Coffee Shop Mom

I spent a lot of time walking around my new town, Redlands CA. after I had my son in 2010.  Even though I was from this area, I had never actually lived in Redlands and I’d been out of the Inland Empire for almost a decade when we moved back, just before having a baby.  I suffered from postpartum anxiety and depression and once I realized what was going on, I forced myself out of the house on a daily basis to regain some sanity, clarity and the fresh air of reality.

I got up and packed everything into the car, never knew where I would end up or how long I was going to be gone. Most days, I would just drive around and hope I could find somewhere to stop that didn’t look terrifyingly fraught with dangers ala Final Destination.

In the early days of parenting, it seemed that I was displaced, alone without anyone to relate to. I knew there were other moms in this town, but I’d never met them and when I did, they all seemed unapproachable, so naturally, I gravitated toward my trusted “fall back” plan of the last 15 years- When in doubt, find a good coffee shop.

See, I was a coffee shop kid.  I was one of those “dark looking” kids in town who haunted the many coffee shops and THOSE places were my home away from home. Fleur de Lis, Dawn’s Place, then eventually I grew into a coffee shop adult and in my early 20’s, I spent most of my free evenings at either Grounds for Enjoyment or, and especially, Jazz & Java.

Note- none of these places are still in business as they were then.  Grounds for Enjoyment is now Stell’s, the Fleur is now (at least this week because they keep changing the name…) Cafe Royale, and Jazz & Java is now… dare I say it, (I do, but with much disdain) a hair salon.   

“Jazz” as the resident customers called it, was the one place I knew I could go when there was nothing else to do or anyone else to see and feel completely safe, comfortable and welcome, even if I never spoke to anyone. I felt like I truly belonged, like it was MY place.  Like “Cheers” only with coffee and goths instead of beer and postal workers. I poured my few, hard-earned dollars into that place like a tithe on Sunday and felt a sense of pride and ownership.  It was MY place.  Most of my friends felt the same way.

Jazz & Java had an amazing patio. It was open, great distance between tables, comfortable and safe from traffic with room to play and run, away from the streets without bothering other customers because of the train station’s layout.  It was truly ideal for families to visit and all my friends who had children at the time, could come and spend hours there amongst friends, never disturbing anyone. This is what I remembered, and I wanted to find something similar now that I had a child of my own.

All too quickly however, I learned being a member of “the coffee shop crowd” AND a parent has challenges.

I quickly learned my old haunts were no longer not the right place for me, now that I had a pile of baby gear, stroller and my nursing-every-20-minutes-baby. They were always nice enough when I walked through the door, but it was clear the business, environment and general process of a coffee shop was not intended for, nor did it accommodate in ANY way, a child of infant/toddler/preschool age.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say, if your child isn’t capable of sitting quietly and pretending he or she is an adult or from the Victorian era, fully versed in the concept of “be seen and not heard”, NO coffee shop is welcoming to children of any age.

The platforms at the entryways, stairs, sharp corners, narrow walkways between tables and bathrooms that double as stockrooms with no changing areas whatsoever, are just a handful of reasons why small children and coffee shops just don’t mix. The tables are too close together, the chairs of one table back into the chairs of another, with barely enough room to walk through let alone get a stroller through, the doors are heavy and few are wide enough to even get a double, jogging stroller inside the doorway and even if you could, you look like an idiot pushing and shoving and holding the door open while you squeeze the stroller through all by yourself and you KNOW you’ll be doing it yourself, because the people at the coffee shop don’t want to encourage you to stay when you have a baby. They watch you struggle and you can see the wheels turning… it’s like they’re all thinking, “if it’s that hard to get in the door, maybe you don’t belong here”.

It’s awkward and uncomfortable.  It makes your entrance into this tranquil, hallowed mecca of caffeine and solitude for the working from home types and the struggling college students more like a freight train full of irritation and distraction.

