My two-year-old, going on three, on a West of Ireland beach, a crisp January morning. Crisp means blue skies and sunshine.. cold air and cold boy.
“ Mommy, lets go, Let’s go to a café. Lets go to a café and have a scone”
My son, the café kid.
I love cafés. I love coffee. I think the thing I miss most about Dublin and our old flat is the choice of cafés we had. A short stroll to flat whites, raspberry scones, and a bit of space to breathe.
Tis far from cafés and flat whites I was raised in the wilds of the west of Ireland. Coffee was instant, but tea was ever-present.
But my son has been hanging out in cafés from when he was a newborn. Hanging out in my arms, proud breastfeeding mama, wondering if the caffeine was too much for him, wondering whether there was too much boob on show (deciding I didn’t give a f***). Hanging out in a sling, cake crumbs on a soft sleeping head. Later grabbing at the sugar sachets as I chatted with a friend, then later still in a high chair outside a café by the river in a town we now call home. We almost call home. Feeding him blueberries to keep his attention away from my cake.
The first adventure into town when he was a couple of weeks old. Carried by his Dad in a wrap. Proud smiles, exhausted eyes. We sat in a corner in a French café on Wicklow Street, my arms took a break from baby-cradling to drink a coffee and eat a pastry. I wandered a few doors down to a clothes shop to buy a couple of nursing tops. Take your time my husband said. I left them for 10 minutes, maybe 15. It felt like a hundred miles away. It felt like hours. I hurried back.
Later a quiet early Saturday morning café after the toddler swim class. He eats a bagel, and a free juice the young barista decides to proffer. I worry about the sugar content but am grateful for the few minutes to drink my coffee and scan the Saturday weekend magazine. A new baby kicking in my belly, quiet time, bonding time with the older one, before his baby life is pushed aside by a younger brother.
I have spent hours of my life in cafés. Working, writing, meeting.
I worked on a consultancy report in a cafe in the African sun. Wrote a thesis chapter over coffee in the sticky Thai heat. Bonded with a new friend over lattes in a small German town. Wrote my dreams down sitting on a window seat on the way to work.
In a café in Dublin 8, we looked at our first son’s first photograph, the ultrasound. Took photos with smartphones and announced the news before going back to work. I went back there regularly for a coffee after my hospital appointments. Once I forgot my wallet. You can pay the next time., a tall handsome bearded (of course bearded- it’s practically the uniform) barista. Surprise, Grateful. Almost feeling like I belonged, that I could become a regular here.
I sat in a café off North King St. Other parents with small kids. Wishing I could be friends with them. Wishing for my friends. We all met here for brunch once. Before we all dispersed to different corners of the country, of the world. Back towards home. Back towards the familiarity of country accents and country roads, away from each other and turned towards family.
Working, writing, meeting.. and wanting to meet people.
A small café I used to get my coffee from in the early days of the last Dublin flat. Practiced my Portuguese with the Brazilian barista. The owner knew me by sights. Waved a hello to me from across the street. I almost felt like I was known. But then the café grew. Too big for me. Tables too small, and neighbours too close for comfort. And I didn’t know the staff anymore.
Wishing for a feeling of belonging. I can’t find it here.
A place to breathe. A place to be in the world. I am not in the world when I sit at home with my babies.
In a café, the world gets to see my winning or failing as a mother. My kids, smiling, laughing, well behaved, crying, complaining, noise-making. Keep them fed and pre-empt their every whim and we’ll be fine.
Father, husband away, I get a breakfast and let my son eat sausages. The waitress is friendly, warm, remembers me. But at weekends I’m lost. It’s too noisy and busy. There is no space to breathe.
A café I wander into one evening, with toddler (still the baby though, then) asleep in the buggy as I read, as I wrote. Sshh my love. Don’t wake up. My mind can’t breathe like this in our flat above the rooftops.
Months later, picking the toddler up from crèche takes double the time, now that we live in the land of a double buggy. The baby demands to feed. Coffee for me, a juice for the boy. The waitress plays a game with him while baby nuzzles, guzzles.
My love affair with cafés and coffee, and now with my kids. If the coffee is good and my kids are welcomed I can forgive all else.
My son in his jacket, and underpants only, swinging his bare legs, wellies on his feet under the cafe table. Eats scrambled egg. He has peed on the stairs, nobody cares. Cleaned up while the waitress kept an eye on the baby. Baby, avocado on his face on the ground on my cardigan. I sip coffee, exhale the chaos.
I search for the café where I am known. I search for the place where I am seen.
It’s not about the coffee.
There is a place I am known now. My name maybe not. But my connection. I am connected. One day I wander in here and find my sister-in-law. Another day, another mum that I know. Strangers strike up conversations. Smooth coffees land in front of us (it’s a bit about the coffee).
A place to work, a place to dream. A place to be known.
Far from these coffees, I was raised, but I’m wandering back homewards all the same. It’s easier to know a place when it lives in your bones, in the buds of hawthorn trees and the sounds of blackbirds.
The first place your mind breathed.