My dear friend, the Bitchy Starbucks Lady, is sharing her special charm on MSN today. I thought I’d invite her over for a late-night cup of coffee, so that you’d have the pleasure of meeting her
I didn’t know that you were behind me until suddenly you were next to me.
Your perfectly blown-out brown bobbed hair brushed my shoulder as your hand landed on Ben’s stroller.
“He’s so sweet!” you cooed at him, and I put my phone down to look up and thank you. Your eyes were kind and inviting, and Bennie immediately looked up to meet them. He grinned. You talked to him in the sing-song baby voice that all tinies respond to, and he rewarded you with his signature 3-tooth smile.
And then you looked down at the phone that I had been using a minute before, and back at my perfectly adorable baby.
“He’s saying finally someone is paying attention to me!” you cooed, in the condescending way that only a perfect stranger could muster. And then you walked away.
I had been using my phone. I was waiting in line at Starbucks, haphazardly scrolling through FaceBook before I stepped up to order my double latte. My sweet 9 month old was starting to fall asleep, lulled by the hum of nearby conversation and the sway of the stroller. We had spent all morning playing together. Ben is crawling now, and he is no longer content just being held or being buckled in to his seat while we run errands. An hour earlier, I had been teaching him how to play peek-a-boo. 45 minutes earlier I was reading him a board book while he tried to eat it. 40 minutes earlier I was singing him the “Fishie Song” that makes him squeal. 30 minutes earlier I was changing his diaper. 25 minutes ago I was breastfeeding him, looking into his eyes while he held my hand and rubbed his chubby fingers up and down my arm. And then it was time to pick Max up from preschool. And I realized that I had been up since 4 am. And I knew that I needed a coffee if I was going to make it through the afternoon. So I put Ben in his seat, and we drove to Starbucks.
You were behind me in line. I looked like a mom who was ignoring her baby, didn’t I?
You must not have known that for the past hour, two hours, four hours I had been locked in a staring contest with the grey-green eyes that hide under those beautiful baby lashes. Perhaps you didn’t see the way that my hand rested on Ben’s sleeper-covered foot as I waited in line to order. If you had looked up and noticed my tired eyes, you might have instead patted my shoulder, and whispered something encouraging and positive.
You must not have known that I am afraid to allow myself anything that is only for me. There isn’t any alone time. There isn’t a minute where I am not being touched, or “Mooooommmm!-ed” or needed or missed. But there is also not a moment that passes when a little is not actively loving me, with every fiber of his body. That is beautiful. Beautiful and exhausting. Were you ever overwhelmed by the beauty of mothering? Perhaps I should have asked you.
Instead, brief, hot tears won out over any sassy reply that I was too shocked (and exhausted) to make. I watched you walk away, after I put my phone down in shame. How dare I take 1% of my day to check a work email, or scroll through Facebook, or text my husband to reconnect with him in the madness of the morning. How dare I do something for myself?
One of the greatest lies of motherhood is that it is unicorns and fairies and bliss, all the time. No one ever tells you that you will be standing in a Starbucks line, pushing the stroller back and forth with your shoe while you read an email from an editor. No one ever tells you that your career dreams will come in small waves, and that you will only have time to get your feet wet. You will learn to love how beautiful the ocean looks from the shoreline, even as you wonder what it would feel like to swim. The shore is fine, for now. It’s warm there, and you don’t have to worry about being sucked under when an unexpected rip current tickles your side. Because, the baby. And the bliss of breastfeeding. And the four year old. And the bliss of legos. And you let your mind wander to what you should be doing, could be doing, and it is all so overwhelming that you start to panic. What have I traded in this life? What am I missing? Why am I wearing a life jacket when I’m not even close enough to the edge to fall in? And don’t even get me started about how there’s no way I’d ever be caught dead in a bikini. The babies, and all. Your thumb finds the Facebook news feed and you compare yourself to the women that you went to high school with. Who has stepped ahead? Who has fallen back? And you pause to look up at your baby, whose eyes are almost closing, and you sigh. The beauty of it all is that you are right where you need to be. And then you realize that your nursing bra is still undone. And it’s your turn to order.
As the tiny clasp click-clicks into place, you suddenly feel the woman with the brown bob next to you. She is too close, for a stranger. You were feeling the sunlight from the imaginary beach until her shadow fell across the stroller. Then you hear her telling your now not sleeping baby that it’s ok, she will pay attention to him.
You know that woman don’t you?
The condescension, the judgment, the brazen conversation-starter? She happened to be behind me in line that day, but as she walked away, I realized that she was also inside of me. Every time I felt guilty for asking my husband to take the kids for an hour so I could write, it was my own inner bitchy Starbucks lady that made me anxious as I walked out the door. Every time I leave my boys at the gym childcare for 45 minutes while I walk on the treadmill, bitchy Starbucks lady starts her monologue. “What if they get hurt? You’re a stay at home mom, why are you dropping them off at childcare? Do you know how many moms would kill to stay home with their kids?” Bitchy Starbucks lady shook me awake at 3 am this morning, when I was nursing Ben and I fell asleep in the rocking chair. “You should be soaking in every minute of this” she said, and my heart broke as I looked down and caught him staring at me. She didn’t need to be beside me that day, she has the lounge chair next to me every afternoon as I watch the sunlight dancing on the water.
So today, I told my husband that I was going out for two hours. I sat by the water, alone, and paid close attention to how the sunlight felt on my face as my fingers furiously hit the keyboard. My boys will be fine. I will be fine. But I think somewhere behind me I can hear that bitchy Starbucks lady falling in the ocean.