We were packing Saturday morning, late as usual. I was just getting snacks ready for the car (for a trip that was just over two hours, but you know when you have little ones you need to travel armed and ready and up to your ears in straw cups and tiny containers filled with crackers), and explaining to Saoirse again that we were meeting up with her grandmother and uncle at another aunt and uncle’s house, and that she and Quinn would be spending the evening with her Aunt Mary and Gram while her dad and I went to a football game with some other family members.
“But, Mom,” she said, “I don’t want you to leave me. I’m going to miss you.”
I told her that I’d miss her, too, but that we would really only be gone a few hours after her bedtime, and that we’d be there when she woke up in the morning. So, off we went, to southern Maryland, home of Andrews Air Force base and old plantation houses and, of course, FedEx Field, where our beloved Fighting Irish were beating the Maryland Terrapins that night (haha. I actually just meant to type “playing” there, but “beating” came out instead. Whoops. Eh, we did).
The girls got settled in, and we shoved a bunch of food down our gobs in preparation for the hours of tailgating the boys had planned. Someone offered me a beer, but I turned it down. Didn’t feel like one, you know? And anyway, the guys wanted to leave, and I was scurrying about setting out kids’ pajamas and giving instructions on Quinn’s antibiotics, and worrying about how the Mighty would settled down at bedtime without her parents there. “C’mon,” the guys said. “Let’s go.” And off we went.
We got there. We parked. We opened up some beers. I took a picture of mine for Twitter and Facebook, because it was festive and I was feeling jovial and my golly, I was out tailgating in the afternoon with grown-ups. Grown-ups! I didn’t have to worry about cooking dinner or baths or dishes or…Wahoo!
The guys went for another beer. They offered me one. Why not, I said, and grabbed the opener. This was pretty exciting. When you’re breastfeeding, of course, there’s a bit of a kibosh on how much you can drink. And when you only can have one drink once in awhile, carefully, you tend to be extremely particular about what you choose. Now, when you’re already a bit of a beer snob, and you’re not breastfeeding anymore, even when it’s been months, and you’re faced with not one but two coolers full of microbrews and craft beers and Guinness, well…
Did I mention that I was hanging out with guys, and only guys? Yes, I probably did. But did I say how all of these guys are way taller than I, and have more muscles between them than, well, I? Hmm. I guess that part’s pretty obvious. What should have been obvious to me was that they could handle more alcohol than I could. But it wasn’t, at least in the delirium of being out and about for the day.
So I had another beer. It was awfully good.
Four hours later, we made our giddy, excited way into the stadium. Landover, Maryland can in no way be compared to South Bend, Indiana, so this game day was a little different than most of the ones to which we’re accustomed–our fly over that day was from one of the cargo plans landing at Andrews–but with the band in the stands next to us and the cheerleaders and team on the field, well, it’s game day. It was nice to be hanging out with some of my most favorite male relatives. It was fun to be at an activity that wasn’t a baby gym class or a school drop-off or didn’t involve the word “Target” (though this was DC, so maybe I should’ve have spoken to soon. Doh! Oh, no I didn’t!). And it’s always neat to be out somewhere with David where we’re not talking about whether to order chicken tenders or spaghetti for the girls, or one of us isn’t taking a little one to the bathroom, or we’re discussing Thomas the Tank Engine instead of something more on our level, like that screw-up in a recent political debate, or whether it’s necessary to refer to Han Solo by his first and last name (according to David, it’s not. Han is all you need. Just Han). Yes, I was missing my girls, and yes, this wasn’t the first time I was away from them for a stretch, but this game, for some reason, was particularly nice. Maybe I’m just that big a fan. Maybe I just really needed a night with adults. I don’t know. But when we discovered that there was a kiosk in the stadium selling Irish beers for the same exhorbitant, take-your-breath-away price as a Bud Light, well, I may have had one.
We got back to my aunt and uncle’s house around 1 or so, and spent the few hours left in the night with our children at the foot of the bed–one in her portable crib, curled up with her tush in the air, sound asleep, the other on the blow-up toddler bed she loves so much, talking in her sleep about trains. And I woke up the next morning at 6:30 or 7 to the blurry image of Quinn standing up at the rails of her crib, talking to herself. I closed my eyes for a minute. My head was pounding with a pain that was as big as a professional football stadium. I felt like I could drink a swimming pool, chlorine and all, if it were the only choice I had, and my eyes actually hurt in their sockets. The guilt was immediate. My children were waiting for me to get up. They would need breakfast, and fresh clothes, and conversation that went chatterchatterchatter from the instant they opened their own eyes. There’s a reason why I never have more than a drink or two, ever. I’m old. I have kids. I had to go to church with my family in a couple of hours, where there would be a very long homily, and an off-key choir, accompanied by an extremely loud organ, reminding me with each pounding note that the novelty of seeing Guinness being sold at a college football game isn’t reason enough to drink it, at least in large quantities. It was going to be a long day.
Quinn’s giggling must’ve woken up Saoirse, because through the haze of the dehydration-migrain, I saw Saoirse pop up from her spot at the foot of the bed.
“Mommy!” she exclaimed, her voice so light and happy and loud. “You’re home! I missed you!”
“I missed you, too, love,” I croaked, then pulled the covers back over my head.
This drinking thing is for the birds. Or college kids (but only after they’re twenty-one. You hear, that Saoirse and Quinn? WHEN YOU’RE TWENTY-ONE). I wasn’t out of control. I wasn’t all whoo!whoo!whoo! Nothing like that. But when you still have a headache at dinnertime, and your wallet is empty because your happy little night out cost nine dollars a beer, and you have to ask your child to stop singing quite so loudly because Mommy doesn’t feel so well, well, that’s just too much for this mama.
I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing we’re watching this week’s game from home. I’m all out of aspirin, anyway.
This is Margaret Claire Hetherington Nicholl. I used to call her Grandmom, but she’…