Sunday, January 4, 2009

My one year old can't say "coffee." Should I be worried?

In the competitive sport that is childrearing, I'm learning that the first twelve months is a time to brag about the significant milestones, especially with other parents you don't know. The bragging rights are awarded to the parent in the room who can prove that their child hit the milestone first. For example, my daughter started walking at nine months, which is relatively early. This turned out to be the best time to parade her in public, or better at the local Gymboree, where she could toddle around in front of the children her age who were still drooling on themselves while struggling to get their feet under themselves.

My favorite reaction was one woman who came up to me at the local market while I was encouraging my daughter to walk in my direction. "She's too young to be walking," she scolded me as my daughter confidently made her way toward me with steady steps -- implying that I was in some way forcing my child to walk before she was ready. (If only this woman had seen me discouraging my daughter to walk knowing very well what tortures were coming our way as soon as she became mobile in our small apartment.)

The woman in the market exemplifies an attitude that appears to be very common in New York City: unsolicited advice from absolute strangers. I first experienced this when I got my dog. It's worse with parents. I've also been told that my daughter will burn on a sunny day even though I have her slathered in sunscreen and I've been told that she will freeze in the cold when I've given up on putting her hat back on her head after she repeatedly unties it and throws it under the wheels of the stroller.

But my absolute favorite advice has been the people who have suggested that I am teaching my daughter bad habits because I drink coffee in front of her. Really??

Let's stop for a second to think about all the behaviors that my daughter experiences through my coffee habits. First, let's examine the caffeine. I'm cranky and sluggish without it. My wife often refuses to talk to me until I've had my first cup in the morning. So maybe they have a point.

Aside from the caffeine though, what else does my daughter experience? Almost every day that I am home, I make a point of taking her with me to one of our many local coffee shops. I have been doing this since she was two weeks old. In these places, she meets and interacts with new people and experiences new sights and new sounds. Often we will site for a few minutes while I drink coffee and she drinks her bottle. Now that she's older we often split a muffin or part of a bagel together. And most of the time, she ingores me because she's too busy looking at all the people or staring in wonder as the baristas fix drinks for the customers.

At home, of course, I roast my own beans and brew my coffee by hand in a press pot. Since she was born, she has been around the sights, smells and sounds of coffee being roasted and brewed in our apartment. And she has experienced all the rituals that go along with this process starting at day one. As she has grown, I've seen her get more and more engaged in my activities. I often bring her into the kitchen to watch the beans come out of the roaster or smell the fresh grounds coming out of the grinder or watch me press the coffee and pour my cup. No mirowaves, no easy food out of packages, no instant gratification. Instead, she sees the whole process from green bean to cup.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I am proud that coffee plays such a prominent place in my home life. Over time, I hope my daughter looks back at all of these experiences and appreciates the enjoyment of the ritual and the satisfaction of all the work that goes into one small cup of coffee. And let's not forget the fact that I try to control as much as I can about the processes that occur before I get my beans by buying as much organic, fair-trade/direct-trade coffees from local businesses as possible.

I wonder if all these things are good enough to outshine the inarticulate grumpy dad she sees before the caffeine hits my veins in the morning.

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