It’s no secret that I love the public libraries in our area. Several times a week, I fight the urge to turn into the library entrance instead of drive the remaining 500 feet down the road to the grocery store. Sometimes, I do make a spur of the moment library trip. Because I’m young and spontaneous like that. Livin’ on the edge, you know. When I text “I’m not an addict, it’s cool…” to my husband, he knows I’m making a library detour.
But usually, the kids and I just go once every week or two. I’ll send Isaac (2) and Ella (4) to gather all the books that are due that week (yes, we always forget one or two) and then we take a couple of hours out of our day to choose new books, play in the kids’ area, grab a few carefully selected videos (Little Einsteins are our favorites!) and try to make it through the check out line without knocking over any book displays, or worse, elderly patrons. Because even though I love the library and my kids love it, too, and have been in library behavior training their entire lives, we don’t quite have it down. Isaac doesn’t always stay next to me. Sometimes he talks too loud. Sometimes he runs before he remembers to walk. Sometimes Ella crosses her arms and glares when I won’t let her get the video she wants most. Sometimes they just want to play on those really tall stools by the science fiction shelves. “Isaac, ” I hiss too loudly, “get. down.” And then I start to feel guilty and self conscious. The check out librarians must hate us. Those elderly gentlemen who are always sitting next to the paperbacks reading political thrillers must hate us. The reference librarian….the tutor trying not to pull her hair out over middle school math…the guy writing a surefire bestseller next to the window on his laptop…they must really hate us.
But then, I remember: the library is for everyone.
Really, it is.
And when I stop caring so much about what other people must be thinking of me and my children and actually keep my head up, I realize that pretty much everyone is smiling at us. Smiling! Our favorite circulation librarians know that Ella loves Fancy Nancy and Isaac loves dragons and knights, and they complement the kids on their good taste. (They also know I’m good for a few dollars in late fees each month). The reference librarian smiles at us as we walk by her desk to those comfy, colorful arm chairs in the Young Adult section that my kids willingly sit still in while I get a book (please note: we go to the library before school gets out; I wouldn’t dare enter the teen lair otherwise). The guy with the laptop writing whatever he’s been writing for the last two years…he’s not smiling. But he’s not looking up, either, so maybe we’re not bothering him too much. The elderly gentlemen want to give the kids peppermints (no candy in the library!) and ask “can I take them home with me?” Hmm. No. But it’s really nice of you to ask.
I’m sure there are people who wish I wouldn’t bring my preschoolers to the library, or at least wish I wouldn’t let them out of the children section. The biggest library in our city keeps the children’s section in the basement…that kind of offends me. Because the more I take Ella and Isaac to the library, the more they learn about what I expect of them and how to meet those expectations.
All children have different personalities and I’m sure in certain situations the battle isn’t worth the effort. I understand that. I don’t take my kids shopping for other kids’ birthday parties if I can help it. I know they could learn valuable lessons about giving instead of getting, though I haven’t been brave enough to confront that lesson in Target. But maybe I should. Children need to practice the life skills we want them to have. That applies to so many areas of parenting little ones. It’s easier said than done, and much easier at home than in public. Still, what I am learning is that I don’t need to be bound by the fear that my kids won’t behave. It’s high time for them to learn how to behave. And besides that, pretty much everyone has children in their lives, or did at one time. They’re probably not going to flip out when my child breaks the very large container of yogurt while trying to put it on the conveyor belt in the check out line at Aldi. That means I don’t need to flip out either.
Yesterday, when we walked into the doors of the library, Ella and Isaac picked out a book each, sat down at a table, and looked at the pictures while I walked over to the circulation desk to drop off our returns (the kids were in my sight the whole time, just so you know). When I got back to the table and sat down with the kids, an elderly lady approached us. She looked a little bit scowly, but what she said made my day. She gestured to the children and said, “They come in, they pick out a book, they sit down and read. They know just what to do. They amaze me!” I was tempted to say, “Thank you, but if you watch them for a few minutes, your opinion of them might change.” But I didn’t. I just said, “Thank you.” Why belittle the hard work we have all been putting in to behaving in public? The kids are learning and so am I. It’s not always perfect, but it’s worth the trouble to teach them how to behave in the places we want to go, whether that be the library, the restaurants without playgrounds, or big sister’s ballet recital. Deciding to throw fear of tantrums to the wind and go where we want to go has been a freeing and surprisingly pleasant experience, for the most part.
So take your kids to the library. Or wherever it is you want to go (within reason). And I’ll smile at you if you smile at me. It may not be a peaceful trip the first time, or even the tenth time, but the more we choose to train our children in what we want them to know, the better off we’ll all be.