My mother loves digging out this old chestnut: "When you were a little girl, you would ask me: 'How many book trip is this?' when we would run errands."
Mom tells this story because it confirms that I am a genius. That is, the kind of genius that took geometry several times and failed her learner's permit test. That kind.
I know I'm not a genius, but my mom's memory is true: I devoured books as a child. I would bring a stack of books when we would run errands, and happily read the tedium away. I always begged my mother to let me sit in the car while she made her purchases, but she never allowed it. For some reason, she didn't want to be the mother that cooked her daughter in the Safeway parking lot. With the Arizona summer temperatures soaring around 110 most days, this was a very real possibility.
I don't remember much about my early toddler years, but I do remember the moment when the letters became words and meaning. It was as if I had finally untangled a stubborn knot. While my mother was driving on the freeway, I loved to read the exit stops: "Greenway, Deer Valley Road, Thunderbird." My parents would clap and smile, and I felt so very capable and big.
One errand that I never resented was the weekly trip to the library. My mom, brother, and I would come in with our tote bags and library cards, and escape into the welcoming hug of the library. We would wander without any time restraint or purpose, selecting new friends and taking them home for the week. I remember loving the "Mr." books--as in Mr. Tickle, Mr. Happy, Mr. Silly. Something about those simple cartoons and stories made me smile.
My brother loved Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. He read it so often, in a variety of locations, that it became as tattered and worn as a beloved security blanket. My mother asked the librarian if she could buy a new one, and the librarian smiled and said, "A book this loved deserves to stay with Tommy. Take it." I can't imagine, in a world of computer cataloging, that such kindness could happen today.
The librarians knew us as "Nancy" and "Tommy," and we knew their names as well. We carried our bulging bags to check-out, said our goodbyes, and left the library like you leave the home of a relative--with no great sadness, because we knew that we would be back, and we would always be welcome.
This is why it brings me so much joy to take Owen and Joel to our library. Owen is like Norm from Cheers. Everybody, indeed, knows his name. We'll walk up to the counter, and Miss Barbara will ask me when I'm headed back to story time, while Miss Cynthia tickles Joel under the chin. Another librarian, Miss Wears Gloves All the Time, cried out today, "Is that OWEN?" the way others would cry out, "Is that Elvis?" She immediately showered him with stickers and bookmarks, while Owen took it all in stride. After all, this happens every week.
I'll make my selections, and then we'll get to press the magic buttons and ascend the magic elevator to the magic children's section on the second floor. There, I'll release both of the boys to the toddler section, complete with the life-sized sailboat and the the magic cube of wonder and awesomeness. Did I mention that magic is involved?
Today, Joel was not having the best of days. He was reacting to his vaccinations on Tuesday, and was clingy and whiny. I have bones that are more flexible than this child. He grumped his way through the morning with nary a smile or giggle. That is, until we got to the library. Then, all bets were off.
He ran, in his drunken-toddler fashion to the cube, and tackled it with alarming gusto. He laughed out loud and attempted to remove the hair from an unsuspecting toddler. He spun in circles until he collapsed into a heap. Vaccinations? What vaccinations?
Owen, meanwhile, was amassing all of the bean bags and soft pillows to make a nest by a glass wall, where he read books to himself. As the boys did their thing, I browsed the books, looking for new treasures to share with them, when we made our own book nests at home, later in the day.
Like National Parks, libraries are such giving institutions. You get knowledge, pleasure, relaxation, friendship, and community all under one roof. Your only expectation is to be kind to the books, leaving only footprints, and taking only pictures.
I choose to believe that all of my tax dollars fund National Parks, libraries, and medical research. After all, I'm a genius; I'm always right.