My mom could make a stiff espresso.  She could drink it, too, and would do so con gusto twice a day, despite the fact that Mom was prone to the jitters.   I don’t know to what degree Mom’s espresso consumption contributed to her nervousness, but I do know that her fondness for espresso drove my dad nuts. Dad believed that espresso was “una droga” (a drug) that was both harmful and addictive. For that reason, he forbade Mom to give me any, even when I was old enough to drink double tequilas.  But by then, I had somehow managed to acquire a taste for Mom’s espresso despite my dad’s ban. It may have had something to do with the stuff my mom called “coffee ice.”

Besides water, coffee ice contained only two ingredients:   espresso and sugar.  Mom would make it often, especially in the summertime, and I would consume it as fast as she could turn it out.  My dad must not have realized the potency of the stuff, because he never kicked up a fuss when he saw Mom scooping up a serving the size of a grapefruit and putting it in front of me.  Like Jell-O shots - those colorful jiggly squares that pack a wallop - the ice looked innocuous.  It could have come off an ice cream truck, in a little paper cup.

Then I married and became pregnant.  My doctor told me to avoid caffeine, so for the duration of the pregnancy I had to go without espresso in any form.  I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but Mom did.  Not that she ever said a word to that effect.  But when my daughter Grace was born, Mom entered the hospital room with a pan of coffee ice.  No flowers.  No candy.  No baby merch labeled “I Love Grandma.”  Just a beat-up old freezer tray full of brown ice, and the ice wasn’t even etched with the message, “Welcome to the World, Little One,” or even a simple “Congratulations!”  I think the Labor and Delivery ladies felt sorry for me, but I didn’t care.  I was in a caffeine-driven state of euphoria.

Up until that time, I had enjoyed espresso more for its flavor than for its stimulating properties.  But the usefulness of those properties became apparent after the birth of Grace, who entered the world with her eyes open, and alternately nursed and gawked for what seemed like days.  Maybe it was a scene conjured up by my sleep-deprived brain, but I think that, after 72 nonstop hours of wide-eyed baby wonderment, my obstetrician came into my hospital room and beamed, “Congratulations, Mrs. Behe!  Your daughter is the first child in the history of mankind who requires no sleep at all!”

In the hazy and discombobulated weeks that followed, I dropped in on my parents pretty often.  My excuse was that I wanted them to see the baby.  Mom and Dad would fuss over Grace a bit, and then my mom would concoct an errand for my dad.  Once Dad had left the room, Mom – bless her soul! - would slip me an espresso shot, and I was good to go for a few more hours.

When it got to the point that I was “dropping in to show my parents the baby” several times a day, I decided to do away with the pretext. From then on, Mom would surreptitiously pour a day’s ration of espresso into a jar, put it into a brown lunch bag, and leave it outside her front door, hoping that my dad wouldn’t notice it.  Dad didn’t have much of a chance to do so, because soon after the drop I’d drag myself over to my parents’ door like a sun-stricken desert nomad to an oasis, seize the goods, and sluggishly skulk off.

But that was 26 years and many pregnancies ago.  I eventually grew tired of the alternating cycles of pregnancy-related abstinence from espresso and post-partum indulgence.  I came to realize that I could do without the shot in the arm that espresso would give me. I could adapt my sleeping pattern to accommodate the needs of my nursing babies.  In short, I could deal with the vicissitudes of motherhood without leaning on artificial stimulants.

Now pass me a handful of those M&Ms, would you?  I just can’t get through the day without them.

Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe