The library is three blocks away. It takes us a solid fifteen minutes to get there. The baby sits strapped into the stroller, big sunhat partially obstructing his view of the world. When it falls too low on his face, he lets out an indignant shriek and I must stop to fix it. The child finds a stick – always seems to find the same gigantic stick, somewhere along the way – and whacks the baby’s exposed legs. He inserts it in the wheels of the stroller, stopping our already painstaking progress. He throws it into the middle of the road and insists on retrieving it. A squirrel crosses the sidewalk, inviting a chase into someone’s backyard. I leave the stroller unattended to chase the child who’s chasing the squirrel who’s running for its life. We arrive at the library – tired and frustrated mommy, animated child lamenting the loss of his stick, baby who (thank god) exists in a perpetual state of neutrality.
Once inside the library, I must immediately intervene with the child’s incurable need to place every book at the circulation desk inside the drop box. I lunge to prevent his disposing of an elderly lady’s stack of books ready for checkout and push him in the direction of the children’s section. There he stares at the summer-themed beach décor, gazes at the colourful fish in the aquarium, tosses around some stuffed animals. Sitting down to read actual books doesn’t occur to him naturally until I forcibly do it.
One day, though, the cover is off the aquarium because the librarian is in the process of cleaning it. She is absent when we arrive and the child takes advantage of this opportunity to stick his hands right in the water. The fish flee from this strange invading monster. The librarian returns just as I realize what’s happening. We both yell at him to stop, which he fortunately does. I apologize and haul him off to read with me.
I need some fresh reading material for myself, so we head upstairs. The child stomps up the old wooden staircase of this magnificent Carnegie library, deriving as much pleasure from the noise as I feel embarrassment. He takes off when we get to the top, but that’s okay. His favourite spot is the magnifying machine, with a huge red ON button and a light that magnifies onto a big screen whatever is placed beneath it. He likes to examine his hand up close. It buys me time to peruse a couple shelves before he decides to start reorganizing the Dewey Decimal System. Occasionally I find him in the middle of a pile of twenty or thirty books that he has pulled off the shelf, thanks to a single tantalizing cover photo of an ATV, or a big rig, or an ambulance. He has to see if there are any more like it.
We finally get back to the checkout counter. We usually forget his special library card, but when we do have it, he gets a little cutout stamp. Five stamps equal a toy from the treasure chest. He doesn’t have his card today. He tries to convince the librarian to give him a toy anyways. She’s smart; he never succeeds. As I check out the books, pay my usual overdue fines, and jiggle the now-fussy baby, the child plays with the automatic door opener. He lets himself into the foyer, looks back with a challenge in his face, then lets himself out the front door. I chase after and haul him back in. Then he plays with the hand sanitizer dispenser, squirting it straight onto the floor.
Finally we explode from the door – mommy frustrated not to have found the book she wanted, baby ready for lunch, child begging to hold the ATV book. Our walk home takes ten minutes because I’m pushing hard. We’ll repeat the whole ordeal in a week’s time because, despite the chaos, having new reading material always makes it worth the battle. It’s a necessity for my very survival as a sane mother.