By Ruth Bullock
I had a free afternoon but could find no one available to meet me for a cup of coffee. I was bemoaning my frustration when my daughter Kathryn spoke up. "Can I go for coffee with you, Mom?"
At age four she didn't drink coffee yet, and spending my free time being "Mom" wasn't really the idea behind going out for coffee. Usually, when I had a free moment, I enjoyed visiting with a friend or two over a mocha. We'd talk about our jobs, our church, our husbands, our children, our community. We'd laugh. We'd share our hurts and frustrations--not something I could really do with a four year old.
But when I saw my daughter's eager smile, I hesitated. My husband's eyebrows raised as if to say, "Well?" I resigned myself. It wouldn't be quite what I had in mind, but it might be okay. "All right, Kathryn. Let's go get a cup of coffee."
We went to the little coffee shop downtown and sat in the back corner, by the window. I ordered my usual double mocha, and Kathryn ordered a cup of hot chocolate and a scoop of sour jelly beans.
"So, Friend," she began, crossing her legs under the table, "how is your work going? Do you have any new clients?"
I wasn't sure what she had in mind but figured I'd play along. "Well, as a matter of fact, work is going well. I have several new clients. I am too busy. And I think we need to hire a new counselor at the office so that I can be home more."
"Oh, good. I'm sure your husband and children will like having you at home more often. You seem to work a lot," Kathryn observed.
"Yes, more than I'd like to," I admitted. "But hopefully soon I can cut back some."
"My job is going well, too," she stated proudly.
"What is it that you do, again?" I prodded.
"I'm a nurse at the hospital."
"That must be difficult work. I don't think I could do that."
"Yes. It is hard. On the weekends I work at the coffee place."
"Oh, you have two jobs? My!"
"Yes. My husband wants me to quit one of my jobs. He says I work too much. But I don't know which one to quit."
"Now, I don't remember. Do you have any children?" I asked.
"Yes, I have 13," she smiled confidently.
"Wow, 13 kids! What kind of car do you drive?"
"We have a school bus. That way all of our kids can ride with us," she explained.
"Well, with 13 kids at home, I suppose your husband does want you around more to help out," I said.
"Yes. But my kids are good kids. They do a lot of the work around the house because I'm so busy with my jobs. They miss me."
"You're lucky to have such good kids," I said. "I have good kids too. But mine are still pretty young. So they don't do a whole lot around the house yet. But I sure miss them when I have to be at work."
Kathryn put her head down for a moment and smiled. She'd slipped on a string of fake pearls from the dress-up box before we left the house, and now she twirled her necklace. She took another sip of her hot chocolate and asked me, "So, do you think you'd like to have more kids?"
"I think so," I said. "But our youngest is only a year old, so it's not something we're planning right now."
"Um hmm. Well, I think you should have more. Kids are nice to have around. And they help out so much."
"Yes, they do," I said. "I am still amazed that you have 13 kids and two jobs."
"Well, I think I'm going to quit my job as a nurse. It's not as fun as the job at the coffee place. How is your husband doing these days?" she asked, changing gears.
"Fine. He's busy working, too."
"So is my husband. He works all the time. And then when he comes home he just wants to sit and watch TV. Or he's in the bathroom reading magazines. But he's a good husband."
"Mine is a good husband too. And a good father."
"I think that's important. For your husband to be a good father, I mean." Kathryn drained the last of her hot chocolate, daintily blotted the whipped cream from her upper lip, and put the last six jelly beans into her mouth.
"Well, I am so glad that you called me to have coffee today," she said. "I had a free afternoon and I didn't know what to do. This was fun. We'll have to do it again soon. When our kids are at school, and our husbands are at work."
"I'd love to." I said. "I'm glad, too, that I thought to call you. I never have before, because I just thought you would be too busy. But I'm glad you had the time."
"I know what you mean," she said. "I've never called you because I thought you were probably too busy. We are both busy. But not too busy for coffee!"
"No, not too busy for coffee," I agreed. I finished my mocha and reached for my coat. Kathryn leaned over toward me and, in a quiet voice, asked, "Can we really come here again, Mom?" I said that I thought we would.
"Oh good!" she exclaimed. "But…when we leave here, I'm still your daughter for reals, okay, Mom?"
"Okay," I said. "By the way, Friend, I sure like having you for my daughter--for reals." She beamed.
Kathryn is now at the top of my list of friends to invite for a cup of coffee on a free afternoon. We sit and visit over a mocha and hot chocolate. We talk about our jobs, our church, our family, our friends, our community. We laugh. We share hurts and frustrations. The kind of thing you can do--even with a four year old. For reals.
Ruth Bullock is a part-time counselor and the mother of five children, ages 11, 8, 7, 4 and 4. She and her family divide their time between Ketchikan and Juneau, Alaska. The children go to public school in the fall, and Ruth homeschools them in the spring. She writes a weekly column for the Ketchikan Daily News.