I didn’t want a free cup of coffee. I wanted to buy a small cup of coffee. I stood in line holding my four year old who insisted on “wearing” his enormous fleece Superman blanket into the store. I looked disheveled, like I had just gotten my kids to school late. Because I had. My hair was in a ponytail. No make-up. Had I even brushed my teeth yet this morning? Nope. I wore my husband’s winter coat. It’s warm and long enough for my arms. And it’s big on me.
You didn’t know all of this when I came into your store, but if you glimpsed briefly at me, as a woman, as a mother, you could probably see a little bit of my morning struggle. On my face. This is not meant to be a pitiful story. It’s actually meant to show you the power of a small gesture. Recognizing, relating or even sympathizing with another human being. I used to work at a coffee shop too. I met all sorts of people, like you. Rude people. Entitled people. Dramatic-over-coffee people. People-that-didn’t-want-to-give-me-the-time-of-day-but-wanted-to-bark-their-nonfat-order-at-me kind of people. Then, there were the regulars. The smilers. The tippers. The ones who cared. The ones who made the job meaningful. The buy me a graduation present kind of loyal customers. The encouragers over a cup of coffee. The ones who totally made up for the mean ones.
Today, when I got up to the front of the line, I looked down into my wallet to recognize that my debit card was not there. It’s not a sad story. This time. It wasn’t stolen. I knew exactly where it was. If you seemed like you cared, I may just tell you too much. I left it by my bedside as I ordered online Christmas presents last night. Then, I remembered to move the elf. Whew. Then, morning came too soon. As it always does. Our house is under demolition. Our kitchen is under U-haul blankets. Not a sad story. Our floors our getting redone. Our choice. Just a temporary inconvenience. Our children have handled the chaos in stride. Like completely awesome, flexible, resilient, adaptable children do.
Last night, we family grocery shopped because I couldn’t eat fried crap again. My kids picked out their own kind of apple to buy. The meat slicer gave my boys a free slice of cheese. They rode the horse at the front of the store at the end of our trip. Then, we went home and ate upstairs in our bedroom around a kids table. Like we have been the past week or so. Like it was the coolest thing ever. Not a big bother. Because that’s what kids do. Look for the fun, the exciting, and the best in even the most inconvenient of circumstances.
I left the front of the line and sat my bundled boy down on a chair to search in my purse for something I knew wasn’t there. I did find a giftcard to your coffee shop and checked the balance, as my four year old sat wrapped in his blanket. One of the three of you could have come over at this point and said, “Hey, we will get your coffee this time.” I may not have even taken you up on the offer because of my pride and embarassment. Or maybe I would have told you how I only live a few minutes away and I will come right back. Because I would. I would have left you a big tip too. And you may have even had a new regular.
Instead, when I learned that the giftcard had only $2.86 on it and I could get my patient and flexible and understanding boy a chocolate milk, then I did just that. I didn’t buy myself a coffee because I would have been short maybe seventy-five cents. If you would have offered me a cup of coffee, I would have potentially cried. Because you noticed. And cared. But you didn’t. So, now I have a giftcard with a little over a dollar on it to a coffee shop that I most likely will never go back to.
I will eventually find my debit card and get a cup of coffee today. I will go somewhere else. I know I probably shouldn’t have even bought the chocolate milk, because my pride was freshly bruised, but we do things, pride-swallowing things for our kids. All the time. Because they matter more, more than my embarassment or pride. And they definitely matter more than a small cup of coffee.