Memoir

In My Mother’s Eyes

The time my mom earned me street cred from thousands of miles away.

In My Mother’s Eyes

The first time I ever went to a bar in New York City—or anywhere for that matter—my mother came with me. I was newly 18 and 3,000 miles away from home, having moved from Arizona a few days earlier to attend Barnard College. It was orientation week—that freshman rite of passage where you match personalities with the profile pictures you friended at random over the summer.

After a few nights of orientation activities, and navigating Columbia fraternity parties, a few of my new best friends–who I’d lose touch with by the following year–and I decided to venture off campus. There was a Facebook event proclaiming the first “Can’t Miss Party” of the year. It promised to bring together freshmen from NYU, CU, Barnard, Parsons and FIT. It was 18 and older! With a theme encouraging cleavage!

We pre-gamed—a new concept to me—and giggled as we poured vodka into a Pepsi bottle to sneak on the subway. I was nervous and excited. I didn’t have to go home at midnight. Or have my mother waiting up to smell my breath when I came in. It was my first night out in New York City. I was a grown-up.

Armed with our freshly bought Metrocards and push-up bras, we went from Morningside Heights to somewhere in the twenties. Downtown, in our minds.

Outside the bar, the bouncer looked us over–a group of fresh-faced eighteen year olds–and shined his light on my ID. Then he paused.

“Arizona?! No way! One of our bartenders is from there.”

I nervously giggled. Waiting to be let in.

“HEY Z, GET OUT HERE!” he shouted into the bar.

Z appeared in the doorway. For a moment I panicked that he might think it was a fake. Z wandered over and took my license. He looked at me, looked at my ID, and then looked up at me again. I waited.

“Is your mom Mrs. Thompson?” he shouted. Yes, yes she is.

“It’s me! Z! From high school!”

My high school. Where my mother happened to teach English.

Before me stood one of my mother’s former students. In a city of eight million, I’d found the one person who knew my mother. She had eyes everywhere. I felt like I did when I would come in after curfew and find my mother waiting on the couch.

But then Z excitedly turned to the bouncer.

“Mrs. Thompson was my favorite,” he exclaimed. “Are you guys here for the party? Get in here!”

And with that, my mother and I went into my first bar. Ignoring my “under 21” wristband, Z asked what I wanted to drink. I said cranberry vodka because it was the only thing I knew how to order. As I stood with my weak drink, I suddenly realized that, because of my mother, I had street cred with my newfound friends. Because of my mother, I had a free drink. Because of my mother, I knew the bartender.

Over the years since then, I’ve befriended a bouncer and bartender or two without the help of my mother. I’ve become a local, a regular, established my favorite watering hole and dive bar haunts.

But on that first night out in New York City, thousands of miles from my childhood, as a small college freshman in a random bar in a city of millions, I’d never felt closer to home. Or more thankful for my Mom.

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