[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.

42 responses

  1. Matt_S_Law says:

    I worked at the Starbucks in Hawaii at Koko Marina Shopping Center. I had heard (although I’m not sure if it’s true), that that store was the very last Starbucks store to switch to the automated espresso machines (although I quit before that change was made). I agree, there is no art in Starbucks espresso and it has become nothing more than a secondary office space sans cubicles.

  2. Great post!!! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  3. freebirdmani says:

    Starbucks is indeed one of the best things :) that could have happened.

  4. I feel exactly the same way. When my sister was driving me and my kids around one morning, I was dosing in and out of life. Then, I saw the mermaid sign and I jerked my head up like an animal spotting it’s prey. I didn’t even have to tell her to stop. All she said was, “You saw the Starbucks sign, didn’t you?”

  5. They cry not because of the ducks on their bum-bums but because of the way we talk to them. “Will you stop goo-gooing at me? I am a sentient human being, for Pete’s sake!”

    • Agree! When I talk to him person to person, he listens and smiles. But there is something about an adult making a fool of themselves goo-gooing that makes babies laugh. Laughing at us, perhaps? Thanks for commenting.

  6. I love it! Starbucks is also my methadone clinic but I never realized it like that! Thanks for the post!

  7. “Baby rage” — love it! You’re right, this is a totally unexplored concept. Should it ever be normal to be THAT mad? I think not…

    Even when there’s a duck on your ass.
    ;)

  8. You put a kid in an outfit with a picture of a duck on his ass and he’s going to cry like hell.

    Had to laugh at that.

  9. Great post and writing style! Congrats on being FP! :) Second Cup is to me, what Starbucks is to you.

  10. I’d be mad if someone slapped a duck on my ass too ;) Nice writing!

  11. segmation says:

    Nice post. What other coffee do you enjoy if you are not near a Starbucks?

  12. themamadiary says:

    next thing you know… there’s a coffee place ban on kids just like the restaurants.

  13. You’re right that Starbucks has been an office space without the cubicles. It saddns me, since I hate going into the office in the first place. And now, when I walk into a Starbucks, I almost feel like I need to be quiet since people are working. Don’t they know they can take their Starbucks to go?? :)

  14. lsurrett2 says:

    baby rage, I like that.

  15. katecrimmins says:

    Funny post! Love the crying patterns. Have to try to figure that out with my cats!

  16. yourothermotherhere says:

    Duck on the ass? Bahahhahah!!!

  17. Sharon says:

    Hilarious! I loved the part about babies crying because of how we dress them. I’m past my baby days and almost into the teens (yikes!). But, what’s worse, is when moms dress to match their babies. As in, grown women wearing embroidered Winnie the Pooh on their denim jumpers. Pretty.

  18. cleanestpurse says:

    A double shot …. perhaps your coffee tolerance is less then mine…. the last time I had two shots I still passed out….. great post

  19. Sigh…. lukewarm espresso from Starbucks indeed. I remember when they were a revelation — now they’re the Mickey Ds of coffee. But they inspired great indy coffee bars like Boston’s Thniking Cup and Cambridge’s Voltage ( latte with cardamom and rosewater…insane… Starbucks can only wish)

  20. Funny stuff! We interpret the pet pig’s cries around here quite similarly: she’s bored, she’s hungry (always!), she wants to go outside….not that I’m comparing your kid to a pig, of course!

  21. Maybe the kid wants coffee? I am one of those sorry souls that brews her cup at home. I miss the little hole in the wall cafes just off the college campus that had the broken in couches and crazy propaganda books donated to read sitting on their cafe shelves. It drives me nutts when I go to Starbucks. They never have anywhere to sit and it soo loud.

  22. pattyabr says:

    when I was in your shoes 20+ years ago I don’t think there was a SB near me. I just made a pot of coffee at home and stared at it while it was brewing trying to soothe my frayed nerves of motherhood. Happy journey of parenting! This too shall pass.

  23. This sounds so familiar! Thanks for the fun read!

  24. Bella says:

    If you ask me, Starbucks is overrated. If ever I’m desperate enough and really, really need a coffee hit, I have been known to walk into a Starbucks. I’ll order a tall houseblend and I’m out the door. The hipsters who just starting drinking coffee as a means of interacting socially give me a migraine. Nevertheless, they make a pretty good lemon cake. So glad it serves your purpose as well! :)

  25. “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.”

    you are great. this post read like a really great short fiction.

  26. I have taken the little girls at my house to coffee shops but I avoid Starbucks now because of the cubicle factory. I’m guilty of copping a squat for a long time at a local coffeeshop but I’m supporting a little cup of home and I’m also a dissertating grad student in need of caffeine. Plus their coffee is a craft unlike sbux. But beyond coffee, just wanted to send parenting karma from afar–our 15 month old is finally a lovely person to be around and it’s taken plenty of coffee to keep us going too.