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Domestic Disturbances

Helen Rafferty

Coffee for All Ages: A middle-aged Mom tries to answer the question: "Is a soy latte less fattening because it's too gross to finish?"

I love Starbuck's. But when the IBM of espresso drinks opened in my own neighborhood, I sped right past it, settling for a deli coffee farther down the road. My friends would bypass this particular Starbucks as well, despite its friendly barristas and the deservedly famous brew. Why would so many coffee-dependent women go elsewhere for their caffeine fix?

Location, location, location. The town's high school is right next to this Starbuck's branch and from the day it opened, students have filled the coffee bar's signature purple chairs. Throughout the school day, teenage boys and girls spill out the front door and onto the surrounding sidewalk, giddy with caffeine and sugar and youthful energy.

Actually, the boys don't seem to drink much coffee. They tend to hover around the tables where the girls are sitting, laughing, talking loudly and punching each other in the arms, awkwardly waiting for the girls to either give them instructions or dismiss them.

The girls do drink the coffee, a scary amount of it. And the decision between a mocha latte or and orange low-fat frappucino is not one they take lightly. Any girl about to approach the counter does so dragging at least two girlfriends along. Their job is to give advice on how to spend three-quarters of her lunch money while blowing a five hundred calorie hole in her daily diet plan.

"Should I get the mocha but have skim?" or, "Is a soy latte less fattening because it's too gross to finish?" Each member of this lip-glossed ad-hoc committee weighs in while the guy behind the counter waits for the final order. Starbucks must administer the same psychological tests that airlines do before hiring someone to deal with the public while holding hot beverages – the barrista awaits their final decision with the patience of a Zen master. It will be something along the lines of a venti non-fat half-caff cappuccino with extra whipped cream and sweet-n-low. Then her friends hold their own coffee reviews until all three go off, cups in hand, giggling and groaning, "Oh my God! These things are soooo fattening!"

So what busy grown-up has the time or the patience to stand in this line? And what middle-aged woman with a normal dose of vanity voluntarily surrounds herself with beautiful young girls in size 2 jeans complaining about calories while they scarf down whipped cream and cinnamon buns?

Now, we're a remarkably well-preserved bunch in my part of the world. Women with kids old enough to drive confidently zip around town in little tennis outfits. A lot of them could fit comfortably into their teen-age daughters' clothes (and, regrettably, some insist on doing just that). There are, of course, "ladies who lunch" in my town, but most of the women I know cram a lot into the hours their kids are in school and inhale a sandwich while they drive around. They work in the city or they're PTA presidents, yoga instructors, Little League coaches, graduate students – some truly formidable women juggle all of these and more. We run the world, or at least our corner of it, with supreme confidence; after all, it's still our world, isn't it? Hell, we can't be the older, has-been generation yet! With Tae-bo and botox and the right lighting, it's easy to believe we're still very happening, very sexy, very young.

That is, until we find ourselves surrounded by the truly young. Which is exactly what happens if you patronize the local Starbucks during the school day, which, as I mentioned earlier, we try very hard not to do.

Over time, I've started to venture into this stronghold of the unwrinkled. I usually recognize at least a few of the kids; I know their parents, I've watched many of them grow up. Really, its kind of nice to see them taking their places out in the world, even if it's the place I imagined my friends and I still occupied. The kids are friendly and polite when they recognize me. Once, the fifteen year-old daughter of my dearest friend left the gang outside to come over and show me her newly pierced navel. I did a decent job of hiding my initial horror, I think. I even managed to remark on how good it looked. It did look good, as a matter of fact. I told her that if I were fifteen instead of forty, I might even get one, myself. "You could get it done, Mrs. Rafferty – it would look great on you!" Sweet child. "Besides, nobody would see it."

She's right. I haven't voluntarily exposed the skin between my neck and my knees in decades. My mid-section is the Area 51 of my anatomy – the official story is that it doesn't even exist. Given my preference for comfortable pants and big sweaters, I could probably impale myself with a tuning fork and no one would notice.

So I've decided my C-section scar adds enough visual interest below my navel. And I've decided there are worse fates than being the oldest customer in the latte line. Just the other day, I stood there behind two stick-thin teenaged girls who had no trouble making up their minds. "Two tall skim lattes, please," the skinnier of the two ordered, "and no foam!" She turned to her friend and announced gravely, "That's where all the calories are."

I looked at these two beautiful young creatures – painted-on jeans, faux designer bags, nails bitten to the quick. Their eyes darted around nervously, as if the diet police might storm in at any moment and catch them in a flagrant act of caloric intake. So young, so skinny, so damn worried. They stepped aside to wait for their drinks. The Zen barrista guy was ready for my order.

"I'll take a grande café mocha, please – whole milk. And I'll take her foam, too."

And the Zen barrista guy smiled.

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