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A Venti Vice

Special-needs parenting and coffee: If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to imagine doing the former without a strong and steady supply of the latter.
I wasn’t always a committed coffee drinker. In fact, for the nine months of my pregnancy – during that blissfully naïve period in which first-time moms-to-be believe that if they do things such as avoid caffeine, their child will one day win a Nobel Peace Prize – I didn’t touch a drop. I even avoided decaf – because, why take any risk when world peace is at stake?
But then my son was born, and the reality of motherhood set it in. And then, my son got bigger and became even more himself, and the reality of special-needs motherhood hit. That’s when my coffee drinking habit really began.
It started kind of sweetly, when my toddling boy, whose energy far surpassed his size, began waking early, while the rest of the neighborhood slept. I secretly enjoyed those pre-dawn hours with him, unaware that this quirky sleep habit was the tiny tip of the world’s largest iceberg. I started buying myself special coffee blends that felt like the perfect match for these warmly maternal though outrageously early hours. I’d brew a cup of chocolate raspberry truffle or pecan praline torte and sip it slowly as I counted my blessings and watched my son empty the toy box and fill the living room as the sun rose over the trees in our front yard.
Then those mornings turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months. As my son grew, his energy grew with him, and his need for sleep seemed to fade away. Our mornings started earlier and became full-out obstacle courses of his creation. He’d dash through the house opening cabinets, emptying bookshelves and freeing CDs and DVDs from their cases as I followed ineffectually – bleary-eyed and incoherent as the clock struck 3am and I realized that my day had officially begun.
I’d stumble to the kitchen for coffee. By that point in my parenting journey, I’d all but abandoned the homey, feel-good coffee blends of our early years. Instead, I was stocking up on brews with names like Jet Propulsion Fuel and Double Black Diamond Extra Bold, but truthfully, I drank it so quickly, the taste was irrelevant. It was quantity over quality in those days. Blends like Thick as Mud or Rot-Gut Sludge would have suited me just fine.
Life has changed considerably since then, of course. My son sleeps again, so our hours have become more regular, but the pace of our days continues at full speed. I rush to keep up with him as I juggle the metaphorical plates of doctors’ visits, school appointments, specialists’ meetings, housework, meal preparation and my job. And to get it all done, I drink coffee, coffee, coffee.
I know that I’m not alone in this. We who occupy the space in which special-needs parenting intersects with caffeine addiction practically count coffee among our significant others. We are unwaveringly loyal to our double skinny latte macchiattos. We are deeply dedicated to our dirty chai. We simply can’t imagine our lives without them.
It seems to me that the time has come for us parents to get a little payback from the coffee industry. We’ve already pledged them our loyalty and passed them our cash. It’s time for them to start giving back with some benefits that adequately address our very special needs.
Imagine a world in which, upon their child’s diagnosis, all parents of kids with special needs were granted, free of charge, the coffee maker of their choice – a single-cup brewer, a cappuccino machine, a French press. Then, every two years, we’d become eligible for a free upgrade. Strong, hot coffee for every stage of our child’s development.
And why can’t the coffee kiosks near our doctors’ offices start awarding us frequent flyer mileage? Why not let us earn “co-pay cash” for each cup we buy? Before long, we’d be settling up with the pediatrician with a simple swipe of the Starbucks card.
Coffee shops could start holding contests tailored just for us: Give the cashier a working definition of FAPE and win a free Americano! Snapchat us a picture of you and your sleepless child at 2am, and tomorrow’s turbo boost is on us! All the espresso you can drink for one low price on the day of your next IEP meeting!
Really, it only seems fair.
In the meantime, though, we will continue to do what we do best: We’ll advocate, accommodate, nurture, organize, plan, coordinate, encourage and educate. And we’ll do it all happily – as long as we’re doing it all with a coffee in hand.
Just make mine a Venti.
Mary McLaughlin writes about life with her son Bud, who has autism, on her blog, Mom – Not Otherwise Specified at momnos.blogspot.com.
Published November 2013