The 40-Year-Old Reversion

Once a month I get together with half a dozen moms from Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. We call ourselves Hookers, Sluts and Drug Addicts. They dubbed me a Hooker because I wear tight clothes and smile a lot. Sally, a stay-at-home mom of boys, is a Slut, because she’s always touching her body. The Drug Addict is a therapist who can drink a bottle of Cabernet in one sitting. (All names and some details have been changed so I don’t lose more friends than I already have.) Some work and some don’t. The working ones complain about their jobs and the non-working ones complain about their husbands. We go to different restaurants, drink too much and make fun of the Catholic at the table because she is pregnant with her fifth child. (She is a Slut.) We argue over which of each other’s husbands we would have sex with if we had to.

On my first Hookers, Sluts and Drug Addicts outing, to a new restaurant by the Gowanus Canal, I was excited to meet Sally. “She’s very sexy,” said my friend Cassie, a mother of three who recently had a tummy tuck. “Especially since her breast reduction. She flirts with everyone, male or female.”

Sally and I hit it off right away. She had short hair and heavy lids. It turned out we had met ten years ago at the pool room in the back of the Brooklyn Inn, bantering and competing for boys.

Sally went to the bathroom and I waited in front of the door for her to finish. When she came out, I said, “Lemme see your tits.”

“Why?”

“I heard you got a reduction.”

She lifted her shirt and bra and flashed me. “They look good,” I said. “What did the old ones look like?”

“They were too big for my little body. They were an F. After I weaned, I would roll over onto one of them in my sleep and it would wake me up and then I would realize it was part of my own body. Now I’m a D. I love them.” Then she started stroking them. A cook stuck his head out of the kitchen.

Later we decided to go to a bar in Boerum Hill. The restaurant owner, Dave, said he would drive us. He turned out to be a divorced dad. We all crammed into his SUV. There were car seats in the back seat and he threw one of them behind us. The other wouldn’t move so a small mom sat in it, scrunched.

As we were crossing the Gowanus Canal, Dave said, “I just want you to know that I would have sex with any one of you ladies tonight. Even the pregnant one.”

“Thank you,” we said. The difference between twenty-five and thirty-eight is that, at thirty-eight, when a strange man says he wants to have sex with you, you feel grateful.

No one took him up on it that night—at least not to my knowledge. Dave disappeared and two Hookers and a Slut stayed out till two, drinking gin and tonics and paying hipster boys five dollars for a cigarette. Everything about me was twenty-five except I had lost a cup size and wasn’t chafed.

When “Girls” hit this spring, I was shocked by how true the show rang to my life—not my old life as a post-collegiate single girl but my new one, as a married, monogamous, home-owning mother. My generation of moms isn’t getting shocking HPV news (we’re so old we’ve cleared it), or having anal sex with near-strangers, or smoking crack in Bushwick. But we’re masturbating excessively, cheating on good people, doing coke in newly price-inflated townhouses, and sexting compulsively—though rarely with our partners. Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives.

* * *

Why do moms in my generation regress, whether by drugging, cheating, or going out too late and too often? Because everything our children thrive on—stability, routine, lack of flux, love, well-paired parents—feels like death to those entrusted with their care. This is why they start drinking at wine o’clock, which is so dubbed not only because it coincides with whine o’clock but because it can begin at six p.m., or five, or even four. (Though the four o’clock mothers wind up in A.A.) I know a mom who drinks only on the weekends because she thinks it’s more responsible… but she starts with a mimosa at brunch on Saturday at eleven, and doesn’t stop until her Sunday night television shows are over.

My new novel, Motherland, is about five New York City parents who act out mid-life through adultery, marijuana or Grindr. The characters are inspired by my neighbors, who seek liberation not through consciousness-raising and EST the way their mothers did, but through Fifty Shades of Grey and body shots. They arrive home from girls’ nights at three a.m. on a weeknight and then complain about hangovers at school dropoff. (And this regression is not confined to upscale neighborhoods in New York City—I hear similar stories from friends in Los Feliz, Montclair and Rye.) In flux, jaded by parenthood, confused about work and life, mothers are bored. So we rebel, just like bored adolescents—except adolescents, at least, can say they are acting their age.

