Thursday, July 2, 2015

Zoe vs. "Mommy Juice"

Remember the song “99 Bottles of Beer"? Sing it with me:

99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer
Take one down, pass it around,
98 bottles of beer on the wall.

A song about counting down . . . to a drinking problem, apparently.
As a kid I sang this song during long bus rides on class field trips. Maybe you did too. Strange, right?
Now that I'm a mom I see that there are a lot of things from my childhood that shout cognitive dissonance. Grimms' fairy tales, even Disneyfied, are filled with violence, dead parents, and children shoved in ovens. Daily life includes safety precautions that were unheard of when I was young. Helmets. Car seats. I didn't even wear a seat belt when I was a kid. In fact, I'd sit leaning forward, resting my chin on the front-seat back between my parents.
Is it that we know better now or is it that we know too much?

Today marks my 99th post on this blog. And today I’m going to talk about an organization called, whose mission is to educate parents and children about drinking by talking early. At the conference I went to, there was a representative from this organization who delivered a speech about the #TalkEarly campaign---as the attendees were imbibing, an irony not lost on anyone.

The question raised was: Do we, the (mostly) mommy bloggers in attendance (spill your beer you’d hit ten of us) joke overmuch about drinking on social media?

You know the memes. You’ve seen them. Perhaps liked and shared them. So would we still do so if we knew for a fact our kids would see it?

Dramatic pause.

And, further, would we consider refraining from making or sharing such jokes for a month?

We also saw this video, which made its point over a soundtrack of sensitive but jaunty music, after which we were invited to #RefreshYourFunny, i.e., write about the topic for possible prize money, even if we thought the whole thing was bullshit.

Okay, they asked for it. Prize money is nice but I’m not sure my particular truth is what they’re looking for.

You see, I had a visceral reaction to both the video and the call to action. It assaulted me on two fronts, much like the Southern Comfort--Bailey's combo I drank at my senior prom.

I was tempted to write up my response immediately but decided I should sit on it for a while. When you roll your eyes that far back in your head, there's a chance you'll glimpse the deeper issues in your subconscious.

So I waited. Almost a month, in fact. Thirty days, the amount of time we were being called on to refrain from making "mommy juice" jokes. Also the amount of time many recovering addicts spend in rehab.

Of course, I have no problem with the intent behind's mission. Someday Zoe will be a teenager, and being female she will need to be especially cognizant of the dangers that accompany underage drinking. And, undoubtedly, there are mothers out there for whom drinking is a very serious problem.

So whence my discomfort? Why do I intuitively reject the 30-day challenge?

Hurdle number one for me is that I'm wary of earnestness. Personal experience tells me it's often followed by finger-wagging and hand-wringing, and I don't find either of these activities useful.

After that it took time for me to attempt to separate the two strands of my resistance, only to find in the end they are probably inseparable.

First, as a humor writer, I believe that, aside from humor that stems from malice (racist or homophobic jokes, for example) nothing is off-limits. Nothing is sacred. Almost anything you can think of can be made fun of, whether your approach is gentle teasing or scathing satire.

And that's not because I'm someone who believes casual words don't matter. I love words. I believe in their power, or I wouldn't write. But political correctness and self-censoring bother me. The boundaries between simple tact and lying, free speech and things better left unsaid must be constantly negotiated. Strand number one.

The other strand, one I don't often talk about, is that humor is the main way I've coped with my up close and personal experience with an alcoholic. Until recovery, I thought life as I knew it was over. In fact, one of the reasons I started blogging was for sanity. Humor was my outlet. Including jokes about drinking.

If you’ve ever attended a 12-step meeting, you know the slogans, just as you know how they share the stage with gallows humor. It's the latter that called to me most. And if you've been in the rooms, as they say, you've witnessed the special tension of the jaded attempting to submit to mantras. The mental contortions are a very human mix of funny and heartbreaking.

Easy Does It. One Day at a Time. Live and Let Live. Good Orderly Direction. (Aka, God, if you're an atheist.)

All undoubtedly true and yearning to be helpful. But that doesn’t mean they're not also bullshit. And Zoe will have a bullshit detector on overdrive if that’s as heritable as the gene that says she can’t drink.

So maybe that's why's challenge to refresh is not for me. If good intentions cured alcoholism maybe I'd be more inclined, but refusing to engage in light humor is just as pointless a response as searching for bottles and dumping them out.

Further, responsibility is a loaded word when you're talking about addiction. From the responsibility of enablers to the responsibility the alcoholic has for their drinking when they have a mental and physical disease.

The PSA says, Please drink responsibly. And it's as thoughtless as the "have a nice day" grunted by the teenager handing you your groceries, and perhaps as effective.

I know that by growing up in the disease my child may have already absorbed lessons she wasn't ready for. Someday, yes, we will need to talk about it. When she's ready and if she wants, maybe I'll even take her to a meeting.

In the meantime when people make jokes about being drunk or being an alcoholic in a light way and when I know they don’t mean any harm I don’t take offense. I assume everyone’s doing their best to be reasonably sensitive to others' situations until proven otherwise.

Some jokes go down easy, some go down hard. Painfully funny is still funny. Just deeper and about staying sane.

Zoe: 99; Universe: 0

This piece is being submitted to a writing contest sponsored by All opinions are my own. I've received no compensation. Story of my life.


  1. 12-Steps...not my thing. Making fun of my drinking!

  2. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 2, 2015 at 9:21 AM

    Did I say you could joke about it?! ;)

  3. I love you so hard right now. I think it's worth pointing out that the whole campaign is presented by a foundation organized by the spirits industry. It's all PR, and that feels disingenuous to me. During that presentation, I was making notes of the memes they were trying to shame us about so that I could find the ones I hadn't seen before. I am definitely in favor of responsibility in all areas of life, but I don't like being told what to joke about, especially as part of a campaign organized by a large industry to make itself look better.

  4. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 2, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    Thank you, and wow, I didn't even know that. Let me know when you write yours.

  5. Awesome post. Personal, profound, and powerful. It's about time we did away with all this sanitizing and scrubbing of language instead of actually dealing with things!

  6. That came out as stupid, but whatever! I know what I mean!
    You tell em, JEFF!

  7. Really great piece, well written, and I agree with you. With all humor, for intent. If there is no intent to harm, no victims, no maliciousness, then it's fair game to me. I haven't laughed through alcoholism but I laughed through cancer (and I drank through t too - so there!) Kids need humor and realism just as badly - or maybe more so - than they need this scrubbed, sanitized, bullshit life-stew we keep spoon feeding them.

  8. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 2, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    Thanks! Totally agree!

  9. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 2, 2015 at 2:01 PM

    Uh-oh, he's talking about himself in the 3rd person again.

  10. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 2, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    Exactly. Glad we're on the same page and that the page is full of jokes.

  11. Guess I was drunk when you told me.

  12. Sarah (est. 1975)July 5, 2015 at 4:49 PM

    I love this and I love you. As an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, I do sometimes get a little uncomfortable by all the alcohol-related memes and blog posts, but not uncomfortable enough to call people to RISE UP AGAINST THEM. I don't love it, and sometimes I even complain about it, but you know what? It's my problem, I'll deal with it.

  13. "Painfully funny is still funny." Yep. Not just funny, but the best kind of funny, I would argue. All humor should have an undercurrent of terror.

  14. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 6, 2015 at 8:02 AM

    Stop being funnier than me.

  15. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 6, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    Thanks for sharing this, Sarah. It means more than you know.

  16. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 6, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    LOL. I love that and I'm going to starting saying it: all humor should have an undercurrent of terror. There.