I'm in a Starbucks with a pumpkin spice latte and my laptop now like some goddamn stereotype. Man, even I hate myself right now.
Starbucks always makes me think of working hard. I studied for all my board exams in Starbucks-es, from Step I at that Starbucks on 103nd and Broadway all the way up through my Anesthesia Oral Boards at the location on Monroe and 8th. The difference between Starbucks-es in New York and Atlanta, by the way? The Starbucks-es in New York serve you much, much faster.
I also wrote my entire book at the Starbucks on 29th and Park, which if you need to do work is (or at least was five years ago) an ideal Starbucks--huge, a preponderance of large tables, with a strip of power outlets around the entire outer wall. Oh, another difference between Starbucks-es in New York versus Atlanta? People bring work to Starbucks-es in Atlanta of course, but usually it's more like a rest stop, or a place to have some coffee and kill time between appointments or tasks. In New York, people set up shop. I read once in an article that Starbucks aimed to make their coffee shop locations into "virtual living rooms," places where people can kind of hang out in an armchair and meet with friends--hopefully buying large quantities of overpriced food in the process--and I think that there's likely no place where this is more true than in New York, where a lot of people frankly don't have actual full-sized living rooms in their apartments.
I mean, I brought my laptop there, and maybe my bookbag, a manuscript envelope, assorted miscellany. But there were people who brought full desktop computers (24-inch monitor AND the tower), the entire contents of their law library, extra desk lamps for those darker corners of the store. During my final year of residency when I was trying to finish my book by the July 1st deadline, I would take one day per weekend that I wasn't on call, leave Cal with Joe, set up base camp in one corner of that Starbucks and just sit there for eight, ten hours at a time. I would buy one coffee and get something cheap(er) but filling, like an egg salad sandwich. And then I would sit there and bust ass, looking up only occasionally if something interesting was happening, like the police coming in to extract homeless people that refused to get out of the bathroom--something that happened with alarming frequency. When I left, usually in the early afternoon, my hair and clothes would reek of smoke from the coffee roaster, as though I'd just smoked a billion cigarettes.
This has been Starbucks Talk. I'm your host, Michelle Au.
Anyway, the point of this post was not to talk about Starbucks (and it goes without saying that I have no affiliation with Starbucks, not only because I don't run paid ads on this blog but because this is such a small blog that STARBUCKS DON'T GIVE A SHIT WHAT I SAY), but to catch you up on Mack.
When I decided to go part-time, one of the first things that pushed me to consider scaling back at work was the fact that Cal was already halfway out the door to college, but the things that made me actually decide to make the leap was Mack. Because see, the thing with Mack is that...he's fine. He's always just fine. Cal's the oldest, so he often gets a lot of attention because of his school and activities (Cal recently joined the Lego Robotics team at school, and to say that Mack is inelegantly jealous would be kind); and of course Nina gets a lot of attention because she's a baby and needs us to do every damn thing for her. But Mack? Mack is always OK. He can do a lot of stuff for himself. He can play nicely by himself or with his siblings. A lot of the things he needs (a glass of milk, help reaching something high) Cal can often troubleshoot, and does, especially if I'm tied up doing something like cooking dinner or putting the baby down. He's happy, he's pleasant, he's not really that high-maintenance for a four year-old. And that's how I think he ends up getting ignored a lot. Classic middle-child syndrome.
And the thing with Mack is that he's just so reassuring with how normal he is. Cal was by all accounts kind of a weird child (he's much better now, warm and social and adaptable in ways we could only dream of when he was Mack's age, when he was...less so those things) but Mack has always been like the textbook illustration of Boy in Early Childhood. He like sports and wrestling with dad. He plays pretend and makes up little playlets with his stuffed animals and action figures. He's sunny and affectionate and snuggly and fun. Even his drawings are textbook--every human looks like a happy scarecrow with vertigo, all stick limbs with five fingers on each hand, clubby feet, smiley face. Every house has a chimney, every flower has six petals, and there's always a sun with beams shooting out in the corner.
(The reason that I make such a big deal about the drawings is that Cal's drawings at this age were--well, they were pretty weird. He was always good at drawing inanimate objects or landscapes, but when it came to drawing people, his drawings were just odd. Even when he was five and beyond, he'd sometimes draw people missing limbs, sometimes missing heads, and when he did draw a head it would be tiny, like a pinhead, with no face on it. NO FACE. What the hell, young Cal? Anyway, long story short I started introducing Cal to comics and gave him a little key of facial expressions so that he could draw his own comics and so the reader would be able to infer the mood of each character and thus the thrust of the story. So that's not an issue anymore, but still, I will admit that there was a period of time where I was worried that this was the first sign that we were raising some kind of sociopath who was unable to read human emotion or something.)
(And yes, I also see how telling it is that I just spent a paragraph talking about Cal in a entry that I ostensibly started to talk about Mack, but see, that's the thing! Cal was so weird and attention consuming! And Mack is so normal and easy! That's exactly why it's so easy to set him on autopilot-parenting and exactly why he's going to quit his tutoring job and join a violence gang because his parents never paid attention to him! I mean, probably!)
One of my main goals now that I have more time is to spend some time with Mack, just the two of us, one-on-one. I had to take him to the dentist two weeks ago, an expedition that I billed as our "special day" (in that yes, we were going to the dentist, but he could skip school for the rest of the day and afterwards we could go the playground and then have lunch together wherever he wanted! And also: free toothbrush!) and the degree to which he was excited about his "special day" with me was unreal. He talked about it literally every day for the weeks leading up to the appointment, and he seemed to especially relish the fact that it would be just for him, that Cal would have to go to school and that Nina would have to stay home, and weren't they going to be so jealous? There really was nothing that extravagant about the day at all, so the special thing for him wasn't so much the activities or skipping school or the Chick-Fil-A for lunch, as the fact that it happened at all. For half a day, he was my only kid.
So anyway, something that I've committed to doing is to try and have a special day with Mack about once a month--or at the very least, a special morning or afternoon. We'll just do something low-key--making Rice Krispie treats, going to the playground, doing an art project--but just something that we can do alone without Cal being there asserting his own superiority in gluing pompoms ("I used to do it like that when I was four too, Mack...but you'll get better at it. I mean, probably.") or without Nina there needing all of my everything. And maybe we won't even need a dentist appointment as an excuse to do it.