Before I was one myself, I used to see Coffee Shop Mums (CSMs) in every food and drink establishment in town, sipping lattes, munching on almond croissants with their tiny person in tow, either sound asleep in prams or behaving impeccably in high chairs. “Pretty nice perk”, I used to think. Spending an hour to two in a kitsch cafe, chatting to their friends in a relaxed fashion, every now and again turning to their little angels to stroke their heads or feed them a mouthful or two. I was definitely going to be cashing in that little bonus once the baby arrived.
Fast forward to present day, and a rude awakening.
Now I have joined their club, I see CSMs in a completely different (and painfully more accurate) light. More often than not (in my experience), these are NOT just lovely little outings and relaxing catch ups. These are, quite simply, support group meetings for frazzled and sleep deprived mothers. Gone is the halo of golden light that used to glow around these collectives, as is my selective hearing capturing only giggles and the soft words spoken to each other. Now I see the strained smiles and desperate sighs as little Johnny, once again, tries to hurl himself out of the high chair, screaming blue murder. I notice the head in the hands, the chugging of caffeine just to get through the next 20 minutes, the anxious ‘jigging’ of the pram to get its occupant off to sleep after 60 bloody minutes of walking around town has failed. I see the relieved smile and appreciative nodding of a CSM as another offers a comforting word about their own crappy experience of sleep regression. Don’t get me wrong, on a good day a CSM will feel like the stars have aligned to allow them a care-free, cake eating experience whilst bubba sleeps peacefully in the pushchair. But even on these occasions you repeatedly throw evils at the barista every time he bangs his big metal thing on the bigger metal thing, causing the baby stir. Your heart momentarily jumps to your mouth and only as they slowly settle does your adrenaline start to drop. Until he does it again. Two sodding minutes later.
Ok, the cake is a nice bonus (or an actual necessity if you’re breastfeeding- I’ve never known hunger like it), and I now consider myself an authority on where to find the best brownie in East Devon (I’ve done the leg work). But the amount of multitasking and crowd control that goes into these meet- ups can be exhausting, especially when you’ve only had 5 hours sleep and have baby sick in your bra; “Come on sweetheart, you REALLY need to sleep, you’re so tired”, as you try to sip your coffee whilst rocking them back and forth, “No darling, don’t climb on that”, as you throw down your sandwich and dart towards them, “Ooh, Jane , could you just put your foot in that gap so Percy can’t escape”, as you snatch your plate away from tiny, prying hands. It’s like a constant combined Police and Health and Safety patrol that you’re supposed to be enjoying. As time wears on and the maternity pay dries up, justifying a mocha-frocha-docha-cino and horrendously over priced soggy panini can get more difficult and guilt provoking, especially when you’ve almost worn a hole through the arse of your jeans, and you’re recycling your maternity tops in an attempt to be frugal.
So why do we do it? Why not just stay at home and keep it simple? Why put ourselves and through the stress of it, and on a public stage no less?
I suppose it’s because after 5 hours of tummy time, jumperoo, washing and folding, enforced napping, crying and feeding, the four walls of home can start to seem imprisoning and sometimes downright depressing. Because being out with other adults means you get to talk to someone with a broader vocabulary than raspberry blowing- and THESE adults won’t judge you for having pureed broccoli in your hair and yesterdays mascara on. Because hearing that someone else is going through the same challenges of bringing up a human as you can be hugely comforting and make EVERYTHING seem that little bit easier. And lastly, because you don’t have to clear up the utter devastation and mess that a CSM group invariably leaves behind.
In my experience, these little support crews help to keep mums that bit more humorous, relaxed, and human, which in turn makes them better equipped to be good mothers. It’s like the tribal model of women coming together to support the mothers within their village, but with more cappuccino and biscotti.
So, to CSM groups everywhere- I’m sorry for my pre-baby assumptions that you were all just on a jolly. I consider myself rudely awakened. And to my fellow CSMs, thanks for the ongoing support and shared calories. x