April 27


Coffee and babies, the ethics of

I need advice. Perhaps this is a dilemma you have also faced.

I like to write in cafes, especially after my morning’s initial writing session is done, in the faith that some fresh air and a change of scene will keep the writing going. England’s Lane, in my neighbourhood, has several cafes that I remember from previous years, but they are sometimes already busy when I walk past.

There is a new cafe, on the corner, and it looks very pleasant, but most days, for much of the day, it is filled with babies. It seems to have become a hub for mothers with small children. I have so far avoided it, because I have always suspected I would feel morally inferior to these mothers with child, and every new face that came in would rouse a desire in me to hand over my seat, thus defeating the object of leaving the house to write.

This week, I decided to brave the cafe. The place was quiet when I arrived, and I climbed the stairs to the alcove above, and plugged my laptop in. However, babies and toddlers soon began to multiply. I was quite comfortable, set up on the upstairs sofa, occupying the whole of the sofa. Yet each newly arriving parent wore a quickly familiar smile, the sort of expression that said they were relieved to have reached the cafe, and if they did not find a place for their children to sit in the next five minutes, life would no longer be worth living. Chaos and night would descend.

I stayed and typed until my strength (or self-concern) gave way, and I moved to a different coffee shop.

Was I wrong to feel bad, or wrong to hang around so long? If I had bought more than a single espresso, would that have changed anything?

Thoughts, please.


guilt, parenting, writing in cafes

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  • I think writing is a private activity to be done in solitude. When you write in a cafe your full being won’t be present.

  • As both mother and writer, I think you’re well within your rights to keep a seat once secured. It’s not a moving train; no one is in danger of falling. Occupying an entire couch might be a bit like a friend of mine who gets a muffin and spreads crumbs over the MetroNorth seat adjacent to his so that … oh, nevermind. This doesn’t take into account the opinion of the cafe owners on the single-espresso purchaser occupying real estate that a new customer might desire (though they must be use to it, it’s the way of the cafe! And why Starbucks have been removing power outlets.).

    Now, if you’re able to block out squealing toddlers and the inevitable crises that accompany taking babies (who are like very small, very drunk people) to any public space – you are a better, more focused writer than I.

  • First of all I like to give the experience a more positive tone and I turned it around. What about : “Was I right to feel bad, or right to hang around so long?” And everything becomes ‘YES’ and ‘YES’, which indicates more a thoughtful proces and purpose. I suspect that deep down it may have been an experiment to peep into the world of these women, with which the flight out of the house to other surroundings you have in common. Only they have to deal with those pesky, attention demanding, all absorbing little creatures, instead of a docile computer you can master. That’s the part where it became bad and the limits were determined. Another expresso would nerver have given you the answer you were looking for, because you would have jumped up sooner.
    When you find a quiet corner, just reserve; when you become famous, tourist will visit and want to see the indentation in the sofa!

  • When you ask about “ethics,” it makes it a question of should vs. want, and I get the feeling it really wasn’t that way, was it? I mean, it could be that part of you was wondering “why am I feeling uncomfortable about keeping this seat” and you are hoping to logically arrive at a position where you can convince yourself your discomfort was illogical — hence you can master your discomfort and keep your seat in a future situation like this. But a better way to think about it might be: “I do simply feel uncomfortable in this scene full of mothers and babies looking for places to sit.” Accept that as a valid feeling on your part and don’t try to rationalize it — follow your instinct. Your instinct said to move on and you did.

    • Well said. And after all, my instinct had advised to avoid the cafe in the first place. So I was wise to finally accept its advice.

  • Daniel,
    I have found that any gentlemen in this situation is set up for failure from the beginning. The best course of action is to avoid that environment. Mommy and me sessions are no place for a single young man unless you are looking to hook up. Borrowing an infant from a close family member may assist in bring a young lady home for the evening if you a devious enough to play the single young widower. It is a moral and ethical nightmare, but as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.
    Anonymous (not Shawn Colborn)

  • These comments have analysed the issue better than I ever could 🙂 Dear second anonymous (I wish I knew who you really were), I’m truly impressed by your insights.

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