“I need a cup of coffee. Don’t talk to me until after my first cup.”
“I’m dragging this afternoon. If we don’t stop at Dunkin’/Starbucks, I’m not gonna make it.”
“I need some caffeine.”
Who has said any of these things in front of their kids? Who has said all of them? My hand is up. What about yours?
My older child is twelve, which means that I’m just beginning the perils-of-adolescence years in earnest. If I could dip my kids, Achilles-style, into some solution to ward off in particular the dangers of substance abuse, I would do it immediately. (And then, having learned from Thetis’s mistake, I’d turn them over and dip their heels in, too.) But I can’t do that. I can only talk repeatedly about alcohol and drugs, point out examples when I see them locally or in the media, try to model responsible behavior and talk about it, until we’re all tired of the discussions. Then I’ll talk some more, and hope all the words have the desired effect.
Maybe it was all the repetition that caused me to catch the inconsistency in my message one sleepy afternoon not long ago. I blinked a few times, trying to wake myself up, and said, “Man, I need some caf–”
I succeeded in waking myself up.
What was I telling my children? In expressing to them, as I did frequently, that when tired I needed caffeine, I was telling them that when my body was in one state, I could take a drug in a form that was pleasing to me, and the drug would alter that state. I had been sleepy, but now I would be awake, alert and better equipped to face my responsibilities and planned activities for the rest of the day. All I required was a moderate amount of a substance–a drug–to do the trick.
I’ve tried hard not to say “I need caffeine” or “I need coffee” since that day. I still drink it, but I’ve changed my language.
You might argue that as long as I’m still drinking the substance, that’s what really matters. That’s what the kids will see. And you may be right. But I think language is critical, too, and at least while our kids are young enough to be as impressionable as they are, it can make a difference not to hear their parents say, “I need this” when they reach for their morning brew of wake-up juice or their afternoon buzz, prior to delivering an anti-drug lecture in the evening.
What do you think? Am I making much ado about java, or do I have a caffeinated point?