03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Grounded By My Kid

I was caught red-handed. The paper cup gave me away, the ugly coroneted vixen with the cloven tail.

I volunteer on the Teacher Appreciation Week Committee at my son's public elementary school. For one week each year, we honor the school staff: organizing a breakfast and a luncheon, arranging for gifts. Last year, in the flurry of teacher pleasing, I forgot to honor my son.

The day before the TAW breakfast, I yelled at him for refusing to get up, make his bed, get dressed, eat breakfast or brush his teeth. I cannot recall the exact offense; they are interchangeable, like a good wardrobe. What I remember is feeling dreadful for setting such a lousy example of self-control.

"Sorry for screaming, R.J., I lost my temper. That is bad, very bad," I say.

How can I teach my son self-control if I do not have any? Mom and Dad are mostly right, but when they are not, should there not be consequences? R.J. knows all about those.

I try something new, "What should Mom's punishment be?"

R.J. looks at me like a Third World dictator with his finger on the button. "No coffee tomorrow!" he declares.

Ka-boom! He got me good. Instead of an alarm clock, my mornings start with the beep of the coffee maker, followed by the seductive smell of fresh brewed coffee. Even my husband Ron, who tried an espresso when we dated and never touched the stuff again, likes the aroma.

I love my morning coffee. I do not take sugar but a splash of half-and-half, my closet cholesterol. Coffee not only sees me out of bed but also helps me through cajoling R.J. to get up, make his bed, get dressed, eat breakfast or brush his teeth, all while I pack his lunch. Then it takes me through my morning writing.

'No coffee' is the equivalent of jail without bail, not of going to my room.

Still, I have no coffee the morning of the TAW breakfast. For an hour, I smile stiffly, serve pastries, butter bagels--and pour coffee. I lag. The beautiful crowned mermaid on the paper cup beckons with her double stranded-tail. I relent and sneak some coffee.

"Mom, I saw you today," says R.J. in the middle of family dinner. He must have seen me dutifully handing out pink dotted napkins at the breakfast.

"You cheated, Mom," he says. "I saw you with the coffee cup." Oh beans!

Ron raises an eyebrow as he twirls his spaghetti. "Uh, I thought the 'no coffee' was just for home."

Ron masticates with uncharacteristic precision. R.J. shakes his head.

"I just had a little sip," I say, trying for casual and breezy. Ron swallows. Can one swallow incredulously?

"Well I got all jittery and a migraine came on..."

"Nice pasta, Mom," says Ron.

Later I tuck R.J. into bed and offer a final apology. I make him a promise: no coffee for two days to make up for my one-day betrayal. I ask him to write me a 'No Coffee' note, which I promise to carry around with me for the duration as a constant reminder, as if I need one.

The next two days are a coffee-free blur. I tape the scrappy 'No Coffee' sign on my organizer. The first day, I do not have the boil-the-water, dunk-the-bag and steep-the-tea routine down, so I go without anything early on. (There is something to be said for prepping my coffee pot the night before.) Around midmorning, I slug an iced tea at my writer's group in Georgetown; usually I sip a hot latte. My caffeine-deprivation headache recedes like the tide.

"That looks good," says one of the writers, nodding at my tea.

"Long story," I reply.

I make it through the second day fine, despite the TAW luncheon. I used to tease Ron for drinking Coke for breakfast, until I had to guzzle it while arranging flowers in vases and tying bows on tablecloth corners. Martha Stewart would not be caught dead with a can. I know. Brownies from the dessert table help during a lull, though caffeine from chocolate has a cost I do not want to pay in my skinny jeans.

That night at dinner, I announce that I got through my 2-days without coffee without a hitch. I suffered my consequence.

Ron, my moral compass, says, "Well done."

"Mom," says R.J., drawing out the vowel. "I have a challenge for you: no coffee for a week!"

"How about you finish your food, clear the table and take a bath," I reply without missing a beat.