it is last weekend in new orleans, and i am sitting outside in the courtyard at pat o'brien's. the four of us, veterans of last year's vegas trip, sip hurricanes that taste like cough syrup and talk about instagram. priscilla is pretty and sullen, her face in repose looking like an expensive mask. stela is the brazilian beyonce, a bombshell in short shorts with bronzed legs that could be measured in kilometers. claudia is a petite and effortlessly beautiful salvadorian whom ian once dubbed "circus boobs." i am a walrus wrapped inside a stale taco shell and wearing borrowed clothing because i left my own pants in the dryer at home.
but for the very first time, i have something in common with these three party hoes aside from a shared love of inebriation. we are all mothers, 500 miles and 2 overpowered drinks away from our babies- refusing the self-flagellation of mom guilt.
so he says "how do you travel so much when you have a kid?" and i'm like, "my son has a father."
no one would ever ask a guy that question.
right? people expect you to stay at home all the time when you're a mom. excuse me? i love my daughter and i do everything for her but i'm not going to stop living my life.
we live our lives unapologetically this weekend, stumbling up and down bourbon street, giggling and yelling and failing to locate our uber drivers. priscilla angrily kisses a stunned middle-aged dude in cargo shorts. some unspecified members of our group flash their circus boobs. cheap, tacky beads rain down from balconies thronging with drunk onlookers. a kind indian man hands me an extra chili dog while our two disparate gangs idle on a street corner at 2 am. crowds gather around a guy breakdancing to "pump it up." stela gushes about how much she loves this city while i criticize a misspelled smile if you masterbate sign held up by a group of vagrant teenagers who panhandle for booze. i pour out half of my hand grenade for them regardless.
in between the raucous, blurred events spanning friday and saturday night, i make my escape to public restrooms. the girls flit around me anxiously and one of them holds back my hair. these detours feel so overwhelming familiar but this time i am 29 years old and no longer a drunk neophyte throwing up in bathroom stalls. instead, i relieve the mounting pressure in my breasts. it is an indignity of a different kind, milking myself ineffectually. i did not bring my electric breast pump on this trip, hoping to save space in my suitcase for the pants i forgot to bring. so i resort to hand-expressing all weekend, an arduous and pointless exercise in giving myself hand cramps. a drunk blonde girl who has more instagram followers than i have hair follicles offers to help me squeeze my boobs. she tells me that she just turned 22, and for a moment i feel like performance art of the elephant graveyard. the strobe lights of the dance floor can't touch me here, in this grimy stall, in this aching pressure, in this deepening realization that no matter where i am or who i'm with, i am always and forever a mother.
as daylight savings time rolls back and gives us another hour to waste in the club, these girls' thumbs are glued to their phones. they try to take poorly lit selfies and tap out increasingly drunker text messages to exboyfriends or future boyfriends. i recall vaguely that two years ago, i would've been doing the same. but i am a different creature now, and my phone is a permanent gallery of my little family. even here, at 3 am, in the middle of the bourbon heat dance floor, i am smiling stupidly at a picture of my boys.
so you're like the mom of the group, huh? a dude who's been hitting on me ineffectively all night comments while i shepherd the drunkest girls into a pizza place for medically necessary sustenance. mimi's always taking care of us, claudia slurs as i corral them all into an overpriced cab. even the cab driver calls me mami, though i suspect with sexual overtones. it is inescapable, like a poorly written tv show plot device. we arrive back at the airbnb and the girls scatter upstairs to drink, gossip, and hook up. alone downstairs, i tie back my hair and perch at the edge of the bathtub to wring out my unforgiving breasts. and i never stop thinking about baby james. how he has been making increasingly louder noises, delighted to hear his own squawking. how even his feet are getting fat, looking like puffy little boots. how he always smells like a bucket of buttered popcorn.
three of this gang of four return to dallas on sunday night, exhausted and desperate to be back with our babies. for all of our carefree revelry and flagrant disregard of parenting double standards, we are blatantly relieved to be back home. no matter how often i protest that my life is still the same, all the telltale signs of motherhood are there. my center of gravity has unmistakably shifted. it realigns my thoughts, pulls me closer in.
ian and james, my sun and stars.