Dear Lily June,
Yesterday, you woke me up at 5:30 am. This morning, I woke myself up at 5:30 am (only a half an hour later than the esteemed Benjamin Franklin would start his day, and that was before Ye Olde Starbucke’s). If I didn’t coffee, I wouldn’t brain.
I remember, when I was a small child, my parents woke at the crack of dawn–4:30ish in the morning. Everything would still be dark when I would creep from my bed, toddle down the hallways, and pull myself up onto a plastic yellow kitchen chair. While my mother and father would whisper darkly in another room–maybe the bathroom where my dad showered for work; maybe in the unlit living room where the uncomfortable leather couches were a metaphor for everything that home held–I would lean over their cups of coffee. The taste of that brown liquid was bitter (and bitterly disappointing), like biting the leaves off a dandelion. But the smell, Lily?
There was something in that smell that I knew held a mystic magic all its own. I have never outgrown my wonder.
When I was diagnosed with IC, every sip of coffee felt like pouring battery acid into my bladder. I would rush to the bathroom six, seven, twelve times a night, trying to void the poison from within me, trying to squeeze the pain from body even while squeezing the tears from my ears.
Without coffee, I couldn’t focus, didn’t feel as if I were thinking or reading or speaking or hearing or living up to my full potential. Coffee ignited all the circuitry in me, got me up and kept me vertical. Every excruciating sip got me through college, through grad school, through work and moves and more work and life.
Coffee, even when it kept me up all night, made the next morning possible. I have never outgrown my addiction.
When I got pregnant with you, I grew an emotional aversion to every bad habit I’d made. I couldn’t smoke a single cigarette after the strip showed up; I imagined you inhaling it right inside of me. I couldn’t try a single sip of my caffeinated gold without fear it would give you the jitters and shake you right out of me. (There’s so much on the internet–true or false–about caffeine consumption and its link to miscarriage. I know enough to not trust Dr. Google, that quack, and yet, I couldn’t take the chance.)
When the sciatic pain got really bad, I would wake in the middle of the night to do awkward yoga squats and bends I’ve never contorted my body into before, and likely won’t do after. But the next day when I had to drag my feet, and knuckles, and face into work and scrape them off the ground to set them at my desk, I did so without the aid of my old liquid partner in crime.
Co-workers who drank decaf would ask why I didn’t join them. They would say they liked the taste of coffee, but didn’t want the caffeine. This was akin, to me, to a heroin addict saying they didn’t really like heroin, they just enjoyed the way the needle felt going into their arm. No thank you, decaffers. I’d take mine fully loaded or not at all.
In the first few weeks after you were born, I was nursing you and also, unbeknownst to myself, nursing an infection from the hospital’s catheter. I knew from the books and the classes that coffee could make you irritable, and again, I wasn’t willing to trade your well-being for my java jones. I stayed off the mud for a few months into your life, at which point, for other health reasons, I had to give up breastfeeding, and that felt, at the time, like an excruciating blow to my ability to mother you.
And yet. It opened up the door to my old friend, so I could become an old fiend again. Oh coffee, how I missed you!
By months two and three and four, when you still weren’t sleeping entirely through the night, your dad and I switched off days, pulling twenty-three hour shifts at a time keeping watch over you to keep you alive. We almost died.
We plunged through it like superheros whose capes were made of cups and cups and cups and cups of coffee. In some ways, you owe those Abyssinians who first cultivated the bean a debt of gratitude, Lily. Without them, your dad and I might have snuggled you until we smothered you. With them, you’re now a thriving seven month old who keeps, each morning, reaching up to try and tip my cup over onto me.
Now, now, Lily. Surely you don’t want to spill mommy’s sanity?
It is true that I still should be avoiding it, as it still sends pangs down into my bladder. It is true that I still should be avoiding it, because, as one of my dad’s ex-alcoholic, ex-girlfriends used to say of addiction,
“A drink is a drug is a cookie is a man”
to which I might add, “is a cup of joe.” But that quote oft misattributed to Benjamin Franklin that
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”
would ring true for me if, in place of the brewski, you threw in a cup of the good stuff. Can you say “Venti,” Lily?
Why do I think you should know all this, your mother’s sorted history with a caffeinated cup of warm miraculous coffeecoffeecoffeecoffeecoffee? Maybe I haven’t had enough today, and I just started to ramble into your letter? Maybe it’s so, come some future Mother’s Day when you’re old enough to sit in the kitchen, watching your father lovingly toil over my breakfast-in-bed tray, you’ll know what to tell him not to forget? Maybe it’s so you’ll get a sense of what I was willing to give up for you to keep you healthy, and what I now lovingly embrace just to keep you alive?
Who’s to say for sure, Lily? Find what you love in this world and, if it’s not hurting you, hold it close. Bury your nose into it and breathe in its magic. Let it wake you and make you feel alive, let it warm you in winter and reinvigorate you in summer. I spend so much time worrying about the big things–if you’re okay, if you’re safe, if you’ll know how much I love you–that I don’t want to forget to tell you about the little things, even when my relationship with them might be a wee bit complicated.
Maybe you’ll find you love orange juice or tea. Maybe you’ll just want hot cocoa or chocolate milk. But whatever you love, Lily, pour yourself a cup, and then come sit by me.
Cheers, my dear.
- “A small cup of coffee” by Julius Schorzman – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_small_cup_of_coffee.JPG#/media/File:A_small_cup_of_coffee.JPG