On a November visit to the newly opened Commonwealth Brewing Company my date, a never-married, childless male, was shocked at the number of babies at the brewery: infants in arms, newborns in bucket seats, toddler Frankensteins monster-stomping around the long communal tables, babies starfish strapped across chests.
We sat enjoying a flight of beers at one of the long, roughly hewn bier garten style tables. Golden Retrievers sniffed through jean-clad legs hoping for a dropped chicken finger or french fry from the food truck growling outside. The old fire station doors gaped open. The autumn breeze carried the thunk of bean bags striking wooden boards inside.
One very new human, a little girl marked by a stretchy headband with an outsized Pepto pink pastel bow attached, arrived asleep in her car seat among a tribe of happy caregivers spanning at least two generations of family and friends.
The baby’s mom carried her in and placed her seat in the center of the sturdy table and the little one’s people encircled her. Some of the clan fetched beers to be shared and when Precious One awoke, different tribes-people held her and smiled down as they explained her growing world to her round cheeks and newborn fist-hands. Her tiny face recalled those of my own daughters, now nearly ten and eight years old. Her mom sat on the wooden bench and slurped ice water from a straw, her spine a soft apostrophe. She smiled, tired face in one hand. Hooray for babies in bars.
The craft beer movement may have given me jowls and love handles (damn you 250+ calorie IPAs I love so much) but by welcoming children and babies into your tasting rooms I wondered if brewers weren’t also combating the dangerous isolation of new motherhood.
The world becomes a terrifying place when your squalling heart (that will for the rest of your life beat outside you) wriggles out between your legs. And too often pediatricians, well-meaning and vocal strangers, mothers, mothers-in-law, roadies, you name it, will terrorize you with all there is to fear as if the vulnerable, pulsing flesh of your child, the slowly drying and darkening remnants of her umbilicus isn’t enough.
I missed beer when I was pregnant. A lot. Over beers with my parents I mourned the death of my little brother. After beers I had kissed the man who would become my husband. And by the bottom of a growler, we navigated our exits from a shared life. While I enjoyed a slowly savored (and yes, always with food) Duchesse de Borgougne once a week after the start of my second trimester, those perfectly sour swallows helped, but they didn’t slake my thirst.
Before the birth of my daughter I had been an adult, an individual, invested and engaged in my community, my workplace, my small social world. They day she was born I was expected and demanded of myself that I would gracefully and immediately adapt to this new tethering of two. I would happily leash myself to baby and home. I was a grizzly attempting to thrive inside an urban garden plot. The buzz I sought was more interactional than alcoholic. I missed the chatter, the communion, the guess what this knucklehead did with your account, who’s sleeping with whom, who’s going back to school, what dreams remain to be plucked off the shelf.
But I was attempting to breastfeed and it wasn’t going well; my body was bovine and unwieldy; my daughter cried sometimes. I feared germs like I now fear ISIS. What would the world think if I brought my daughter to a bar?
I stayed home, sequestered inside the plaster walls I’d painted and wore a thickening hair shirt of my own resentment. Occasionally I tried to go out. Time out, though, meant time away from my daughter, and I was consumed by my love for her, for our mutual need. Even the out-and-about that I craved felt wrong. I wanted baby and friends and a little booze. In solitude, fears and worries grow disproportionately and throw scary shadows. I castigated myself for missing the world that careened on without me.
At Commonwealth, as the little baby’s friends and family dealt one another Cards Against Humanity, Precious One wriggled and mewled. Careful hands passed her one to the other. The young mother gently pressed the rooting bird mouth to her beautiful, blue vein whiskered breast. My date’s eyes widened and he looked away, polite. My eyes blurred.
On every airplane mothers are instructed to put on their own masks before fitting children’s masks on their faces. A mother needs to breathe.
Several weeks after my visit to Commonwealth, my daughters and their friends, (some they brought to the bar, others they made at Smartmouth Brewing Company), ended their Chelsea Holiday Fest with a game of giant Jenga after pony rides, posing for photos with local Krampuses (Krampi?) and munching gyros from the NY Souvlaki truck. My best friend, her mother and I sat and watched, and clinked our glasses happily.
If bringing a baby into a bar means a new mother is getting out more and is able to savor a sip of her pre-child life and enjoy motherhood, and that she has the opportunity to breastfeed in public should she be able and so choose, I’ll be the first to raise a glass. Ask the baby’s dad to drive. Hasn’t he benefited from a sober driver for the last nine months? We live in suburban to urban neighborhoods in Southeastern Virginia and eat food from trucks. We teach our children a game called Cornhole. These activities have become normal. Cheers to a new generation of women tapping into life as both mother and social creature every now and then.