outings like barbecues and overnight retreats, or more informal happy hours.
I was game for all this 10 years ago. But today, I am mommy to a gorgeous two-year-old daughter. In a nutshell, she is the best reason why I can no longer drink with you on a random Tuesday evening.
But there’s more you should know. There are other things my boss should consider before she pulls me again into her office and chastises me for not partaking in more social experiences with members of my (work) family.
Let me assure you: I really, really, really want to go out and drink with you on a lovely summer evening. But this is why it’s not as easy as you think:
• I’m away from my daughter for most of the week. When I do get home from work, she spends the first hour ignoring me, and the next clinging to my leg. Until America takes back its eight-hour work day, or until I can find a way of working three days a week, I am going to be wracked with feelings of guilt any time I tack on an additional three hours away from her.
• Even if you’re lucky, as I am, to have a loving and considerate partner, getting some time away requires the bargaining skills of a pro-baseball scout. My husband encourages me to go out and I’d like to think I do the same for him. And yet, our conversations still often go a little something like this: okay, if you give me this Thursday, I’ll give you next Sunday. What do you mean, you don’t want next Sunday? But we already have plans next Saturday, so what about next Tuesday? Oh, and you can even sleep in tomorrow morning and then I’ll head out for that other thing I have to do when you get up.
• And if you are one of the 40 percent of women in this country who are raising children without the help of a spouse, I’d like to give you a million dollars just for figuring out how to make happy hour happen—particularly considering how a three-hour evening spent drinking cocktails could set you back an additional $60 in babysitting fees—and that’s assuming you only have one child.
• In addition to haggling with your partner, there is quite a bit of negotiating with one’s self that goes on when a parent finds the luxury of free time. I could go for that drink and catch up on office gossip, but I could also sit down at a coffee shop and work on a short story that has been torturing my brain since pregnancy. I could buy shoes. Finally read three pages from Infinite Jest. Get a pedicure. Take a nap. My minutes are precious and get gobbled up like Pac-Man pellets these days. Every ounce of wisdom warns me not to waste them at happy hour.
• And, finally, coworkers: have you ever woken up and had to take care of a toddler while nursing a hangover? Did you know it’s scientifically proven that you can not coax toddlers to nap beside you on a couch, ever, especially not when they could be screaming and dragging a green crayon across the hardwood floor?
If I go out drinking with you, I will have a green floor. Terrible shoes. An even less cultured brain. And do I really deserve to have to get up early four mornings in a row to compensate for one night out?
Of course, none of this means you still shouldn’t ask me to join you. New parents are tired and unlikely to take you up on your offer, but we still like to be asked.