On the first night of my return to smoking pot, after the kids are asleep, my husband tells me, “I think you’re good; you can probably stop now.” I look down and find I’ve blown through half the joint I’ve been nervously puffing at like a cigarette. I’m annoyed with him for micromanaging me because I am not at all stoned—and then, of course, I am in an instant waaaaaayyyyy toooooooo stoned and grateful for his kindness in a mute, fairly immobile way.
As I wonder (fuzzily, not entirely silently) at the extreme potency of the marijuana I have just smoked, I notice that the remote I’m holding is pointed at the Amazon on Demand screen, and it’s frankly terrifying to realize that inside the neon-bright little boxes—boxes that move, to my awe and horror—are hundreds of movies, and the whole thing is organized in a way that I cannot parse but that I know is based on my preferences. MACHINE, MY PREFERENCE IS TO HAVE ONE PERFECT MOVIE ON THIS TV. I don’t want to look at hundreds of titles, many of which are cartoons or shows my children like, which is sending me into a guilty, bad-mothering place. (NO, I DO NOT WANT TO WATCH DORA THE EXPLORER, AMAZON, YOU GUILT-TRIPPING ASSHOLE!)
“I’m kinda lost here,” I mumble to my husband. He thinks I’m joking. I toss the remote at him, hunch further into the couch, and wait for my magic movie to appear on the magic box. Mad Men! Over the next week, as I watch my regular shows stoned, I’ll come to understand how wooden and artificial most dialogue is, but Mad Men really holds up and deepens, you guys! I audibly groan during instances of sexism, my husband looks over at me, and I feel a little self-conscious because I think I am mouth breathing. The pauses are so pregnant on this show! About halfway through the episode, I look down at the Google doc I have open and realize there is no reason for me to be recapping and analyzing the show as I am, and also that I am not good at typing while stoned.
Oh, the non-crisis of my bourgeois existence! I’m a mother of two small children, comfortably inhabiting the sort of suburban life I once defined myself by rejecting. When you’re younger, you separate yourself from the imagined mainstream crowd by your taste in music, fashion, and humor—but most of that fades away when everybody’s kids are in school together, everybody goes to Whole Foods for gluten-free cereal, everybody’s too tired to wear anything but MomClothes™, and everybody’s music tastes have been washed away by the Frozen tsunami. Once you have children, many of the markers that signified your Totally Unique Being are lost to you, and it’s easy to find yourself wondering, as you look admiringly at your friends’ Honda Odysseys with their impressive capacity, how, or if, or why, you are who you are—then a child throws themselves into your arms and demands your full attention and love, and you are too grateful to ponder questions of existence.
Nostalgia is the most powerful and pervasive of thirtysomething habits, though, and lately I’ve found myself wondering what could make me feel transgressive again. There’s nothing subversive about drinking; it’s just a minor tweak on the same suburban-mom stereotype (“Mommy’s Time Out Pinot Grigio” is a real thing). I’ve weaned myself off the mild antianxiety meds and antidepressants I once took, and though I absolutely needed them at times, I wonder at their strength and influence. At the risk of sounding like a dirty hippie, wouldn’t the occasional toke be better than the scrips-and-wine relaxation method adopted by so many of my fellow once-hip surburbanites? And couldn’t weed—countercultural, Costco-incompatible weed--connect me to a younger, hipper, less stereotypically mommish version of myself?
My decision to adopt weed as my drug of choice wasn’t random. I used to be the kind of stoner who owned a pair of four-foot bongs (christened the Godfather and Apollonia) and smoked from them using a camping lighter, clearing bowls with the flourish that comes from spending long Southern California days practicing such skills. The year after college, which I spent in a Hollywood apartment with my boyfriend and a guy friend on a diet of In-N-Out, weed, and 2:00 AM burritos, was my habit’s peak, or nadir, depending on how you view that sort of lifestyle. After that, I took a break from pot. In 2001 I moved to New York, where I drank more, went on antidepressants, and smoked mostly at parties. My husband—who grew up in New York and thus was over his stoner period at a frighteningly young age—got a job in DC, and in the six years since we started our family my pot intake has been limited to the very occasional joint shared during rare trips without the kids.
So I knew weed; knew it in the same deeply nostalgic way that I knew the taste of Animal-Style at In-N-Out, more than a decade after leaving California. Except I didn’t know how to get any.
Before beginning my experimental return to stonerdom I figured it would be easy to score weed, but I underestimated the depths of my uncoolness. Between snack duty and kindergarten orientation, I don’t know many open smokers, or anyone who sells pot. Every day “buy some marijuana” remained on my to-do list next to “Costco run” made me more nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find any, which I know is not good. Preliminary paranoia is not cool.
Employees at my local Whole Foods smoke, as I know from marijuana-centric conversations among shelf stockers I’ve interrupted. Maybe during one of these interactions, or at check-out, after we’ve established a connection—HAHAHAHA WE BOTH HATE YOUR CORPORATE OVERLORDS BUT MY FEELINGS ARE COMPLEX BECAUSE I’M SUPPORTING THEM LET’S NOT GET INTO IT—I could, very subtly, ask, WHERECANIGETSOMEWEED? Foolproof plan, right?
My lowest point comes in the Kinko’s parking lot, when I spot a dreadlocked black guy in a Bob Marley T-shirt and think, Hey! I should ask that guy! Follow-up thought: What is wrong with me? Why has the pursuit of drugs brought out my basest assumptions? This man should sell me a bag of expensive oregano and then arrest me for criminal stupidity and racism.
