A Cup of Joe

"Son, is that a panty on your head?"

“Son, is that a panty on your head?”

Having a cup of coffee is a rite of passage. Though I don’t drink coffee anymore (I am officially stopping decaf today – tomorrow at the latest), I love everything about it. The complexity, the shiny beans, the painfully slow drip process, the first scalding sip, the stray ground that sticks to my lip, placed like a misshapen freckle…it’s an intense love affair.

P.S. (pre-Sophie), one of my favorite things to do was to dip into a cafe and lose myself to the music, the thick brews, and the people also lost in their own reveries. I’d only shift my eyes skyward to stretch, often hours later, once I’d come out of my artistic coma or met an impending deadline.

Stupidly, I figured when we moved to Nashville, I’d get this piece of my life back. I even found a new favorite cafe (which is beyond expensive, doesn’t carry decaf and sells $10 bars of chocolate). But the atmosphere makes me think I’m stepping back in time, maybe to Paris, or maybe just to some pretentious place in Portland, but I love it here.

Em and the munchkin at Barista Parlour

Em and the munchkin at Barista Parlour

Having just baked a fresh batch of carrot spice muffins, thanks to Oh She Glows, I brought some to my mother and asked if she’d like to get a cup of coffee there. She only drinks Americanos, and I’ve grown to like their decaf lemongrass tea, and I thought it would be a brilliant plot to get Sophie out of the house so Alex could get work done.

Um, yeah.

Crack muffins.

Crack muffins.

The line snaked out the door as we entered. Sophie, aready tired of being in her stroller, kicked her long legs and let out a series of prehistoric roars. I surveyed the packed grounds, looking for a few spare stools. My mother instantly struck up a conversation with a man who drove all the way from Gallatin for some macaroons. Her ability to engage in conversation is one of her most endearing and baffling traits. The shy person in me always averts eye contact with strangers, or I take it upon myself to make direct eye contact and smile too brightly, which is just creepy. If a conversation does ensue, I use filler words, such as “totally” and “absolutely,” or “totally, absolutely” like it’s one thought – the only thought in my head.

As I stood in line with my mom talking to this stranger, I wondered how exactly I’d explain stranger danger to Sophie. Isn’t everyone a potential threat where kids are concerned? Maybe we’d put her in jiu-jitsu early or train her to be a ninja, so if she got in any sort of precarious situation, she could run that shit. That’s what we’d do, I decided. We’d train her to be a ninja.

As a table opened up, my mother took Sophie while I stood in line over 20 minutes to order. Once I got to the small bearded man with the pretty tattoos taking orders, I ordered my mother an Americano.

“We don’t do Americanos. We just have two-ounces of espresso.”

“You have two ounces… like, total? Like in the cafe? You can’t add some hot water to a shot or two of espresso?”

The guy looked at me, solemn. “No no, I’m afraid not. We might consider it down the line though. We’re thinking about it. The Americano. But if you like that, you can do a regular coffee.”

“You’d think that, but this is for my mother, and she’s just weaned herself off of lattes, so for her to like the Americano is a big deal and she doesn’t have a lot of time, and I told her how great this place is and now you don’t have Americanos.” I gave this stranger a big, creepy smile. “It’s fine. I guess I’ll just get a shot of espresso. And a decaf iced lemongrass tea. And this bar of chocolate.”

I was buying my mom a bar of Mast chocolate with almonds. Alex and I had eaten this brand on our “honeymoon” when we stayed at the W hotel. I knew it would take the edge off the strong coffee.

“That’s $17.”

“Say what?” I quickly retracted the $10 bar of chocolate and made my way to my mother, the wooden man with the letter “E” table marker gripped firmly in my hands.

Sophie was out of her carseat, bucking wildly, demanding to be let down.

“Good news! You’re about to get real Parisian,” I said.

“Why? What do you mean?”

“They don’t have Americanos.”

Silence.

“So I got you an espresso instead. Isn’t that fun?”

“Um.”

“It’ll be like we’re in Paris again!”

My mother’s Parisian memories weren’t as warm or fuzzy as mine, but still. Everyone wanted to be in Paris – or at least pretend to be.

I could see the disappointment – my mother is particular about her wine and coffee, and this mini-date of ours was unraveling already. All I wanted to do was sit, talk, and take a few minutes to decompress. Instead, I walked Sophie around while we waited for our drinks.

“Oh my,” my mom said when it arrived. A small glass of sparkling water and a free bar of chocolate sat on the plate by her delicious espresso.

“I hope this doesn’t hurt my stomach.”

