Wednesday, July 08, 2009

An evolving relationship with coffee (part 5)

2009 marked the greatest shift in my coffee relationship.

I previously wrote that moving from one child to two did not double the work, but quadrupled it. I know this because of the copious amounts of scientific research available in respected journals (believe what you will). However, parents of 3 children or more say that the jump from 2-3 and beyond is even easier, because regardless of the number after that, parents have to play a zone defense and have a right to enslave the older children. My observation is that one child's path of destruction could always be contained--with two children, their tendrils extend in unpredictable trajectories, creating unforeseen chain reactions (at least quadruple the work).

With thanks to my mother and father for training me in home economics (father with about 20 percent, teaching the ways of grocery prices, and mother with all the rest of the teaching), and when my dear wife and I decided our household was better suited to me staying at home more often, I felt ready to step in. I learned home economics takes a whole different level of stamina. With the aforementioned tendrils of doom from two children, I quickly learned that the work was much harder than anything I had ever done in some respects. I found myself taking naps with the children in the afternoon, then I would be half asleep for an hour or so after the nap, or I wouldn't be able to get to sleep in the evening, and the sleep cycle would continue to spiral into a vortex of grog. Not only was my sleep pattern altered, I was getting less done because at least one kid demanded my attention.

Though I had really never consistently used caffeine, I turned to caffeinated beverages--Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Mountain Dew in order to pull myself out of the vortex of grog. It worked really well for awhile, not only did I charge through nap time with accomplishments galore, but my productivity eclipsed my normal output in general. After about one month of pop consumption I noticed a big shift in the curve. I was drinking somewhere between 75-100 ounces of diet caffeinated soda or more per day. My body felt like it had a metallic residue clinging to my pores, and my thoughts weren't as sharp as they used to be. I hit some mood swings, to which my children absorbed the most. My oldest daughter would sometimes proclaim, "Daddy, you don't have to be so grumpy." To what shall I attribute this shift in wellness? Sleep deprivation? Probably. Caffeine? Possibly. The toxic cocktail of carbonation, artificial sweeteners and colors? I'm not sure what felt worse, the effects of my intake on my body, or the dread of a dearth of daily accomplishment.

My solution wasn't all that revolutionary. I was about as addicted to accomplishment as I was the caffeine, so the caffeine had to stay. I had a prelude to the effectiveness of coffee when I was completely in desperate fatigue survival--when I was serving a congregation and held a paper route. I was up at 230 am to do the Sunday paper route, home at 7:15 to shower and on the road at 7:45 for Sunday worship and Christian education, arriving at home at 1:30 p.m., strung out on caffeine for another 60-90 minutes, only to pass out into a contorted lump of flesh and bones. A few occasions my dear wife made me a mocha with triple chocolate and double espresso. It was an amazing taste of awful and delicious. I remember noting to her, "this coffee stuff works." I couldn't get over that acid dirt taste, so once that work combo from hell was over, I went back to limited amounts of pop, about 36-50 ounces per day.

Once again, I hit the pop threshold, and realized pop wasn't all that inexpensive, and we already had coffee and sugar in the house. Though I hated the taste of it, I didn't feel as awful (outside of my tongue) drinking 3 16-ounce iced coffees each day as with the diet soda consumption. I must admit I feel some self-loathing that I have acquiesced to the Coffistas of the world and the coffee culture. This self-loathing was tempered in that I can join my wife much more easily for a coffee. I'm also a little bit disgusted that my life is out of control that I feel it necessary to detract from my wholeness with a sustaining dose of stimulant. I wouldn't trade many of the joy and fullness of life so that I wouldn't feel the need to consume caffeine. But I can't "control" my children. I give them loving discipline, but they also need to be their own people. I also need to be able to do my own thing--like write. I don't drink coffee everyday, only on the days when the day is so full of contingencies that I need something to survive. I drank coffee on Monday (that would be iced fu-fu coffee) but no caffeine yesterday. Today might be a coffee day. I put the odds at 50-50.

Writing this 5-part reflection on coffee has been attempt to be a little more self-aware about stimulant use. Some healthy people I respect, like Jeff Galloway uses coffee in his training to stimulate thought, creativity and motivation. I also recognize that coffee is a curious part of my religious culture. Though I can understand coffee's social role, I think the beverage's importance is overplayed in and of itself, especially for those who proclaim it as a sacrament. There is a degree of humor implied in this statement, of course, but when a woman cantankerously calls out to me "Are you another one of those young Lutheran pastors who doesn't drink coffee?" reveals something about the social rigidity of congregants. Let's be clear about the ends and flexible about the means. I have invested thousands upon thousands of hours in contributing and building relationships among the people of God. I have gone way outside my own comfort zone in many ways--but in the end, my value is that I uphold and encourage and find joy in the basic dignity of human relationships that communicate the love of God. Coffee can be useful, but it is not essential. Pop could work, as could a cup of water or a wheat grass shot or a beer (my preferences). Or, people could just talk--but I also recognize the terror in that. The more I see coffee as the essential and a point for argument, the more I weep for my culture. I hope there will be someone with whom I can talk about this. I am thankful that my dear wife and I do this. We don't need the coffee--but that kind of blessed conversation has been 15 years in the making.

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