I consider asking the dad next door who I’m friends with, but it’s tricky, because in our corner of DC suburbia there’s a complicated tangle of cladestine vices: Some of the dads smoke pot semi-openly but the moms just… don’t. We are the primary caregivers, charged with keeping constant vigilance over our broods using problem-solving skills and speedy reflexes to manage crises. These responsibilities don’t make it easy to develop a weed habit.
Clearly, there’s some sexist shit at play here. At some point, our circle of parents came to an unspoken understanding about who does the smoking and who does the caregiving. Moms can’t get stoned and stare into fire pits, because they’re making sure children don’t run into the fire; they can’t get stoned and vibe out on some music, because they’re putting the babies to bed. And since I’ve been more than a little judgmental about the dads I know who get stoned and chill while their wives do the parenting, going to these same dads for a weed connect feels a little hypocritical. But I finally text my friend and awkwardly ask if her husband, THE pot-smoking dad, can hook me up.
He graciously offers me a joint, gratis, but I’ve come to realize that back in my stoner period I rarely bought my own stash—so in an entirely symbolic effort to correct my earlier etiquette failures, I insist on buying an eighth. I’m an adult, and I buy my own weed!
For a few days, until I get a simple faux-cigarette one-hitter, I struggle to smoke enough to get a little high, but not so much that I get blotto. This is a delicate balance. With the benefit of decades of experience, I can gauge how much alcohol will take the edge off or get me buzzed or give me a hangover. I don’t have the same control when it comes to smoking pot. While drinking wine, I can answer work and school emails, take care of household issues, plan my son’s medical visits, and talk normally with those around me. Being stoned, on the other hand, closes off certain parts of modern life to me. I cannot deal with much of the internet, smartphones, the goddamn Roku machine. With the amount and quality of pot I am smoking, I can look at Twitter for no more than five minutes at a time, intently watch Mad Men or Gravity, laugh at grotesque cakes on Pinterest, fall into obsessive music holes, mutter things about Mad Men/music/horrible cakes/Twitter to my husband, and eat avocados whole. That’s pretty much it.
One afternoon, when I have an uninterrupted block of three hours to myself, I take a few hits, put on some Harry Nilsson, sit in a rocking chair in my sunny living room and pretend I’m a lady of the Laurel Canyon, circa the year of my birth. Then I do pretty well on the Slate News Quiz. Why am I taking the Slate News Quiz? Because I am a grown-ass woman who likes doing news quizzes, and indulging in substances I have not enjoyed during the day for over a decade will not make me a decade younger, or a decade different.
Clearly I still know how to smoke pot and how to be stoned, but it doesn’t make me any less momlike. If anything, I feel more deeply entrenched in a particularly middle-aged furrow of weird old music, cultural criticism, and NPR. Smoking pot may change your experience of the things you like, but it doesn't change you. I’m not suddenly able to relate to Miley Cyrus and her 4/20 Bangerz 4 Lyfe thing with some of the Youngs, because I am not, nor was I ever, someone who would relate to Miley Cyrus. Even at the height of my stonerdom, I rejected the dumb, deeply embarrassing aspects of weed culture—drum circles, pot leaf icons, that whole murder-jester pipe aesthetic—so why would I engage with that shit now that my age has liberated me from it? In hindsight, now that I’m actually high, it seems bizarre that I would seek out pot in a quest to be less defined by the cliches of adult life. If I wanted to meaningfully challenge the codes and boundaries of my bourgeois suburban life, developing a weed habit is maybe not the best way to go about that.
I am coming down from this afternoon of epiphany, Harry Nilsson, and News Quiz crushing when my five-year-old comes home. This day marks the one time I have smoked pot when either of my kids have been awake and in the same zip code as I am, and while I’m not stoned anymore, I still feel nervous. Does he sense this? Is that why he looks up from his Legos, fixes his huge blue eyes on me, and suddenly asks me to CHOOSE BETWEEN HIM AND HIS SISTER?
The Sophie’s Choice question, for the first time ever, on an afternoon of illicit activity, is a lot to take in, and I react like I’ve been hit by a very cute, very crazy truck. Finally, I reply with the expected script: I love you both, I could never choose. He keeps pushing: If you had to choose between me and her, who would it be? I become more insistent—I will never have to choose, it would be impossible. You and your sister are like parts of my body, my limbs! I couldn’t choose between parts of my body! He will not let it go: Well then, if you had to choose your right arm or your left arm, which would you choose? Oof. Bravo, sir.
Any other day, this conversation would have been approached carefully, lightly, with more attention paid to the reassurance and love he was asking for. But it felt unbearably fraught and intense in the wake of the pot, and served as a very definite admonition from the universe to absolutely never, ever smoke pot anytime my children are conscious and in the same county, ever.
The last night of my experiment before we go on vacation, I find the sweet spot: I inhale just the right amount from my one-hitter and decide to fix myself some Costco chicken salad left over from my son’s pre-K graduation. The tastiness of the food makes me do a little dance, which might have made me self-conscious as a younger person. But I’m in my home, surrounded by people I love, and who love me even in my most pathetic moments, and I’m an adult lady who can dance in her house and squeal about the gloriousness of adding grapes to mayonnaise-based prepared foods without fear. My husband and I are about to watch some MasterChef Junior, which is just right, and I will make lots of hilarious, perfectly-timed jokes that will amuse us both to no end, and I know there are avocados left for later, because I am an adult, and I bought them.
Jessica Roake lives and writes in the DC suburbs.
Topics: marijuana, weed, pot, drugs, suburbia, personal history, personal essays, stoners, moms, Whole Foods, trying to buy pot is difficult if you are past a certain age, Dora the Explorer, parenting, harry nilsson, moms getting high, getting too high, naming your bongs