As the children age (and multiply), the moms are burdened by the responsibility—to work, hold onto their homes, watch over their kids’ social and academic lives. The boredom turns to terror. You can almost clock the moment it begins, past preschool but before kindergarten. The childbearing is over, the breastfeeding in the past, the sling donated to Housing Works. It’s the moment when a mom dresses as a Harajuku girl for Halloween, or there’s a full bar at a four-year-old’s birthday party, or two ladies step out of book group to smoke on the stoop. It’s blowjob gestures at cocktail parties followed by a-little-too hysterical laughter. It’s the mother who says, “Mommy needs an Advil because she stayed up too late last night.” It’s fortieth birthday parties at karaoke bars.

In the new version of rebellion, the men are supportive. “Go have fun!” says the husband to the wife trekking out to meet the gals. Moms in my circle go out much more often than the dads, who are too tired, too anti-social, or just want to stay home smoking pot. (Fortysomething parents frequently go out stag because someone is always at home watching the kids. This allows them to act if not quite single then single-ish.) The same Facebook moms who use kid photos as their profile pics post galleries of their binge drinking. Is the behavior really amoral? No. Does it cross a line? Rarely. But there is a wild, life-craving, narcissistic, oblivious madness to it that reminds me of Don Draper and pals in the mid-sixties. These women are the men their mothers divorced.

* * *

About a quarter of the married moms I know have cheated in some form. If anyone says, “I have a great marriage but it takes a lot of work” it means they’ve cheated.

Yes, there are Brooklyn parents who have actual intercourse with their spouses, but it’s usually because one of them is on Wellbutrin, or French. Ninety percent of the sex being had in brownstone Brooklyn is by French ex-pats, and you can’t count that because they all have lovers back in Paris and it makes them generous.

A month ago I went for drinks in Fort Greene with a mom friend. On her third Grüner, she said, “I cheated on my husband. Once. In the back of a minivan.”

“Who was the guy?”

“A coworker. We were on a business trip. It was really weird.”

“Did you go all the way?”

“No!”

“OK, I’ll hold up fingers to see what base you went to and you tell me when to stop.”

One? Two? Three? “Yes!” she cried. “Third! I went to third!”

“One way or both?”

“Both.” She said her husband had no idea. She didn’t feel guilty because it wasn’t actually sex.

As though to compensate for the intimacy of her revelation we soon turned to blander topics such as family size. She said she wasn’t having more children. “What do you use for protection?” I asked.

“Pullout,” she said. “Pullout and I’m forty-three.” She was using withdrawal as birth control. And she was calling it pullout.

You would think people with multiple children would be responsible about contraception because they understand the financial and emotional toll of childrearing. Instead they are as clueless and blasé as teens, teens who really don’t know any better. My circle of parents use withdrawal plus biological clock or substitute masturbation for sex—YouPorn, xHamster. Others use rhythm, the Pill, or hand jobs and blow jobs—the same methods we used in our twenties. In the 90s we did “everything but intercourse” because of AIDSphobia. Now we do it because of laziness.

As for condoms, no way. If a twentysomething guy on “Girls” can’t be bothered to use rubbers, why would a forty-year-old monogamous dad? (Exception made for the dad who bought Magnums from me at the Park Slope Food Coop while I desperately tried to focus on his baby bok choi.)

I have a divorced friend with three kids. Hot, tall, gymnastic. She and her husband weren’t sleeping in the same room when she got knocked up with the third. They split a bottle of wine and didn’t use a condom. A year later she was separated with a newborn.

The combination of irresponsible contraception and illegal drugs among Regressives is the reason New York is in a baby boom right now. Those couples you see, grimacing, with the two babies fifteen months apart? They were drunk.

What other drugs do Regressives choose? Nineties drugs like pot and cocaine. Plus benzos—Xanax and Ativan—which our doctors prescribe for the sleep disorders we all suffer from post-parenthood. Two dad friends I know go out once a month to a nightclub, sit at a table, swallow Xanax recreationally with beer, and make each other laugh.

One warm night recently, I went to a rooftop party in Cobble Hill hosted by a dad buddy, Ted, and his wife. They have a six-year-old son. Ted smokes pot every night and Jenny knows and doesn’t mind because it makes him more pleasant to be around. Ted and I get together every few months to eat lunch and toss around screenplay ideas. After I confessed to him on one lunch date that I hadn’t smoked pot in a few years, he gifted me with a big chunk in a Lucite box. My husband and I smoked it out of the cardboard part of a wire hanger while our daughter was at a sleepover. Then we made out and watched Seven Samurai.

