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>Caffeine Makes Me Social

June 11, 2011

>If I had a “strange but true” tag, this post would get it.

Some background. First, God made me a certifiable introvert. On the Meyers-Briggs I am an INFJ. That comes in very handy for research and writing. But not so handy for being a neighbor or a mom. Growing up I preferred reading books to playing Barbies with my neighborhood friends and I still do. Except now the children live under our roof and only two of my three little ones think reading books with mommy is “quality time.” Hope’s idea of a good time runs toward Barbie Fairies Duel Dinosaurs and Defy the Great Ball of Doom.

(Yes: in my former life I stood on principle. Four the first nine years of my parenting career, there was nary a Barbie to be found in our house. Then God gave us a daughter whose love language is “Barbie.”)

Second, I don’t drink coffee. Whipped cream and chocolate and caramel don’t help. My favorite tea happens to be wimpy on caffeine. And for four years I have been trying to keep to the high road and not overindulge my love of Cherry Coke.

So there was not much caffeine in my diet until last fall. I was packing for my sixth trip to Korea when on-line friends mentioned how much caffeine tablets helped them cope with the time difference in country. I picked up a package, tried the caffeine tablets in Korea, and wondered how I had managed the jet lag on the previous five trips without them. Then I came home and the box went up on a shelf.

A few months later, I woke up dragging after a Full Moon sort of night. I had the beginnings of a headache, was thinking through fog, and it happened to be a day when the box on the calendar was written full of things that were not optional.

“It feels just like jet lag,” I complained to my husband.

With those words, a bright yellow beam of light pierced the fog: a vision of the box of leftover caffeine tablets. I took one. The fog melted and I jumped into the first thing on my to-do list: iLs with Hope.

Mercy gamely exercises with me for the first twenty minutes of iLs because that’s what the book says to do and she’s a born rule-keeper. Hope, on the other hand, being so sparklingly smart, figured out by session four that she could strike a deal: she’d submit to doing iLs if I played with her the whole hour. By session six she had arranged to spend the last song (about 15 minutes) playing Barbies. Every day.

But, wait! you protest. YOU are the mom! You don’t have to do everything your child wants you to do!

True. But this was the beginning of iLs when it acted like a drug on Hope’s brain. Invest one hour in the morning and the whole day went better. You know how when kids need a med and won’t take it straight, parents hide it in a spoonful of something? iLs was the drug and an hour of my time was the chocolate pudding.

So I swallowed my caffeine tablet that morning and got to work. An hour later I was sitting on the floor in Hope’s room zooming Barbie Fairies through the air when I noticed Faith standing in the doorway with the flip videocam rolling.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“This is more rare than the Ball of Doom,” Faith quipped. “You are having fun playing Barbies. You are using voices. You are making up Barbie Stories. And you didn’t even notice that Hope’s iLs session must have ended five or ten minutes ago.”

I looked at Hope. She shrugged, grinned, held up her hands. “We were having fun,” Hope said, removing the head phones. “The music stopped back when Barbie was stuck in the elevator.”

Have I gone crazy? I wondered. I usually play Barbies through gritted teeth.

No, I wasn’t crazy. But whatever caffeine does to my particular brain, it lets me be in the moment with my kids. In fact it makes me say –and mean –very uncharacteristic things like, “I’m going shopping. Anyone want to come with me?”

So for about a month, I have been getting up, testing my emotional weather and judging whether this morning might benefit from a caffeine tablet. I suppose it is not far different than a coffee drinker’s sense that this will be a one- two- or a three-cups by 8:00 AM sort of day.

Curiously, in just one month, I find my sense of self is subtly shifting. Even though the box tells me that by 11:00 AM at the latest,  my first dose of caffeine should have completely worn off, there is a carry-over into the afternoon encounter with a neighbor at the mailbox, the ease with which I can invite the neighborhood children in to play and visit with my family over dinner at the table. I am beginning to see myself as a more social person, as a more fun mom as I slowly build a new repertoire of social successes.

It couldn’t come at a better time. We’re a few weeks away from beginning trials of stimulant medication for Hope’s ADHD. I no longer am taking it on faith that stimulants may change the way a person thinks, feels and behaves.

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