Friday, May 20, 2011

Everyone loves a good storytime.

Home alone all day with Bee, I’m so often dogged by simultaneous boredom and exhaustion that a mother-daughter trot over to the library starts to seem like as good a way to occupy ourselves as anything else, including “relaxing” at home. (I can’t explain it to non-parents, but, at a certain point, it’s just as easy to pack a diaper bag and hit the bricks as it is to stay home. Or, more accurately, it’s entirely as exhausting to stay home as it is to just go somewhere.) And library storytime occurs during what would normally be Bee’s mid-morning nap, but for the sake of talking to other grown-ups exposing Bee to educational activity, I gladly take on the problems presented by a) a cranky baby and b) having to get a six-month-old to a particular destination at a particular time.

A line of strollers parked outside the library* is the first sign that it’s time for Kathy, the children’s librarian, to do her thing. Babies and mommies (and a couple of daddies) show up for storytime, almost invariably late and flustered. Haggard parents greet one another like weary travelers who have finally reached a safehouse. Somehow, it is reassuring to be around other unimaginably tired people.

So: we all sit in a circle on the carpet, kids in our laps, and sing a bunch of cute, dippy songs, some of which involve our kids’ names (thrillingly, to the kids old enough to realize they have names). Librarian Kathy does her best to lead us in some children’s songs she downloaded off the internet, and then reads us some stories, usually those crappy Sandra Boynton board books with all the animals? And it is good, and the babies and kids love it.

When Kathy runs out of stories and songs, the morning degenerates into the across-the-board bedlam and lawlessness that is “toy time.” That’s when the library's toy collection is produced and it becomes crystal clear that Librarian Kathy's lack of showmanship during the singalong portion of the morning is more than compensated for by her no-nonsense stoicism during toy time. The library’s impressive assortment of playthings includes a treasury of wooden puzzles, several xylophones, a tea set, some propaganda from the Princess Industrial Complex, a range of plush toys I wouldn’t let my baby touch with a pair of 16-inch barbeque tongs, a million toy telephones, and a truly respectable selection of things designed to be banged on other things. The kids love these fabulously unfamiliar toys, and to tell you the truth, it’s pretty sweet.

Bee generally gravitates toward a certain wooden abacus. As she slides wooden beads about with laser-like precision, I watch toddlers cheerfully rip toys out of one another’s arms, trip gamely over boxes of blocks, and blithely discuss the important issues of the day, such as the color of one another’s socks (“pink!”). Bee is currently among the youngest attendants each week, and every now and then I’ll notice that she’s searching my face for clues about where the hell we are, who these high-spirited bigger babies might be, and why on earth it is so very noisy. Overall, she seems to enjoy it. My girl wears this thunderstruck, wide-eyed expression during toy time, and I remember that she and I come from what several of our houseguests have described as a “very quiet” household, and that Bee is probably wondering why she hears the sound of mayhem rather than the gentle murmur of NPR.

It’s a weekly event filled with irrepressible excitement. There’s an air of general gladness: even the tired moms and dads are usually in great moods. I know I always am, because I’m out of the house and no one is judging my badly combed hair, or policing my “outfit” (and by “outfit” I mean yoga pants and hoodie). It’s nice to be among my people, that’s all, and fun to see my Bee having fun.

And, you know, despite the exhilarated maelstrom, I fairly marvel at how infrequently all hell actually breaks loose. A kid or two will cry or whatever, but it’s not a huge deal, and, incredibly, I’ve never witnessed a Walk of Shame there so far. The boisterous kids and the tired parents all just kind of go with the flow, and everyone survives the meltdowns amicably enough. And the library staff has had the good sense to place us in a sort of annexed area of the building, slightly removed from the library proper and its patrons’ perfectly reasonable expectations of quietness, uncrazy behavior, and deference to property.

By the end of our hour, Bee has gotten her fill of random stimuli and the abacus, and I’ve had the chance, if I’m lucky, to chat with a couple of other parents. Bee is usually tired and sorely missing that skipped nap, so we head out. And as I retrieve our stroller from its spot out front, I say a quiet prayer that neither rain nor sudden influenza nor miscellaneous appointment will deter us from returning next week. Because, I admit it: I love storytime.

* We live in a quaint small town, so parents just park their strollers outside the library and no one steals them. Not even the sweet-ass jogging strollers. Magical!


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