Ted and Jenny’s roof deck turned out to be stunning, with patio furniture, heat lamps, and guard rails—unlike the tar roofs in Williamsburg I went to in the nineties where I worried someone would fall off. Parents drank champagne and mojitos, discussing public versus private, summer camp plans, Amis and Fonseca’s architect.

“How do you know Ted?” asked a scruffy guy in his forties, as Ted stood opposite me.

“He’s my drug dealer,” I said.

I waited for eyebrows to rise. “Mine, too,” he said.

Because of the full bar, complete with bartender (another perk of fortysomething parties) I drank too much good champagne and left on wobbly wedges at 9 p.m. There were no empty cabs on Smith Street because Smith Street is for rich people now, and after twenty minutes of unsuccessful hail attempts, I hopped on the G to Park Slope, eyeing the Williamsburg crowd half my age.

Another night I went to Milady’s to meet my friend, Dan, a married journalist who never goes out with his wife. He was sitting with a magazine editor named Gary, Gary’s fiancee Fiona, and a late-thirties guy named Adrian who said he worked for a video web site. Adrian was a Cobble Hill dad with a toddler-aged daughter. We gossiped about schools and then I asked Adrian, “You have any other kids?”

“Trying. We have this machine. You plug it into the wall and it tells you when to do it.”

After only a few minutes, everyone stood up and said they were going to Gary’s apartment on Thompson Street. It was the strangest thing. We were having a perfectly good time out at the bar but suddenly they wanted to leave.

There was a glass coffee table in Gary’s living room and as we sat down I noticed some fallen plaster on the glass. Then Dan took out a Metrocard and snorted a line of the plaster. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Sorry,” Dan said, and shrugged. Every other person at the table did a line including Adrian, the Cobble Hill dad. I pictured the cocaine traveling into his nostrils and blood stream and ejaculate, and on into the zygote. The kid was definitely going to be hyperactive.

Did the wife know he was out doing blow before he was coming home to bang her? Would she be horrified if she did or did she feel it was an appropriate stress response to the pressure to come on command?

After Gary took his turn, he said, “Raw!” and patted Fiona on the ass. Then they started talking about a journalist who had won an award. Fiona asked what I was working on and I said a novel. We got in a discussion about third person versus first person. “Has anyone written a novel in the second person?” Fiona asked.

Bright Lights, Big City,” I said.

“‘You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning,'” said Gary.

“You want some?” Adrian asked me, gesturing to the coke.

“No thanks,” I said. “On Friday nights we do a family bed. I can’t get through a night of co-sleeping while crashing from blow.”

“I totally get it,” he said.

* * *

If married parents sound like they are misbehaving, they are chaste in comparison to divorced parents, the biggest Regressives of all. The divorced regressed themselves right out of their marriages and now they’re playing the field. Nothing wrong with that, except they want to tell you all about it. Divorced mothers have the sex drive of fifteen-year-old boys. They go all the way on the first date, because they still have IUDs left inside from their marriages, and then they corner you at parties to ask advice about eHarmony.

“My new boyfriend’s Asian,” a rangy divorcee told me. “I’ve never fucked an Asian guy. Turned out he has a really big dick. Much bigger than my ex’s.” Then she went on about her ex-husband and his new, pretty girlfriend. I had to pretend to see someone across the room.

* * *

At a brownstone Brooklyn party in June, perimenopausal mothers with bangs and strappy dresses drank ridiculous cocktails and rocked out to Biz Markie and C+C Music Factory, raising their palms to the air. “There are a lot of single women here,” said a dad friend from Spain.

“They’re not single,” I said. “They’re just acting single.”

“Oh,” he said. I pointed to the husbands on the side, watching their wives and wincing.

“Psst,” a shaved-bald dad whispered to me. “We’re going to go outside and smoke some weed. You want to come?”

“I’m not smoking weed on the street in this ZIP code. My husband had to go to drunk school for an open container.”

“Your loss,” he said.

He went out to smoke it with another mom, and a dad who was always very funny in the playground. “Did you want to join them?” I asked the wife of Funny Dad.

“I’m breastfeeding,” she said.

“So?” I said. “It’s good for the baby.” She giggled and declined.

The stoners came back with smug grins and then talked about how good the pot was, like if they didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t quite as rebellious. I decided it was time to go home.

On my way out I saw a woman falling down the front stairs as her husband struggled to right her. Nothing changes, except you have to pay a sitter.



Amy Sohn is the author of the new novel Motherland, out August 14 with Simon & Schuster, as well as Prospect Park West and two others. She lives in Brooklyn with her family. Photo by S. Diddy.