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A Brief History of Drinking with My Baby

I never thought I'd be one of those parents, begging our son to stop wailing as I changed his diaper on a table in the backroom of a bar. How did I get here?

I used to hate being out at a bar and looking up from my pint to find a cutie staring me down, eyes wide and glassy, face slicked with drool. An underage, diapered one I mean.

“Isn’t any place safe from breeders?” I’d kvetch.

Then I’d roll my eyes at the tot’s parents, annoyed at how they clung to their pre-spawn freedom, the footloose days they had traded in for naptimes and conventionality. On top of my personal prejudices, I didn’t think the noise – the music at many bars leaves me with temporary tinnitus – was good for developing eardrums. I mean, come on parents: Safety first.

Of course, since becoming a father my baby's become my most constant companion at the neighborhood bars.

My change of heart came gradually. In those early days, my son was more like a lifelike doll than an actual human, sleeping whenever he wasn’t eating. Stir crazy after a couple of weeks on newborn house arrest, my wife and I toted the dozing cherub along for a cocktail in the backyard of Weather Up, the speakeasy on Vanderbilt Avenue. When he awoke my wife nursed him, drink in hand. He didn’t make a peep or otherwise disturb our fellow imbibers, and we thought, “Well, as long as he’s not bothering anyone …”

Fast forward three months and we’re those people, the ones I used to abhor, begging our son to stop wailing as we changed his diaper on a table in the backroom of Park Slope’s The Gate. Some months after that, we watched in pride as he toddled around Mission Dolores making friends with the patrons’ doggies. “Let’s get another round,” we told our drinking companions.

Sure, once he picked a cigarette butt off the deck of Underhill Avenue’s , whose barkeep was less than enthusiastic about having the smoker’s den used as a romper room. But for the most part, our son enjoyed the occasional Sunday afternoon beer as much as we did.

My wife and I selected watering holes with outdoor space and a generally favorable attitude toward babies, and we tried finding seats away from the crowd. Not that it mattered much. Our son has always been one cute little squirt (in my humble opinion), so none of our fellow drinkers seemed to mind having him around. And believe me, I was on the lookout for patrons shooting us the stink eye, as I myself would have done not too many months before.

But these visits all took place in the summertime, back when he was a less mobile, more docile creature. But last week, to beat the winter doldrums, we took the twenty-month-old tot out for a quick one at Washington Commons. We figured we could hide in the backroom away from the bar proper, and invited friends to meet us with their 2-year-old daughter in the hopes that the kids would keep themselves company.

Oh, the best laid plans of harried parents.

As we ponied up to the taps with my son, he asked, “Na-na?” his word for food. When we told him there were no treats he began waving goodbye, a sure sign he wanted to go. And my beer hadn’t even been poured!

My wife tried to distract him. On most days he’s mister organization, stacking, knocking down, and restacking empty yogurt containers in an unending project. On this particular evening he couldn't care less about those or any of the toys we had brought with us.

Perhaps the décor, done in adult tones of brown and black, dulled his enthusiasm. Or perhaps he sensed we were keeping him sequestered from the patrons who, when my friend’s little girl bolted around the bar in excitement, rolled their eyes in annoyance. (How dare the curmudgeons!) Or maybe our timing was just off. It was the end of the day, too near that time of baby’s bath and bed. Not really when you want to take a toddler out to an unfamiliar, dark place that reeks of stale fermentation.

Still, we tried. Crayons emerged. Toy cars got passed around. Snacks were shared. The kids hugged one another again and again, but what they really wanted to do was run wild and play.

We gulped down our IPA and made a hasty exit.

As I deposited our glasses at the bar, I asked the bartender, Rachel, if she had any etiquette tips for drinking with toddlers. “Be considerate,” she said. “Come early and leave at the first sign of crying.”

“That’s funny,” a man said next to me. “Because when I came in I heard a baby crying, but now I don’t see it.”

I shot a quick glance to the door, beyond which my friend, wailing daughter slung over one shoulder, waved his arms in a semaphore anyone would recognize: let’s get the hell out of here, STAT!

For a moment, the old me reemerged and I breathed a sigh of relief, glad this guy at the bar hadn’t connected me to the overtired kids. But then I considered that, on the contrary, I should be proud. The fact that he didn’t see any crying babies proved we’d done a good job, drinking with two toddlers and not disturbing the overall vibe.

Still, until the weather warms and outdoor spaces reopen, those who have yet to experience the bountiful joys of parenthood can tip back their pints without worry. I think we’ll be doing our drinking either at home, or baby free.

Ray Mathias February 09, 2011 at 03:31 AM
Cute article. Leave the kid at home. When you decided (or were you surprised by it? Doesn't really matter) to have a kid, you became boring. Accept your boringness and do boring things with other boring people. Not in bars.
Denis February 09, 2011 at 03:51 AM
What a great read. Commonsense is all that's needed. My family owned a bar in the Bronx for almost 50 years. Of course people came in with kids from time to time. If the kids acted up, they left, and they never went when it's too late or too crowded... and most patrons wouldn't give the stinkeye just because someone walked in with a little one. Seems like too many people are looking for an argument these days. If only more parents and young singles were as collected and thoughtful as the author. From what I've seen, the singles who preach about the annoyance of babies in bars become the parents who never pay attention to their kids running wild in public. In two words: Self Obsessed.
Ray Mathias February 09, 2011 at 12:43 PM
What I don't understand is why parents even want to bring their kids into bars. I go to bars to either a.) escape reality and get drunk (which I guess I can actually understand a parent wanting to do however, you're not really escaping reality bringing the little one, are you?) or b.) meet new people and get drunk (and if you desire the latter, why don't you go somewhere where other parents and kiddies are hanging out, not a bar)?
Erika February 20, 2011 at 08:38 AM
I've tried it. Not a good idea for the reasons already listed. Nursing with drink in hand is a no-no! Drink at home and not while nursing.
Melissa Lawson January 05, 2013 at 05:59 PM
A single beer while breastfeeding doesn't necessarily hurt, as there is a polysaccharide in the barley which seemingly stimulates prolactin (or so I've read). Then there's the aspect of relaxation that occurs when you are doing something you like to do...release of oxytocin, etc. Alcohol is not going to reach your breastmilk instantaneously. Anything more than that single beer, though, would sound quite foolish to me. Active parenting is the priority. I've always had trouble bringing my little guy into any sort of eating/drinking/gathering establishment, so I commend you on trying. I can relate to you (I think) for not being one of those stereotypical bar-goers who goes into bars only to get sloshed or meet new people, but for the purpose of getting that lovely reward of delicious beer after lots of hard work (which parenting certainly is). Still, it seems much more appealing to me now, with a two year old, to just pick up some good brews for home drinking, where everyone can relax a little more. Maybe even with friends. :) AND! At home, you can even brew some yourself and teach those little ones the joys, sciences, and responsibilities that come with beer and "cooking." Without tasting, of course. --From a beer-loving, home-brewing, breast-feeding, bar-hopping (sans toddler, though) mother of one future beer-loving, home-brewing, breast-feeding-supporting bar-hopper.

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