I remember back when I was in graduate school, over 10 years ago. Late one afternoon, when we were both stifling yawns, my supervisor confessed to me that she kept a coffee maker on her bedside table, and literally wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning until she had had her first cup of coffee. I thought she was crazy, an addict.
Now I think she was brilliant.
It wasn’t always this way, though. I made it through my undergraduate years, four years of long nights up studying and talking and dreaming about all the ways we were going to change the world and grey Vermont mornings when the air was so cold my wet hair would freeze on the way to class. I made it through my master’s degree when I was working almost full time on a psychiatric unit, writing a thesis, and planning a wedding. And I made it through the busy years of my early career, when I was working at my job and on my doctorate, at the same time.
For the first three decades of my life, the most serious addiction I had was chapstick. And then I had kids.
Perhaps my body is still trying to make up for years of sleep deprivation. Perhaps it’s just that life with two children under 4 is exhausting; caretaking at this stage is intensely physical, each day filled with “giving uppies,” wrestling toddlers into submission for reluctant diaper changes, squatting and bending to kiss owies and straighten bows. But it’s also deeply emotional. When I’m with them, I am simultaneously overjoyed by their sweet nature and small successes and frustrated by their slow pace, tendency towards distraction, and selective listening. When I’m not with them, I am grateful for the space, but I miss them intensely, too. I wonder what they are doing, how they are doing, and if I am doing the wrong thing by working part time.
Then there is the doubt, the constant questioning of each parenting decision I make. Did we move the toddler into a big-girl bed too early? Which preschool is the best choice for my big girl? Is it really so bad if they have mac ‘n cheese three nights in a row? Ballet or swim lessons or both? Even though I know, in the back of my mind, that none of it really matters in the long run, that I am fortunate to have such decisions to make, I can’t help but worry. In the moment, each decision feels so fraught, so important. And it wears me out.
By the end of the day, I am exhausted. It’s a deep, intense fatigue that leaves me crashed out on the couch, staring numbly at the TV. I stumble into the bedroom, past piles of laundry and unread magazines. All the while thinking about that cup of coffee that will be waiting for me in the morning.
Coffee. Oh, beloved coffee. Once the sparkly Hello Kitty underwear are procured, diapers secured, and skirts that twirl properly have been chosen, once the girls are off to daycare and preschool, I head straight for the kitchen, straight for the kettle. My tolerance for caffeine is still low; one cup of regular coffee and one cup of decaf are sufficient, and for the first time in my life, necessary. I feel bleary and unfocused without it, and within a few hours the headaches start. As I sip my coffee, I feel my brain slowly come to life, thoughts coalescing, my to-do list for the day taking form. I feel functional again, ready to tackle writing assignments and student questions, the dishwasher and endless errands.
Yes, my kids have made me a caffeine addict. It’s just one of the many ways in which I have changed, my body and my life have changed, since becoming a mother. My daily cup of coffee is a constant reminder that parenting is the hardest job I have ever done, and that it involves more than a little loss of control, not only over my children, but over my own body. Seems like a small price to pay, especially if it means I get to have another cup of coffee.