I took Charlie and Kip on their first-ever trip to the library a few weeks ago. At ages three and 22 months, respectively, they’d never before walked into a library, and they emerged radiantly joyful. Oddly, so did I.
I’m always struck at motherhood’s ability to unearth old ideals, test them and unceremoniously derail them. Whereas so many of these soul-tempering journeys into “what I thought I knew for sure” can be vexing and take endless hours of contemplation and internal reconciliation, in today’s case, the revelation was thoroughly delightful.
I’ve always hated, nay, feared, the library. My phobia traces back to the IQ-tastic daughters of my childhood babysitter. They were an unreal kind of book smart. And also, as many kids, they were an unreal kind of mean. My earliest and clearest library memory entails sitting around their dining room table eating bologna sandwiches and raisins (both of which made me gag for many years) after “library day” at our small parochial school. “What book did you return today, Emily?” the sitter asked.
“Little House on the Prairie,” I stammered, knowing she and her two girls, one of whom was in my class and watched me like a hawk on library days, would swoop down to bust me. Chapter books were glaringly above my reading level, but I checked them out because I knew that’s what smart kids did; it’s what the sitter’s girls did. We must’ve been six or seven and both girls already had read the entire series. On cue, the mom raised a gloating eyebrow and asked if I read it.
“Yeah. Of course I read it,” I said, terrified. “It’s good.”
“Oh reeeeally?” they all chimed. “What’s it about?”
I couldn’t answer them and, to this day, I haven’t read a single “Little House” book. In fact, my heart still races when I hear the words, “Little House on the Prairie.” It was a painful little-girl moment socked away in my cell memory until today.
As we approached the librarians’ desk to inquire about a library card, I gripped the soft little hands of my own kids and noticed that, instead of basking in the hopeful anticipation of my two book-loving boys, I was looking around for the mocking glares of three smarty-pants meanies and feeling old shame for not living up to their standards. This memory has haunted me, undetected, so much so that, from first grade through college, I had a habit of checking out books with the best intentions, not reading them and not returning them because I literally feared returning unread books to the library. And so, after incurring fines that drove my dad into a flailing tizzy on a regular basis, I ditched the library scene for good. Or at least a good 10 years.
Today I’m delighted to announce that I have my very own library card. I don’t see myself venturing far from the children’s section for a while, which makes sense considering the age at which my book-checking-out development retarded, but I’m refreshingly ecstatic about what the boys and I may find amid the picture books.