January 6, 2015
While I was gestating my second son, not long after I began to show, my employer called me into his office and explained that I could go home and feel free not to return, effective immediately. He didn't call this a "lay-off" or "firing," because that would evidently be illegal, but instead, he referred to it as a "workload reduction" and indicated that my workload would be reduced to zero hours a week, indefinitely.
When feminist anarchist and early birth control supporter Emma Goldman said, "The right to vote, or equal civil rights, may be good demands, but true emancipation begins neither at the polls nor in courts. It begins in woman's soul," she neglected to mention that a woman's soul can easily be drowned in a sufficient quantity of alcohol. I cannot say precisely why my “workload reduction” coincided with my “drinking problem,” except suddenly I had so much time, and also was somewhat blue about being pregnant and unemployed.
As I rose early each day to care for my first son, wondering all the while how I would get another job while visibly pregnant, and if not, how we would make the mortgage payment or even feed the little scamp and his soon-to-be-brother down the line, I'd feel the creeping dread of a long, unscheduled day spreading before me. After dropping Son Number One off at a preschool we could no longer afford full-time, I’d have a solid block of three hours to fill before he needed to be picked up again.
What to do with all that time? Polish my résumé? Read want ads? Work my network? Write a few hundred words of my novel? Ask the children's father, a university professor, for a little fucking help?
I can almost hear you saying these would have been the correct and logical things to do, but perhaps you've never experienced the curse of being a parent with free time. It can scramble your brain, and I am not alone in this: Look at what other mothers do as soon as they get home from work, or finish a tedious household project with a few minutes to spare before bedtime, or pack the kids off to summer camp. They pour an Olivia Pope-size glass of wine, is what they do. And I don't mean a glass the size of the one she drinks. I mean a glass the size of Olivia Pope.
So that's what I did in those long, empty hours between dropping Number One off at preschool after breakfast and picking him up again just before lunch—and then again, after he'd gone down for his post-lunch nap. I drank. Just enormous quantities of red wine, all day long.
When Son Number Two was born, the doctor was pleasantly surprised that he did not bear the telltale facial characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome. So, after a brief consultation with a social worker, I was sent home to care for a toddler and a newborn, which only gave me more free time. For instance, there was little else I could physically do while feeding the baby, so I'd have to lock the toddler in a closet with a teddy bear to keep him from hurting himself while I was busy. Then, I'd settle down to nurse with nothing but the baby's sweet face, my own thoughts, and a bottle of wine to keep me company.
Periodically, I'd duck my head into my husband's study, where he spent the bulk of his paternity leave. Before I could say a word, he'd yell at me from the floor, where he sat surrounded by empty beer cans, that I was interrupting work on his novel. And it was an important novel. Did I not understand?
Duly chastened, I would pour another glass of wine to assuage my guilt for misunderstanding creative genius.
Inevitably, there came an unscheduled visit from the social worker, which I regret to tell you did not go well. After much whining on his part, I'd finally stopped putting my older son in a closet multiple times a day, but the social worker was nearly as unimpressed with my new strategy of lashing him to a bedpost, like that darling Mongolian cherub in the Babies documentary.
"You cannot tie up your child," said the social worker.
"Racist and classist!" I replied, stifling the tiniest hiccup. "Xenophobic!"
"You are a white, upper-middle-class American," said the social worker.
"But what if I weren't?" I challenged her. "What if I weren't?"
Seriously, I should write that down in my notebook of novel ideas.
"Where is your husband?" asked the social worker.
I led her to his study. Inside, all we could see was a fortress of books, beer cans and index cards scrawled with scene ideas, piled nearly to the ceiling, from which a faint but distinctly angry voice barked, "NOVEL!"
We shut the door.
"Ma'am, I have to take these children," said the social worker.
I tried to protest, but my tongue felt thick, and I was ever so sleepy. While my heart broke silently, I slurred aloud, "Do what you gotta do."
You already know the rest of the story—I mean, literally, Nancy Grace was all over it for weeks. It comforts me to know my children are in a happy home, at least, with my former husband and a 23-year-old former student of his. Meanwhile, I'm stone cold sober, which my lawyer says is excellent news. I wish I could agree, but the problem with prison life is, it comes with so much of the thing that got me into all this trouble in the first place: Free time. I'd give anything to have my job and kids back, demanding at least 23 and a half hours of every day, so I could never fall victim to excessive leisure again.
Failing that, I could shank someone for a glass of Malbec right about now.