Quinn screamed as I climbed out of the van in the Starbucks parking lot and I considered tanking the stop for a latte and “ice cream” entirely. A cold wind – IN JUNE – whisked through my hair and carried his wails to the older man drinking a coffee at one of the two tables on the narrow sidewalk that fringes the store. He raised his head and noted my travails and then returned to his newspaper, presenting us with the top of his full head of gray hair.
“I’m huuunnnggggrrryyy. I can’t hold it. I caaaaaan’t hold it.” When Quinn must have something immediately, on his schedule and no one else’s, he “can’t hold it.” I’m sure I should find this endearing and I’ll undoubtedly miss it some day, but in all honesty, I find it monumentally annoying. He slid to the very back of the van, but I managed to fish hook his arm with my (embarrassingly, the best description is probably “clawed”) hand and drag him toward the side door.
The logic of the situation, I knew from seven years of experience with the under six crowd, was useless. I wanted him to understand that I had a banana and he could take it or leave it. I wanted him to recall, with pure love for my wonderfulness, that I had promised a treat at Starbucks a mere ten minutes ago and we were steps away from our goal. I wanted him to care that the continuous cold, the oppressively low gray sky, the breathless wind, green with maple pollen, and the unrelenting press of my sinuses made me long for an extra-hot latte the way I imagined that religious people pine for a moment to commune with God.
But four-year-olds – with perfect and exquisite focus – care only for their own fickle needs.
Four short, dark haired matrons paused on their walk to door of the coffee shop to exclaim over Nate’s red hair and cajole Quinn good-naturedly in a mixture of English and some lilting Asian language. Their attention sent Nate scuttling behind my legs and reduced Quinn’s temper tantrum to snuffling sobs. I selfishly cared only for the horror of having all four of them in line before us at the counter. I shuffled to the door like a zombie with a child latched to each leg.
Quinn renewed his protest in a grating whine as I ordered a latte and one sample cup of whip cream. Oh god, if these people thought he was annoying now, just wait until he realized he had lost his treat. Robbie grinned at me from behind his shiny metal machine. “How are things?” he asked. The four women behind us discussed tea options at length. The frother whirred and Quinn tried his best to be the worst-behaved child on the planet. I smiled and shrugged.
“We haven’t seen you around,” he chided.
I looked into his face, so that he could read my lips. The hearing aid in his left ear was almost useless with all the noise. “I’m cheating on you at the 37th Ave store,” I admitted with a wink. “It’s the drive-thru.” I gestured at Quinn, which I assumed adequately explained my love of drive-thus.
“I saw you guys in the paper.”
“Pretty cool, huh?” I blushed. “The reporter was incredibly nice.”
He nodded. The whip cream can in his hand filled the little paper cup in expert swirls. “You sure?” he mouthed it, holding up another sample cup. I rolled my eyes heavenward and nodded. “Okay, go ahead,” my lips formed the silent words. I don’t know why. It’s not like me to cave, but I hadn’t actually told Quinn he’d lost his whip cream. Robbie filled the second cup and set them both on the counter with a flourish.
“Say thank you, ” I instructed automatically.
“Thank you,” they chimed together. A switch flipped and Quinn was all delightful smiles and dimples, the first spoonful of sweet cream melting on his angelic little tongue. My blackened, jaded parenting heart contracted with irritation at the sudden reversal of temper, but I supposed the caffeine had a similar effect on my mood and so I contained my ire.
We made slow progress back to the car, hampered by the difficulty of licking and walking at the same time. The fit, gray-haired man still sat outside, leaning casually against the plate glass window behind him, his long legs stretched over the sidewalk curb and into the handicapped parking space.
“Well now he’s happy,” he said and I felt myself tense and brace against his words, reading into them a judgment of everything. My need for coffee. My child’s behavior. My poor parenting.
Out of practice again, and the long experience of a very visible mother of four, I leaned into the expected criticism. “I shouldn’t reward him,” I said with a rueful laugh.
“Ah no,” he shook his head, warm and magnanimous in his quiet morning, with his coffee and his paper and time to enjoy both alone at ten a.m. “It goes so fast.”
For once, those words held a blessing and not a condemnation.
If you want to watch something else that I think everyone should see on Memorial Day, take ten minutes to watch this video and let it redefine courage and forgiveness for you.
“I have shalom, peace. People die for it.” Indeed they do.