Another depressing realization; Not many coffee shops in town offer changing stations in the bathrooms. Now, this actually makes me wonder… when these places are designed, do the owners actually consider this and think, “we will NEVER have a need for that ugly thing!  It’s not like children drink coffee!”  Well, apparently yes… that is exactly what they say because most of them don’t offer this.

So, here’s a typical day, attempting to take my baby with me to the coffee shop.

After driving around for a place to relax for a bit with my then, 8 month old son, I spy an open table at the end of the patio at the cafe.  I waited till one of the farthest tables was available before I stopped because I didn’t want to be smack in the middle of everyone with a baby in case it was disruptive, since EVERYONE at the shop had laptops and were obviously working.

I stop, unload all the things I will need, walk over and drop my things at the table, fight my way inside the heavy door with one hand, pushing the stroller, order my drink while people look at me annoyed because my baby is babbling excitedly at them (not screaming, shrieking or doing anything otherwise annoying, just smiling and cooing and laughing) while they are trying to read, grab my drink and book it for the door to get away from them and back to my table, unload the baby, nurse the baby, put the baby back in the stroller and set him up with toys, get out the laptop …. and the inevitable happens. The far away look in his eyes and the sudden nuclear explosion down below.

Diaper change time.

Fabulous.

No worries- I’ve got this.  I grab a new diaper, the wipes, take a deep breath while grabbing the toxic child then head for the bathroom.  No one has even seen me come in, so I think I’m home free- a quick change and I’ll be back out there in 3 minutes. I moved fast… made sure there wasn’t even enough time for some extra sensitive hipster to get angry because a smelly baby just passed by their table.

Easy!

Until I realize there is no changing station.  Just a 10”x10” table with a doily and a bowl of old, dusty potpourri.

Crap.

Do I change him on the floor? I mean, I could, I guess- I’ve got one of those mat things, but then I’d have to go back to get it and then bring it back in and that would be weird… so I guess I only have one choice.

Maybe it’s the choice they want me to make.

I left to go back to the car and change him there.

I realize I have to bring all my things back to the car because I can’t just leave it here at the table.  My car isn’t in eye-shot and I don’t know this place well enough yet to just walk away.  After all, It’s not Jazz.

So, I pack it all back up and frustrated, walk back to my car.

At this point, it’s been almost an hour since I drove up and I’ve literally done NOTHING but struggle.  My mocha is cold, I’m sweating, baby is upset and it’s almost nap time.

What was the point? I thought… How much longer was I really going to stay, anyway?  I might as well just go home.

Besides, I’m sure mister hipster with his bone-rimmed glasses and his stupid hair glaring at me over his Macbook Pro every time my baby made a noise would be appreciative, as well.

Whatever.

So, I’m done.

Yes, it’s a sad day in grown-up land when you can no longer sit and have a coffee because your stroller won’t fit in the building without having to ask everyone who doesn’t care about you to move so you can get by.  But since that is the life I appear to be living, instead of supporting my local java joint, I go through a Starbucks drive through, order my half-caff-soy mocha with hazelnut, drive myself and my brood up to a park, or sometimes just go back home again and enjoy it in my living room to watch Yo Gaba Gaba.  

“My name is Janelle!  I love to dance!!”

It’s not that I don’t WANT to support local business, guys…believe me, I would prefer to- it’s just that I’m no longer their target demographic and they simply don’t cater to “my kind”.  I have come to terms with it, made my peace with the working from home types who work from the coffee shop instead and don’t want to be interrupted by an excited toddler squealing with glee over a bird or a rock or whatever innocent moment he is having. I am better off not exposing him to that kind of negativity anyway.

I guess I realize that I will always be a “local coffee shop girl” at heart, but for now, until someone builds a coffee shop that doesn’t demonize children and actually attempts to accommodate families, I am settling for being the “drive-thru coffee and park time with kids” mom instead.  Who am I kidding… I’ll just bring my own from home and save the $5 for something I actually need.

After all is said and done, you know what? I am actually, finally, cool with that.

My, how times have changed.

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