Friday, October 10, 2008

Starbucks

As I have mentioned before, I go to Starbucks rather frequently, because 1) my parents kindly keep a Starbucks gift card loaded up for me, and 2) what else is there to do? Usually, I just get a drink and a snack to go, but a couple of weeks ago, I decided to stay and sit for a few minutes. While I was drinking my coffee, the baby fell asleep unexpectedly. (All of the baby's naps these days are unexpected, as he staunchly refuses to follow any predictable schedule and, some days, staunchly refuses to nap at all. If you have a baby who is not yet nine months old, listen to me carefully: ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN. Not that this time is not enjoyable, it really, really is, but OH MY GOD.) Not knowing whether he would be out for five minutes or two hours and caught in a fit of indecision as to how to use the time best, I ended up just squandering it, gazing disconsolately at the previous day's Times, cursing myself for not having brought my laptop or a book or The New Yorker or being otherwise productive.

So yesterday, I decided to set off for Starbucks fully prepared to be one of those busy, productive people who sit at Starbucks being busy and productive. I brought my laptop and The New Yorker, though no book, as I have lost the book I was reading and stubbornly refuse to start another one until I find it. Carrying the baby in a sling and pushing the stroller with my bag in it (I know, backwards, I know), I walked to Starbucks, enjoying the brief return to warm weather that this week has brought us. When I got to Starbucks, I ordered a drink and a piece of pound cake, strapped the baby into the stroller with his jingletoy, and sat down at the counter, ready to be productive. It was at this point that I became aware of the gigantic hole in my brilliant plan: the baby had to be asleep for it to work. Which, needless to say, he was not.

So, instead of doing work, I just sat and chatted to the baby, feeding him pieces of banana and feeding myself pieces of pound cake. (I offered to share, but he didn't want any.) One of the reasons that I usually don't stay at Starbucks with the baby is because, when I do, I always feel like a character - the stay-at-home mom at Starbucks with her baby in the middle of the day. A character - as opposed to a person - is someone you can just discount, and sometimes I think that no character is more discountable than a mom with a baby and a stroller and some noisy toys and some smushed-up banana. I have ignored that character countless, countless times, my eyes sweeping right past her on the street, in the supermarket, in the subway. A stay-at-home-mom-with-kid was someone who was not me, someone completely unconnected to my life, and indeed to any life at all, someone who has turned entirely aside from life to devote herself to what is essentially a grubby pile of congealed applesauce and milk sitting in an even grubbier stroller. (I am shocked, writing the words, to realize that I really did think this, despite always saying I loved kids, despite always saying I couldn't wait to be a mom.

I had chosen a seat that was at a high counter, right in the center of the shop, and, sitting there feeding banana to the baby, I felt exposed and self-conscious of the figure I was cutting, the mom with the baby. I examined myself for a moment and realized, startled, that everything about me was shouting the story of my life right now. The baby, dressed in corduroy, sat in a mid-priced Italian stroller with a ring sling hanging off the back, the thick Guatemalan cotton creased and discolored with months of hard use. My giant mom-sized tote, its straps fraying at the edges, slouched on the counter, spilling out a computer cord, a cloth diaper, and a fuzzy black cardigan. My and the baby's ostensibly smart outfits of black and navy were revealed, in the bright mid-morning sun, to be covered with dog hair, flokati rug residue, and crusty banana bits. My new high-heeled clogs, purchased furtively at a boutique in Williamsburg, already showed wear at the heels. I wondered if anyone else was looking at me as closely as I was looking at myself, and if they were seeing the same things. I wondered, if I looked closely at anyone else sitting at the Starbucks, would I see the same dust, the same fraying, the same wear and tear?

The baby finished his banana and began to squirm in the stroller. I stuffed the computer cord, cloth diaper, and cardigan back into my bag, got as many pound cake and banana bits off myself as I could, and wrestled the stroller out the door. On the walk home, the baby fell asleep, but he woke up again when I took him out of the stroller at the door to our building, and he didn't sleep again until the early evening.

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