When I was a pre-teen, like most kids, I wanted to have fun. This meant movies, sleepovers, or parties at friend’s houses. But I had to get permission from my mother first, who was always pretty cool about it unless it was too many consecutive nights in a row. As follows (in Heblish):
“Mom, can Ilana sleep over tonight?”
“She slept over last night.”
“But I want her to. Why not?” Waah!
“Because. Enough fun.”
The word for “Enough” in Hebrew is “Maspeek,” so “Maspeek Fun!” became the ingrained maxim, along with, “Tell me, how much fun can a person have?”
Lots, it turns out.
So with my fun having been moderated, mostly during high school, where a strict religious education enforced the rules of “being good” I made sure to make up for it when I grew up. And by grew-up, I don’t mean matured. It’s more like I grew-down. When I separated from my ex-husband at 34 years old and moved back to New York, I had fun with a vengeance.
I was single and free in New York City, unmoored by a relationship for the first time in my adult life (I had been with my ex since college). I woke up and went to sleep when I felt like it, blow dried my hair at full volume without worrying about waking anyone up, traveled, shopped, dated, ate and drank as I pleased without having to check in with anyone. I was living the twenties I had lost, at maximum volume; tasting and trying on the experiences I had missed out on, a kind of Twenties bootcamp. Some people might call this having fun, a blast. I liked to call it “cultivating independence.”
But like my mother wisely warned, fun has its shelf life. I work in sales, and when I started that job almost five years ago, sales was tantamount to going out, wining and dining – with the emphasis on wine. The earnings I brought in for my company, and into my own pocket, were directly linked to how many people I got to know (drank with) in the advertising industry. And it worked. I not only made a lot of connections and helped boost my company’s earnings, I also made some life long friends in the process. But as most urbanites know, especially you New Yorkers, this “process” revolves around drinking, not mountain climbing. “Meet for a drink?” is a question more common than, “How you doin?” in this city, but especially in my industry. And the parties flowing with free alcohol are a constant, and considered “part of the job.” Drinking became synonymous with fun, without my noticing its effect.
As a recently married woman in her early 40’s with the desire to have a family, it’s time, maybe even overdue, to break some habits – and that includes the drinking one. I’m not going to sit here, a fragrant mug of tea in hand, and say that it’s been easy. It’s hard, it’s inconvenient, but mostly, it’s not what you’d call fun. It’s not fun to meet a friend at a wine bar for a club soda with lime (the added flair of lime is pointless, by the way). It’s not fun to meet for a tea after work. It’s not fun to hold court with clients at a hip Soho bistro and drink a virgin-mojito where instead of a buzz you leave with mint leaves stuck in your teeth.
But what I’ve discovered in all this is the importance of “the big picture” over the small immediate one. Drinking is fun when you’re doing it, but the after effects are not. The after effects of having not had wine the night before are: 1) A good night’s sleep. 2) An increase in morning productivity. 3) More cozy evening time with my husband. 4) Cooking for myself and my husband (reheating leftovers my sister or mother gave me counts). 5) Excellent TV binge watching (omg, “The Fall” is brilliant). 6) Maintaining all of my virtual and telephone relationships. 7) Less anxiety over small problems, and more confidence when facing the big ones. 8) No psychosomatic fears that every ache and kvetch signals the onset of a terminal illness, and 9) An uptick in sales. I was worried that reducing my external facing time with clients, a proven pre-cursor to financial success, would hamper my productivity and output, but to my pleasant surprise, it’s the opposite. Maybe all the fun-seeds I planted in my first few years are continuing to sprout, maybe the universe is assuring me that it’s ok, or maybe it was never about the extreme socializing at all.
But it’s not really about drinking, or having fun, but rather what those behaviors can sometimes be a manifestation of. Escape. Escape from feeling; escape from paying attention to the twists of discomfort in your gut where something feels off. Escaping from the fear of having to confront life’s obstacles and challenges naked, without the mask for protection, like we did when we were kids. When we were kids on the first day of school, our teachers or parents shooed us into the playground: “Go play! Go make friends!” We were shy, perhaps we were scared, but we did it. And then later when we discovered alcohol, pot, or what have you, we realized, “Oh, this is so much easier!” Mostly, those masks enable us to escape the scariest realization of all, the looming inevitability of growing up.
So in a way, I’ve had some growing pains. I’m graduating, finally, to the necessary next step. Of preparing myself to be a mother. Of nesting and making a home that is warm, stable, and safe for my husband and me. Preparing not just our home in a physical sense by looking for a larger apartment, but preparing ourselves – emotionally and mentally.
And you know what? I’m having a blast.