An Open Letter

Dear Library,

Before I get into the hard stuff, Library, I want to tell you that I've always loved you. You were one of my first favorite places. For you I learned to write my full name, small and neatly, at age four, to fit on the signature line of my very own library card. You outfitted me, at age nine, for my first-ever term paper, "Climate Zones of the World," with great patience. You were a home for my teenaged spiritual questions, providing me with a quiet place to peruse The Varieties of Religious Experience and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, as well as most things in between (not to mention space for some valuable sneak-peeks at Our Bodies, Ourselves). Without a single word of judgment, you let me check out volume after volume of mindless chick lit novels the summer I was recovering from graduate school. And you supplied me with infertility, pregnancy, and parenting books by the heavy armload.

You've been as generous with my daughters as you were with me. They love you, too, Library, and seeing it is one of the most gratifying parts of being a parent.

I've done my best to treat you as well as you've treated me. I've never lost a library card. Until this week, I'd never lost a library book. Overdue books...ok, I've had a few of those, but aren't my late fines part of what keeps you in the black, Library? In addition to donations from me and other library fans, I mean? Anyway, it happens, right? You expect that, right? I'm a little late, I pay my fines, we move on.

And you can't say I never come and see you. I'm there a couple of times a week, at least, and always checking something out or bringing something back. Story time, the whole bit. I'm there for you, Library.

And I take good care of books, too. When Ingrid, my super-shy then-three-year-old, colored with a crayon in a book, I made her carry it to the counter and show the librarian what she did. I am that dedicated to taking good care of your books, Library. I even tape up kids' books that other people have ripped, because I know you don't always have time.

But lately, Library, I'm getting grouchy with you. Most of this isn't your fault, but let me get it off my chest: You're hardly ever open. When you're open, you're so busy that there's no place to park. You've hired that one guy who doesn't even seem to be able to read, and I'm all about understanding the tragedy of illiteracy and not discriminating, but come on, Library! You are the LIBRARY! You deserve better than that! And you are all computerized. Remember those cards that librarians used to stamp? They opened the back cover of every book and stamped it, and it was like the librarian knew something about me by doing that, and we could talk about the books I was checking out. But now we check our own books out. Beep, beep, beep. My daughters, age four and two, know how to use a laser scanner, but they don't know a librarian by name. Don't you see something a little wrong about that, Library?

And I know you're starting to hate me too. Look, I've lost Dim Sum for Everyone, ok? I know that's wrong. I should know where all the books I check out are, and when they're due, and get them back on time. But I lost this one. Somehow. Somewhere in my house, probably. I'm sorry, ok? But you didn't have to send me such a mean email message about it, with all those capital letters and so terse and grouchy. How about this: Caro, you've been one of our most dedicated patrons, and you've gone over 35 years without ever losing a library book! I'm sorry to see you've lost this one. Please pay us for it as soon as you can. Don't you see how that would be kinder? I am not just card number 220880085451xx (although that is my card number, and yes, I have it memorized, all fourteen probably unnecessary digits of it). I'm a person. With feelings. Aren't you? I'm just asking for a little love, Library.

And then. Then! Here is what really does not make sense: I paid for Dim Sum for Everyone. Fifteen dollars. And then I asked you: If I find it, can I return it and get my money back? And you said: No.

I'm happy to support you, Library, but I have to admit I was a little hurt. It was like you were going to hold a grudge. That didn't seem right. But I kept trying: Oh, ok. Well, I'll just bring the book in and donate it back, then, if I find it. When I find it. You can keep the money. It just seems like the book should still be yours.

And you said, We can't take it back. Once you've paid to replace it, its yours. If you bring it back in we won't put it back into circulation.

Now, Library. THAT DOES NOT MAKE ANY DAMN SENSE. I know you're having a hard time financially. A lot of us are these days, and I know you've been worried about your budget for a long time. But I think the financial stress may have started to eat away at your brain. I know the reason you can't be open more and can't have more parking spots and can't hire people who know how to read is that you don't have the cash. So for God's sake, when a person wants to give you a book—and not just any book but a perfectly good $15 book that up until it spent three weeks under my couch cushion (or wherever) you considered A-1 library-circulation-eligible material—then you TAKE THE BOOK.

You know?

Assuming I end up finding Dim Sum for Everyone, that is.

Anyway, I'm going to try to turn over a new leaf, because the strain in our relationship is making me sad. I'm going to get a better system for turning my books in on time. And I'm going to try harder to connect with the librarians, who must be awfully pissed that these days all they get to do is troubleshoot the computers.

But I'm asking you to do the same, ok, Library? I'm just a book lover doing my best to get through my to do list and keep my house together and teach my kids to love you as much as I have. I'm not looking to rip you off or get away with anything. I just want a little compassion, and a little acknowledgment that I've put something into this relationship over the years, too.

Yours in the Love of Books,




Tonight at bathtime, Ingrid stumbled on the concept of infinity, but, like many people staring down the unending, felt more comfortable imposing limits on it:

She: ...twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty!

