In the beginning, it was a lifeline: Hours of missed sleep spent at the beck and call of a newborn made a morning cup of dark roast non-negotiable. Even if it meant screwing up your baby’s sleep pattern thanks to your now-caffeinated breast milk, every sip was worth it. It perked you up and gave you the courage to face the day.
As your baby grew into a toddler, the cup of coffee may have moved to a nearby cafe with a friend. Together over steaming mugs, you swapped tips for naps, favorite diaper brands and advice from your pediatricians. The coffee wasn’t so much a necessity as it was a good excuse to bond with other moms.
When the kids finally headed off to kindergarten, you shared a cup at a first-day-of-school brunch in celebration of your newfound freedom. Grocery trips alone! Enough time to get your hair cut without having to hire a sitter or tote a child to the salon! The world was your oyster.
Back in the workforce, your coffee routine moved to the office. There, you sipped it while opening your email or meeting with colleagues to discuss action plans. The caffeine gave you the focus you needed after so many years away from your career.
Saturday morning soccer games always called for a cup. You’d grab one in a to-go mug as you headed off to the pitch to cheer your children on and face that overly zealous parent every team has.
There was the stale vending machine cup you downed in the E.R., a few hours after waiting on a diagnosis for your child’s frighteningly high fever. The polite cup you had at the PTA meeting when time couldn’t have passed quickly enough. The gratifying cup you enjoyed with friends in the rented ski house before everyone hit the slopes.
About the time your children reached high school, a funny thing happened: Your children began to join you in the coffee routine. You treasured the few moments when you might sit down together to start the day, even if your teen was grumpy and not so very talkative. It was a connecting point, and that’s all you needed. Sometimes you made those cups at night in order to help your teen make it through the hours of studying he or she had ahead.
Then there were the mornings when a cup of coffee allowed you to confront your teen about the night prior, waiting and worrying for him or her to return home. Rules were broken, and you needed to be sharp so you could dole out the right consequences.
In lighter moments, family road trips always involved a jolt of caffeine too. How else could you rise at 4 a.m. and hit I-95 for hours on end? You and your partner took turns at the wheel, refilling each other’s mugs from an old thermos you brought along.
In the most bittersweet parenting moment of all, the first morning after your child left the nest, you paused with a cup. The quiet of the house was eerie, and you needed to reflect on how you would move forward now that much of your life’s work was behind you. The kids would return on breaks, sure, but life was going to be different.
Coming out the other end, you and your partner can share coffee together, as it was eons ago, when you had your first date at the local coffee joint. You’re older, grayer and your coffee might be decaf now, but a thousand cups later, you’ve made it through the journey of parenting.