It was an exciting day for me. So exciting that I somehow managed, for the first time, to get myself and my three children completely ready and out the door by 10:00. Everyone, including me, had everything we needed, all the way down to our sippy cups of milk, mine with a little coffee and sugar thrown in.
The drive to Grandmother’s house was fun, mostly because I was so proud of myself. I am at that stage now with the new baby where I feel like I am beginning to get back on top of things. At first it was simply managing to brush my teeth for the day, then I made that first meal, then I made a meal and did a load of laundry, and now…well, now I’m almost feeling like I can be counted on not only to keep us all alive and somewhat groomed, but to do so with a good portion of whimsy, served with a smile. Key word: almost.
But my excitement did not solely stem from this re-found freedom and sense of accomplishment. I was also excited because Gideon Gore and I had a date to one of my favorite places in the world, a place I have not visited in far too long…for the first time ever, I was escorting my son to the (dork alert!) public library.
It was a bit soul-stirring even considering this outing, for Gideon is getting to that age where he is beginning to experience phases of childhood that I well remember. Teething and learning to walk and use the potty are things that I obviously have absolutely no memory of, but learning to read and write…learning how to swim…making friends…these are things that I not only remember, I feel like they happened just yesterday.
Such is the case with my frequent library visits as a child. My Mom took me there quite often, and I can still smell that place, I can still feel my fingers running down those long rows of books, I can still hear the occasional high-heeled shoe shattering the utter silence of that giant building. My mind’s eye is as familiar with that library as it is my kindergarten classroom and my Granny’s kitchen.
However, today’s spontaneous outing had much more to do with quality time than it did literacy or revisiting Mama’s childhood memories, for it had become glaringly evident to me that my son and I needed to get away for a bit, just the two of us…
There are so many psychological excuses for human behavior, and for the most part, I try to ignore them and just biblically deal with whatever behaviors pop up in the best way I know how, focusing more on my children’s sin nature than on psychological cause and effect. Otherwise, doting mother that I am, I might always find an excuse or a justification for their bad behavior (“he didn’t get a good nap” or “she’s teething” or “he’s having trouble adjusting to his new big boy bed”). That said, I have noticed that, while they both absolutely adore their new sister, our newest addition to the family has perhaps resulted in my two eldest children going absolutely crazy.
There has not been one smidgen of ill will toward Baby Betsie (except for Rebekah telling everyone who holds her that they “can keep her”), but perhaps the changes that have resulted from her arrival have just thrown them off a bit. Which means that if I sit down to hold Betsie, I will soon have Gideon at one elbow and Rebekah at another, their foreheads somehow touching somewhere over the top of Betsie’s head in a billy goat-like showdown for who gets the prime baby-viewing position. We are a walking human puzzle, the four of us, and unfortunately two of our pieces have not been getting along as well as they did before I had Betsie. There have been lots of scoldings, lots of discipline, lots of correction, and in the meantime, I think Gideon became discouraged. My heart just knew by the end of last week that it was time to spend a few hours alone with my firstborn to try to get us back onto solid and familiar ground.
The minute we loaded back up into the van after dropping his sisters off at Grandmother’s house, all of the angst and the unsurity seemed to melt away and my son and me were immediately back to normal. I could feel it, and I think he could too.
“Gideon,” I said, catching his beautiful eyes in the rearview mirror. “I’m really, really proud of you.”
He nearly gasped. “Why?” he asked.
“Well…you’re a really good big brother…” (he smiled, like, “I know”) “and you’re funny, and smart and you’re turning into a really nice guy.” I said. Which is true. As big as his temper can still be, his tenderness is even bigger, and he blesses the entire family with his genuine concern and kindness. His love runs deep.
“Yeah…” he answered. “Being nice is called fresh (I don’t know what he was talking about there…I didn’t interrupt him, though). But being mean is called…a sin. God says so.”