Me: All the way to thirty by yourself! Know what comes after thirty?

She: Um. Thirty...two?

Me: Thirty one.

She: And then thirty two! And thirty three!

Me: You got it.

She: (plays in the water for a while) The numbers keep going on and on for ever.

Me: That's right. It's called being infinite. It means there's no end. If you keep on counting, you just keep getting to another number.

She: I can just keep counting and counting and counting.

Me: Yep.

She: But not at bedtime.

In other news, Iris's new trick is, when she's mad about something, she throws herself down on her stomach and smacks her forehead into the floor over and over. This is so awful and bizarre to see, I can't help but believe it's the result of terrible mothering. So, naturally, it makes me feel like screaming. Which, tonight, I did, because the head banging was not only awful as usual but was the result of a long drawn out battle over whether Iris would wear the short-sleeved cotton PJs on this 90-degree night or the the thick fleece pajamas. Guess who was on which side. Guess who won. Guess who feels like kind of a rotten mama.



As a kid, I loved to read and couldn't put a good book down until it was done. I'd sneak a flashlight or, later, a night light plugged into an extension cord, under the covers. I stayed awake as late as my eyes would stay open, turning pages. One night when I was six, very late, trying to reach a book on the far side of the bookshelf without leaving my bed, I fell and landed awkwardly on my backward-bent hand, and broke four fingers.

Ingrid has loved to be read to since before she could walk, but over the past many months I've felt like we've lost our fire for reading together. She seems like she's not paying attention, or she wants to read the longest books repeatedly, which I have trouble getting excited about (Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka, anyone?), and she doesn't ask to be read to much; it's just a bedtime and naptime ritual, one that I'm embarrassed to admit I've rushed through more often than I'd like to.

Then over the past week I heard two people mention reading Charlotte's Web to their four-year-olds, and I got the idea that Ingrid might bored with the reading material we've been offering. It's either short picture books or longer books that are really meant for kids learning to read on their own, so the sentences and plots are far simpler than she really needs.

So last night I took my childhood copy of Charlotte's Web off the shelf. "I have something special we can read together if you want to."

She looked at the picture of ponytailed Fern snuggling Wilbur.

"It's a big kids' book that I think you're ready for." I flipped through it. "Look at all the words. It only has a few pictures, and for the rest of it you listen to the story and imagine what it looks like."

She gave the cover a few hard taps with four fingers. "It has a really nice sound. You do it, Mama." I did.

She smelled it. "It smells like paper."

"I love the smell of books, too."

"I want to read it now."

We talked about the idea of chapters, and then we read the first two, with lots of stops for me to check whether she wanted me to keep going. (She did.) I did some fancy real-time editing around Avery's weaponry and the answer to the question, "Where are you going with that axe, Pa?" She wanted to sleep with the book, and in the morning, padded down the stairs with it and asked me to read another chapter on the couch before she even had her cereal.

After lunch, I was getting Iris ready to nap and A was in the bathroom helping Ingrid brush her teeth. She took a sideways step into the corner to reach Charlotte's Web on the counter, tripped on A's foot, slipped on the rug, and crashed forehead first—her hands were caught up on the counter and couldn't really break her fall— onto the edge of the stepstool.

She had a deep, three-quarter inch gash above her eyebrow, and she screamed and screamed. A and I fought wooziness, found clean cloths, and tried to reassure her. Iris counted the drops of blood on the floor: "One, two, five, eighteen, nine, ten, eleven..."

On the way out the door to the emergency room, I asked her if she wanted to take something special with her. A stuffed animal? A blanket?

"Charlotte's Web."

Of course. I retrieved it from the bathroom counter, and she cradled it as she cried all the way there in the car. It wasn't a happy visit—this is a child for whom fingernail clipping is a low form of torture. The hospital's fantastic staff dug pretty deep into their toolboxes to soothe her, and came up with a few winners— some awesome conversational tactics, narcotics, and the ultimately more successful grape popsicle—to get her cut cleaned out and sewn shut.

But, this being a busy urban children's hospital clogged with mucous-secreting swine flu sufferers, there was also plenty of waiting to be done. We were there at least three hours. And once they'd slapped some magical numbing ointment on her forehead, as long as no one was trying to examine her, Ingrid was really calm. She sat in my lap as we waited in the lobby trying not to breathe the air or touch anything, and she lounged next to me in the narrow bed in the exam room where we waited some more, and all the time we read Charlotte's Web. We read some parts more than once. More than twice. But most of the time, when I asked her if she wanted me to keep going, she said yes. We read for hours, all the way past the part where Wilbur, weeping little lonely piggy tears in his sty, hears a thin voice say, "I'll be your friend."

She's sleeping now, with five stitches in her forehead and Charlotte's Web beside her.


What could I have possibly said to figure out what she was thinking?

"Mama," Ingrid stalled as I tried for the third time to leave her room so she could start her nap. "Somebody on Signing Time signs donkey like this." She held her left thumb to her temple and flapped her fingers down toward her chin.

