Jan 28 2013

Push Me Pull You

It was going to be a slow morning, the way weekend mornings should be. Little feet pattered about in the hallway and the kitchen, but ostensibly my assistance was not required. There was nowhere to go, no rushing to get up and out for school, no running to an appointment. I snuck into the kitchen to make a coffee – my second cup, since Short-pants had already brought me the first – and slipped back into bed. I puffed the pillows upright against the wall and surveyed the towering stack of books beside my bed table, wondering which one to choose for a leisurely morning read.

“Who drank the milk I left in the glass?” Short-pants yelled from the kitchen. Maybe not so much a yell as a cry, and it was followed by angry tears.

I could picture it: a tumbler, its glass discolored from years of dishwasher wear, filled halfway with milk. It’d been on the counter, next to an empty bowl. I’ve seen that glass of milk a hundred times, after just as many breakfasts, left on the counter unfinished. We try not to waste food in our family, so I always set the glass aside and use the milk in my coffee. It’s regularly the source of milk for my second cup of the morning.
Just moments before her forlorn cry, I’d dumped that very glass of milk into the frother and used it to to top off the cup of coffee I’d re-heated in the microwave. It was in the cup I’d brought back to bed with me.

“I think I used it, sweetie.”

Short-pants stormed into the bedroom. Her face was red, her lips turned down. “I was going to use that to make hot chocolate for Papa!”

I apologized and did my best to assure her that it was okay, her papa could live without it. De-facto didn’t protest. This did not assuage her anger. Remembering that I’d seen some light cream in the fridge, I suggested we could mix that with a little water and froth it up for him and it’d be perfect, maybe even better than milk.

“Really?” She wiped the tears running down her cheek. “Will you help me?”

Would I make the lazy mother’s choice? Having just put myself back in bed for a few moments of peace, that was my first instinct. I tried to explain where the cream was and how much water to mix in, but this only resulted in a blank stare from a girl on the verge of more tears. Since I’d profited from what was apparently the last drop of milk in our home, I felt obliged to help with the situation. I flipped back that cozy comforter, pushed myself out of bed and followed her to the kitchen. We found what was left in the small carton of cream and mixed it with a little water to thin it. The frother whipped it up into a cloud of warm foam, allowing her to achieve her objective of serving her papa a cup of hot chocolate in bed.

While I was in the kitchen, Buddy-roo called to me, asking for help with some research for her school presentation. I’d been nagging her to do it for three days, she was finally starting. I figured I could make a quick detour to the table where she was working, point her in the right direction and then return to the warmth of my bed and the pile of books beside it. As I worked with Buddy-roo – which wasn’t as quick a detour as I’d hoped – Short-pants returned to the kitchen and exploded into tears, again.
“I didn’t get any milk this morning.”

I wanted to strangle her for making such a big fuss out of this shortage. We could all live one morning without dairy in our drinks. Except she’d made a milky beverage for everyone in the family before making one for herself. Selfless, some might say.

After a discussion about the nature of this crisis and whether it merited such outbursts, then a quick brainstorming about how the problem might be solved, it was decided that she could get dressed and go to the store to buy some milk. A glance at the clock shocked me into the realization of what time it was; my Saturday errands ought to be run sooner rather than later when the stores get crowded. So much for my thirty minutes of peaceful reading in bed.

We both dressed and headed out together. The plan was to go to the little Arab store and get a bottle of milk, then she’d take it back home and I’d go off and do the rest of my errands. Her mood brightened as we descended the four flights of stairs and opened the door to the street. Sometimes just getting out of the house can make you feel better about anything. At the little shop, we selected a bottle of milk and I paid the shopkeeper, a man who used to watch me navigate (precariously) the narrow aisles of his store with Short-pants in her baby-stroller. He made a comment about how she’s grown. I nodded with a dual expression of pride and bewilderment.

Outside the store, I offered her the change he’d given me. “Buy some pain-au-chocolate for you and your sister.”

“That’s what I was already planning to do.” She opened her palm. It held several coins she’d taken from her own piggy-bank.

“Here,” I gave her my coins anyway. “Use mine. Get one for Papa, too.”