“It won’t hurt your stomach. It will make you invincible.”

She took a delicate sip and made a face. “It’s citrusy.”

“You mean complex. Let me smell it.” I gripped the cup and inhaled the dark, acidic brew. I wanted to douse myself in it. How could she not appreciate this?

“How can you not appreciate this? I could drink a bowl of this.”

“It’s good… it’s just different.”

I watched her – with envy – as she sipped on her drink and broke the chocolate apart. Meanwhile, I racked my brain for conversation that could be had in two word increments. Every time I started a sentence, Sophie yelled, threw something, stomped her feet or demanded to be put down, picked up, flipped upside down, or tickled.

Finally, I let her shove her hands into the leftover ice in my cup of tea. She smiled and palmed a giant hunk of ice into her mouth.

“She could choke on that,” my mom said.

“Could she? Won’t it just melt?”

This was not a good sign – that I was passive about choking, the one thing I was crazy about, since we’d had a few treachorous choking scares.

Sophie managed to shift the ice over to her inside cheek and bark for more as we discussed money, jobs, my father, the weather… I could not string a complete sentence together.

After five minutes of one word responses, picking up tossed toys and a baby shoe that had hit the toe of a very stern-looking patron, I began to laugh. A deep belly laugh that shook my entire body and had me doubling over in the middle of this very hip cafe.

“I have officially lost it,” I gasped. “Will shit ever be normal again? Will I ever be able to carry on a conversation in public with a person that doesn’t involve babies or toys or screams?”

My mother shrugged and gave a soft smile. “Someday. Though I’m still tired.”

“Great. So I’m going to be tired forever.”

“No, this is just a phase. It will get better.”

“Better? Do you remember me as a teenager?”

“Okay, then it will get different.”

Not being able to sit in a cafe, to most people, is no big deal. But as a writer, I need this down time, I need to see people, to feel something other than frustration or mind-numbing fatigue. I need to be alone at least for a little while everyday.

As I gathered Sophie back in her seat and pushed her to the car, I tripped on my flip flop and almost went flying onto the pavement. When we got to the car, I realized I had left it unlocked. I put Sophie in and started the car, cracking the windows to let the heat unfurl.

“Um, don’t forget your stroller base.”

“What?”

“Your stroller base. It’s sitting in the middle of the street.”

“For fuck’s sake,” I mumbled. “Am I that far gone?”

“No. You’re just dingy.”

“You should know.”

“Thanks to you.”

I waved goodbye. As I looked in the rearview mirror, I wasn’t even sure who was staring back at me. The real me? An imposter? A blend?

I drove the short distance home, dying to devour another muffin.

As I explained my insanely relaxing coffee time to Alex, he replied: “At least it’s Monday.”

“What’s so great about Monday?”

The Bachelorette.”

Instantly, I perked up. “You’re right! Something to live for.” My brain was already on overdrive: What if Des didn’t find the right guy? The previews from last week really made it look like the guy she loved didn’t love her back. What if she was left all alone? I’d spent all this time watching! I was invested!!! 

I gave him a kiss and shoved an entire carrot muffin into my mouth. Sophie, unbuckled from her seat, began to run laps around the kitchen. I loved the sounds of my little family… there was nothing better.

Alex scooped Sophie up and went to her room to play.

I walked down our hallway, feeling the bottoms of my feet slap the hardwood floors. I opened the door to the office,  shut myself inside, and began to write.

6 thoughts on “A Cup of Joe

  1. I swear, your daily adventures should be in a book. I love reading them. It’s like a novel but real life that I can relate to – love it! And I am a closet Bachelorette fan too. :)

  2. You and your mother are hilarious. I promise things get easier but your sense of humor is intact. I wish I’d had the fortitude to write all this stuff down when my girls were little. I might have been a little calmer and saner. Your hubby and child are beautiful!

  3. Oh my God so funny. I remember feeling just that way. I used to look at single strangers and just want to slap them adn say you have no idea how lucky you are do you???? This will all make you better and funnier and more empathetic. Your’e doing a great job.

  4. I just showed this to my wife and she’s still laughing. She’s had this exact same experience with her mother. Classic

  5. I met with a friend from the yoga studio the other day for an acai bowl in what is my favourite bar in Brighton. We were both with our baby girls and we didn’t manage to have a chat. I mean, even when the kids were entertaining themselves, we couldn’t really find subject of conversation… how bad is that?
    Your writing is so good! I wish you had time to write more often ;)
    By the way, I think what would be the equivalent of an Americano in Paris is called “café allongé” (an expresso diluted in more hot water, right?)

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