"Uhh huh," I said. "It's time to sleep, kiddo."

"But! Bu-bu-but Rachel does it like this." She put her thumb on her temple and flapped her fingers upward.

"Well, I bet that other person just has their own way of signing it, don't you think?"

"B-b-b-b-but she's a grown up."

"You know, grown ups can have their own ways of doing things, just like kids do. Everybody has their own way."

"Does everybody have the same brain?" She gave me a mischievous smile.

I laughed. "Noooo, every person has a brain of their very own."

"A capital brain?"

I couldn't keep myself from giggling. "A capital brain? Like a capital letter?"

"Yeah," she answered, and then clammed up.

Nearest I can tell, she's thinking about capital and small letters and also about how adults and kids are different? The girl has fascinating ideas, and is so internal about them. I wish I could get her to talk more about the complicated stuff that I know is going on in her head. It seems like our big ideas conversations come too quickly to the point where she's not willing to risk saying any more.

Capital brain, indeed.


paragraphs that oughta be essays, or maybe we should be glad they aren't

I know, that wasn't fair. Grumpy list of grumpy things, followed by one of those weird posts that no one knows what to say about.

Thank you for saying nice things to me after that grumpy post. Especially girlfiend, who I hadn't even known was reading, who gave me some type of award on her blog, which I'll pass on sometime soon, when I get to it.

Mostly I was grumpy because of the reentry thing, which, thank you for validating, is not ever trivial. A few weeks ago some poor soul got here by googling "when he comes back after being away for a long time" and I just wanted to give her (I assume her) a hug. (She was in Ann Arbor, as well, poor thing, but that's another story.) We have a pattern: three days of awesome glowy conversation and delighted reunion sex, followed by a wretched week where I realize I'm completely unsuited to even living with another adult, let alone being married, and also why does he eat so much, and why is there so much laundry, and how come he is always standing right there in the kitchen, right exactly where I want to be standing to make my tea. Why can't he move? Ahem. Then, hopefully, we go out somewhere for a beer, if we're lucky enough to get a babysitter, which we were that week, and we kind of snap out of it and things are more or less back to normal.

Things are, now, more or less back to normal, except that now A is gone again, but only for three days, and now to just a normal inhabited destination where he has phone service and internet access. For some reason—I think because it came at the beginning of the month and I'd neglected to peek onto the next page of the calendar and see it coming—I didn't plan very well for this trip, and ended up having to cancel a giant list of things—like a doctor appointment, and a staff meeting, and, whoops, another doctor appointment—when I realized on Friday that I'd be solo the first half of this week. I bought nail polish at the drugstore on Friday, and it turned out the color I liked was called "Well Prepared". But now I'm thinking, not so much.

The thing that's not totally back to normal is that A and I are hashing out our differences about religion, and it sort of sucks. I wouldn't normally write about marital arguments here, but we're really respectful about our disagreement, and I have a hunch we aren't the only people in the world doing this, and I believe it's one of those things that people don't talk about out in the world enough, so here it is: I would like to join a church (a particular, progressive church that feels to me like home only with higher ceilings, and cleaner), and A has no such interest. It's not as though I am such a believer and he is such an atheist; I have a feeling if there were some type of stick that you pee on and it turns red for heathen and green for true believer, both of us would probably turn out the same muddy brown-red shade of hopeful agnostic. The difference is about history and preference and perception and who knows what else, and although it shouldn't be (and won't end up being, I don't think) a problem for me to have lots more of an attachment to a faith community than he does (in fact my whole entire childhood was spent with a mom who took us to church every Sunday and a dad who stayed home and watched tennis on TV—and look how well adjusted I am and how great their marriage still is!), at the moment it seems sort of fraught: how we will spend our time, what we think about what each other are doing, what we imagine in the future. We've had some terrific (honestly, really good) conversations about it lately, but also some scheduling awkwardness accompanied by grumpy behavior on my part, and gah. I will be glad when we get back to some sort of equilibrium on this.

Speaking of equilibrium, how about that H1N1? I had a cold last week and fretted off and on about whether it was genuinely just a cold or whether I was going to die and/or infect and kill all my friends and coworkers. My kids had it first and didn't die, so that was reassuring. Also, no fever, for them or me, although on Friday evening I was feeling so crappy and panicked that when my temperature continued to read 97.8 on each reading, I was convinced the thermometer must be broken and bought a new one. Which then also said 97.8.

That's when I bought the nail polish. I also bought one of those little sampler boxes of chocolates. A had taken the girls overnight to his mom's house so I could have 24 hours of peace before this little solo parenting stint. I lay on the couch and ate the chocolates, except if I bit into one and it seemed cloying or had coconut in it, I threw it out. And then I went to bed at 8:30. And the next day I had recovered from the feverless H1N1 or whatever it was and spent the day moving plants around and digging up a new bed to plant hardy kiwis in.

The nail polish was for my toes. I never do my fingers.

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