[Editor's Note: As promised, from time to time this blog will go wildly off topic to review coffee bars and discuss the quantum entanglement of babies and coffee. This is what is happening now. If it's not your cup of, um, tea, not to worry. Our regular cast of characters will return in the next post.]
Starbucks is my Methadone clinic. When the babysitter doesn’t show up, I take the kid there to give his mother a break. I pouch him up in the Bjorn and we walk to Starbucks, where he has nothing and I have a double shot to see if any nerve endings will start firing again.
The founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, started it because he wanted to emulate the coffee bars of Italy. Starbs has drifted pretty far from Italy. In a strange tectonic shift it has become closer to being a call center in Chennai. As I watch people working at the long tables I realize I am looking at a cubicle farm, not a cafe.
I hold my lukewarm espresso in its paper cup, surveying the workers, until the baby begins to fuss. It’s time to move. If I keep moving, there is peace. If I remain in one place for long, there is no peace. While pouched in the Bjorn, the baby has a particular, curious problem with Points of Sale. Standing on line at Staples to pay he had a meltdown. The cashier’s polite smile froze on her face, then drained away like old ice cream. The baby had another meltdown at Wells Fargo. The tellers were taking their time counting other people’s money and the kid lost it, even though moments earlier he had been smiling at other people in line. For some perverse reason, they thought his crying was cute.
I have been hearing it a little too often to find it cute, although my wife and I have certainly become connoisseurs of crying, as though we are archeologists working with ancient bones, delicately turning them over in our gloved hands, dusting the years from them, seeking their meaning amid a larger puzzle of mystery. ‘Oh,’ we say, as we recognize a particular breathing pattern, ‘that’s his hungry cry,’ He catches air in a short gulp. ‘Yes, that’s the tired cry.’ There is a guitarish wah-wah effect. ‘That’s the bored cry.’ And when his mouth becomes a red furnace of sound: ‘It is time to feed him.’
Baby rage is relatively unexplored, except by writers like Rachel Cusk. I suspect babies feel rage because of the way we dress them. You put a kid in an outfit with a picture of a duck on his ass and he’s going to cry like hell. At least, that’s one theory.
There has been a lot of crying lately, and any forward progress we’ve had in this regard has not been linear. In the same way that Starbucks has incrementally slipped from being a coffee bar to a call center, we have slipped and slid and circled around nap times and sleep cycles. We call putting him down in the crib to yell his head off a nap, and they call what they make espresso, but it’s made by a machine, not a barista. Many times during the day, the kid can only sleep after having a good cry. At night, he is worn out and can glide into a perfect sleep, a leaf spinning noiselessly down river. There is about as little craft in a Starbucks espresso as you can image. On the other hand, there is as much craft in parenting as you can imagine. It’s positively artisanal, given its numbing attention to detail, its repetition, its faith in outcomes without knowing outcomes, and the stone serious dedication of its practitioners.
I walk up the block, get coffee and come back, and then do it again. The kid has nothing and I have a double shot.