Life is different today/I hear everybody say
Mother needs something today to calm her down.
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way/Gets her through her busy day.
~Rolling Stones, 1967
Just in time for Mother’s Day, a California-based winery recently filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to declare that its MommyJuice Wine does not infringe on the trademark of rival vitner, Mommy’s Time Out. When it comes to wine, MommyJuice’s attorneys say, there’s no monopoly on the word ‘mommy.’
Both wines promise harried caregivers a respite from the demands of motherhood. Mommy’s Time Out offers a “well-deserved break” although, judging by the picture on the label, this “break” involves sitting alone with a bottle in a corner. It looks like more of a punishment than a reward. The MommyJuice imagery is a little more inviting, featuring a cute cartoon of a mom with four arms, sitting in the lotus position while juggling a house, a computer, a spatula and a teddy bear. The website offers a “gift set” with a bottle of wine and a baby onesie that says: “When I whine, Mommy wines.” And the copy on the label reads: “Being a mom is a constant juggling act, so tuck your kids into bed, sit down and have a glass of MommyJuice.”
“Sexist!!” was my first reaction to this latest development in the Mommy Wars. I have plenty of male friends who suck on cigars while watching their kids, but I doubt they’d smoke a stogie called Daddy’s Binky or Papa’s Paci. Of course they wouldn’t! So how is that not one but two vintners are fighting for the right to put Mommy on their label? Maybe it’s because we really haven’t come such a long way, baby. Our moms had Valium; we have MommyJuice. Why not just call it Mother’s Little Helper and end the lawsuit.
“Why are you so angry about this?” a friend asked as I shouted from the top of my feminist soapbox. Indeed, I had no problem
with National Mom’s Nite Out, a series that took place last night all across the country. But something about those mommy wines got me in a rage. “You know,” she said, “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical.”
And then I remembered Veronica.* She and I got married and pregnant around the same time. I watched in awe as Veronica transitioned gracefully and effortlessly into her new role as a wife and mother. When my daughter was just 10 weeks old, I couldn’t wait to get back to the controlled environment of my office while Veronica stayed home, organized play groups (I used to send my nanny) and breast fed for a year.
My apartment looked like a war zone; Veronica’s was spotless. I bought Gerber’s baby food; Veronica mashed her own. I was still carrying a few pounds of baby weight when I got pregnant with my second child; Veronica did Strollercize in Central Park every morning and looked better than before she was pregnant. She was my go-to mom who could juggle it all like the lady on the MommyJuice label, while I felt like balls were dropping all around me. And then her second child was born. She started smoking again, the apartment got a little messier, the food took longer to make, it was harder for her to find time to exercise. After she weaned the baby, she started having a glass of wine once the kids went to sleep. Within two years, the glass at night had turned into a bottle; the cigarettes had become marijuana. The “I deserve a break” message she had told herself had insidiously evolved into “I can’t do this without a drink.” And Mommy’s “time out” became an all-the-time habit.
When her kids were only 3 and 5, Veronica went to her first rehab. When her husband came alone to social events or playdates, he covered for her saying she was home taking a nap or feeling sick. I just assumed she was exhausted like the rest of us. She returned from rehab only to relapse within the year. She tried a second rehab where she met a recovering Crystal Meth addict. She relapsed again only this time she got hooked on Meth. After several failed attempts to get clean, she ended up leaving the country, granting her husband a divorce and giving up custody of her kids.
I bumped into her just before she moved away. She was almost unrecognizable — a fragile, hollow shell of her former beautiful self. I had been so angry at her when I learned what had happened, but that day I just hugged her as we stood on the sidewalk sobbing. Six years later, I still can’t look at her kids without breaking down and crying.
Of course, there are plenty of moms who can safely enjoy a “time out” with a glass or two of wine. and will celebrate on Sunday with a well-deserved drink. But seeing the word “Mommy” on not one, but two wine labels reminds me of my friend — and of the millions of women who won’t be spending Mother’s Day with their children as they battle the powerful disease of addiction. These mothers don’t need another “little helper.” They need help. And on Mother’s Day and everyday, I hope and pray that they may find it.
*Names and minor details have been changed.