Smiling, Short-pants reached up and kissed me, turned around and walked – almost running but not quite – down the street toward the patisserie. She has a signature gait, it’s a little off center, pronounced because of her lengthening legs. I watched until she disappeared into the bakery. Tears in my eyes, now, my heart hurt from the morning’s mix of angst and awe. She’s oh so sensitive, but at the same time so very strong.
That’s it, isn’t it? The push-me-pull-you of parenting. It’s the fiercest can’t-you-just-leave-me-alone-for-a-moment juxtaposed with a desperate please-don’t-grow-up-and-go-away-yet. Both feelings rushing at you in the span of thirty minutes, thirty quiet minutes that you thought you’d have for yourself, but instead thirty minutes of full-throttle parenting, dancing to the highs and lows of little people inhabiting your life, ultimately marveling at the size and breadth of their hearts, little hearts that push and pull at every string in yours.

Mar 23 2009

The Grande Illogic

I’m embarrassed to admit that even though I live in the city that gave birth to café society and there are three-dozen more charismatic cafés within five-minutes walking distance of my home, sometimes I go to Starbucks. This is because of the comfortable armchairs.

I meet several times a week with a friend to do what we call free-writing, an exercise that involves selecting a random sentence – from a pool we’ve dreamed up or borrowed from books – and using this phrase as a prompt to write stream-of-consciousness for ten minutes. Then we read whatever we’ve written to each other, because it’s a curious experience to hear yourself say your own words out loud, even if it is just a shitty first draft.

It’s basically calisthenics for cobwebbed writing muscles, and much easier to do if you’re sitting in a roomy, crushed-velvet armchair with big fat cushions. That Starbucks was non-smoking before French law required also contributed to the origin of this embarrassing habit.

But what is it with Starbucks and their insistence on illogical cup sizes?

I know I’m not the first person to complain about this; a Google Search on “ordering at Starbucks” produces about 542,000 results, and surely it’s been a frequent topic of ire on blogs long before I started writing one. But now it’s my turn: I can never order correctly, and the whole ordeal taxes my brain and illuminates the severity of my maternal dementia. Why does it have to be so hard?

What I want to say is simply this: “I’d like a medium café-latte, please.” But when I do, the Starbuck’s employee inevitably asks, “Tall, Grande or Venti?”

I’m sorry, but I think all these words mean the same thing: big. I don’t want big, I want medium. But there is no such thing at Starbucks as a medium. In their world of white and green cups, it’s all grande.
Waiting in line I’ll repeat to myself, “grande, grande, grande,” but when the server-person turns to me with that expectant look, I can’t help it. I fumble around, and I blurt it out every time, “Medium.”

I think this is because I’m a very visual thinker, so I see the three size options on the display stand by the cash register, and there’s that one I want right in the middle, it connotes (to me) medium. I don’t think it’s a language thing. Grande, or grand – however you want to write it – is not the word for medium in French or English, or Italian for that matter.

Starbucks, I suppose, given its origins can’t help but respond to the ‘Merican need for all things over-sized and over-the-top, and they’ve named their drink-sizes accordingly. Honestly, isn’t it all a bit ridiculous?
But wait. Now, at the Starbucks on rue des Archives (and elsewhere I suppose), a little pamphlet is handed to you along with your change. I say little because it’s palm-sized, however, it contains twelve pages (count ‘em) of explanation about how to personalize your order.

If it takes twelve pages to explain to your customers how to order your product, is it possible that you’re making things a bit more complicated than they need to be?


Short-pants is reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears with her English class. She says the teacher doesn’t mean for them to perform it as a play; they’re just reading out loud together. (The teacher gets points from me on that one.) Yesterday I was listening to her recite her lines – she’s actually volunteered to read the lead role and has already memorized the damn thing – and when she got to the part about the chairs, it all made sense.

While interloping in the bears’ house, Goldilocks tries the big chair (too big), the medium chair (too hard) and the little chair (just right). It’s easy to figure out when you just say it like it is.
Why can’t Starbucks just use good old fashioned plain language to describe its beverage sizes? Although I suppose ordering a medium (moyen or moyenne?) could still be too hard. But not the chairs. They’re just right.