My wife says I have an addiction. It’s then that I show her the nutritional facts on the back of my can of Coke Zero. “Look at all those zeros,” I say. “It’s as good as water. In fact, it’s probably better than water. Science has improved it!”
She doesn’t get it. Mel only drinks water. She’s like living with a monk, and I honestly don’t understand how she does it — or any parent who lives without caffeine.
It might be coffee, energy drinks, espresso, soda, or whatever, but the fact is most parents need a few kicks in the ass to keep them going. It’s difficult to continue year after year without much sleep while watching the demands of life pile up.
My drink of choice is Coke Zero. It tastes a lot more like regular Coke than Diet Coke, and it feels cooler, fresher, a little less like what my mother drinks.
Last year, I went to Costco to get a couple cases of Coke Zero, but they didn’t have any on the shelf, and I freaked out a little. I asked a handful of employees if they’d stopped carrying it, and eventually figured out that they’d moved all the Coke Zero to a central location in the store because it was on sale. While this seems like a casual anecdote and not worthy of a large publication such as this one, any parent with a love for caffeine will understand how much my shit flipped when I thought I might not be able to buy my soda of choice in bulk.
I am not proud of this freakout. But here are the facts: I have three children and all of them have been crappy sleepers. One won’t go to sleep, and then another won’t stay asleep, and finally the third is an early riser. Not that any one child has held on to any of these titles. It shifts depending on the night and the alignment of the stars. But one thing is 100% consistent: not sleeping consistently. After 10 years of never really knowing when sleep will happen or for how long, I’ve begun to rely on caffeine to get me through the day — heavily rely on it.
Perhaps I’m using my children as an excuse. Perhaps this is more about me than them. Perhaps I just need to be more like my wife and only drink water. But I’m not going to.
I drank caffeine before children. But I also slept well and didn’t spend my weekends getting up early, packing the car with cleats and balls, and dragging my kids to soccer practice. I only had to worry about making rent and a car payment, not the soul-crushing reality that if I don’t do well at my job and get fired, my family could be out on the street.
Not that caffeine solves any of these problems. It doesn’t. However, it does make facing them a little easier. At a minimum, it keeps my eyelids propped open so that I can give the appearance of being a fully functioning person.
Ultimately, though, this is the life of a caffeine-addicted parent. It means being grumpy in the mornings until you get your fix. It means slogging through the day after a long night with the kids with your favorite source of caffeine in one hand and a toddler in the other. It means hearing “Another one, really?” several times a day. It means judgment. It means sticking to your guns when stopping for that late afternoon pick-me-up. It means buying in bulk to make it affordable. It means justifying to your spouse that all the money you spend to stay awake is not a waste of money but an investment in your sanity. It means having your children comment on how much caffeine you drink a day in a smart-ass tone as if they are not the original cause of the problem.
And I suppose that is the really funny part about it. My mother is addicted to Diet Coke, and I used to make snide comments about it all the time (you know, before I had kids). And she’d look at me with tired eyes and give me a half smile that seemed to say, “You did this to me.” At the time, I didn’t realize that’s what she was trying to say. I just thought I was getting under her skin a bit. Having fun.
But now that I’m a father, I get it. I get why my mother drank so much caffeine. And you know what, I owe her one. In fact, several ones — a case or two.
Parenting is hard, and something as simple as a diet soda isn’t all that big of a deal in the grand scope of things. So if you know a parent who can’t get through the day without caffeine, don’t be a dick about it. Keep the snide comments to yourself. Realize that they are just doing what they can to make it through, and then offer to buy them a drink. And you know what will happen? They will probably love you forever.