Several years ago, my husband and I made an agreement: we would each take one night a week and have a “night off” from parenting. Mind you, we still come together for a family meal on our nights off, but once the dishes have been cleared, off we go; he, to meet his friends or back to work to tend to unfinished business from the day prior, and I, to a coffee shop for a mother reprieve. Sometimes, I take in an event, like a movie if a good one is showing. It’s actually quite nice to go to a movie alone when your days are consumed with mommy tasks. There have been phases when I’ve used this night to get caught up on paperwork, but at some point I realized this did not constitute much of a reprieve so changed courses. On occasion, when I am not under any deadlines, I use the time to get caught up on my reading over a warm mocha. Those are the best of my nights off. But most of the time I have a writing project that needs attention, like tonight. Soon, I will begin my real work, but before I do, I wanted to take a few moments to debrief.
I am sitting in the back of this Downtown coffee shop. Lit-up, plastic snowflakes grace the windows, and beyond them, cars and people move past on the snow-dusted streets and sidewalks, rushing to somewhere else warm. Laptops cover many of the tables. Some of the patrons are plugged into music, even though music of another kind blares happily from the coffee shop speaker system. Others chat and laugh, stocking caps on their heads and paper cups of warm java nearby. The barista with the tatoos moves back and forth from the kitchen to the counter and back again, and on occasion, sneaks outside when business slows to have a cigarette. The clock right now shows 9:04. I’ve got four hours of work ahead of me, and when I get booted out of here at 11, I’ll change locations to finish what I’ve started. On the way home, I’ll probably stop at an open-24-hours grocery store to pick up a few things my kids have requested — batteries for all those Christmas gadgets that went cold and dead while stashed in the garage, and mini marshmallows for my youngest daughter, who wants them for cocoa. I did a small bit of decorating for Christmas today; enough to put my kids in the mood to begin trusting that Christmas really is around the corner after all. Soon, I will wander over to the counter, gently summon the barista and order my usual in a mug (with a glass of ice water please), and then it will be time to hunker down and get on with the business of paid writing.
As I search for documents on my desktop, I will be stared down (or, rather, stared up) by my youngest under a picnic table. Why have I refused to change out this wallpaper photo so many months after I originally put it there? I typically like more variety, but I can’t seem to get rid of this one. There is something endearing and even soothing about my baby’s quiet glance from under the picnic table, where he found solace one hot day when we gathered with friends. It is a moment I’m not ready to give up just yet on this chilly, Fargo kind of night.