We went on to discuss God and Jesus and sin and kindness and meanness, and then we began to play our favorite game, “the animal game” where we take turns describing an animal until the other person can guess what it is. Nothing new, nothing extraordinary, but my heart began to swell, filling the entire minivan with those feelings I have had for my young cub since day one. And the best part was, I had the leisure time to revel in those feelings a bit. Betsie would not need to be fed for 3 hours, I had no other errands to run, and no one else to share my attention with. Just me and Gideon, Gideon and me.
We soon arrived at the library, and walking hand-in-hand toward the door, I began to explain the rules: 1. No talking loudly – we must whisper just like we are in church. 2. No horseplay (I love the word “horseplay” and use it as often as possible). 3. Look at one book at a time and return it to its proper place on the shelf. 4. You may choose three books to take home with you. 5. And then that universal rule, whether we are at the library or at home or at Smashburger, don’t pee your pants. Simple as that. After a few speculative questions from Gideon about why we must adhere to these so-called rules, he agreed to the terms and we entered into the library.
Whispers. The tap-tap-tapping of computer keys. Quiet movements from all over the room…a man sitting in an armchair looking at a Farmer’s Almanac, a young mother checking her facebook account while her children played almost noiselessly at her feet, a little boy scooting across the children’s book section on his knees…and two librarians looking expectantly at the “new kids” who had just entered into their quiet realm. I had never been to this particular library before, but it was like coming home.
As I discussed the terms of membership at the front desk with a kind and elderly librarian, Gideon found something to tinker with at my feet. I heard a thump and looked down to see that a large circular “hours” sign that was attached by Velcro to the front desk had fallen down as a result of that tinkering. His eyes, unaware that I was observing him, were huge as he scurried to put it back into place. When it successfully stuck on the first try, he quickly distanced himself from the entire situation, a sigh of relief evident on his face, and I inwardly chuckled. Yes, I completely remember situations like that.
When the nice lady helping us leaned across the desk to ask if he would like to have his very own library card with his name on it, he nodded solemnly, reigned-in excitement lighting up his eyes. I covered my mouth with my hand. I remember the joy of my first library card, too…
And then we went to look at books. With exactly forty minutes to spare before we had to return home, I ambled over to the “B’s” and started looking for some Berenstain Bears titles, just like I always did when I was a child. Their collection was small, but I found a few books to show to Gideon, knowing he would be excited to see some familiar characters in stories he had not yet read. However, he had apparently discovered the non-fiction/reference section in my short absence and had already chosen his three books to take home, including a lengthy book on inventions, a book called “Houses” that was about…houses, and, my personal favorite, a book with a monkey on the cover that was simply titled “What is a Primate?”
“Ummmm…Gid?” I said, gently. “These books look great, but don’t you want to look around a bit first? Before you choose?”
“I love these books.” he said, clutching them to his chest.
“Well…look at the pages. There are hardly any pictures…and they’re really long. See all those words? Are you sure these are the books you want?”
“Well…okay.” he said, and sifting through his selections, finally conceded on returning the books on inventions and houses; however, when it came to “What is a Primate?” he wasn’t budging. I added it to the best of the Berenstain titles and determined that his Papa could read that one to him.
After perusing the aisle for a bit longer, I told Gideon he could choose a few books for us to read right there on the spot. “Really?” he asked, looking left and right to determine if we were breaking some sort of rule. “Sure! We have all kinds of time.” I replied. And so there we sat on the floor, my beloved son in my lap as I whispered story after story in his ear. He loved it. I loved it. And the librarians must have loved it, too, for everytime I glanced up, they were smiling in our direction. Fellow dorks, I guess.
Right on time (40 library minutes for a 4-year old = perfect), our time there drew to a close, and my heart was so happy. Not only was I relaxed in a way that I hadn’t been for weeks, I was so thrilled that Gideon, another step closer to boyhood, followed all of the rules. Well, all but rule #4…we did leave the library with four books…and an animated movie about George Washington.
As we emerged from the library, our small pile of borrowed treasures accompanying us, we were smarter, we were more experienced, and we were more accomplished than we had been before we entered. But best of all, we were closer to one another. With my permission, we both gave a few hoops and hollers to celebrate our near hour of silence, and then drove straightaway to the McDonald’s drive-thru to seal our good day with a carbonated drink, a Dr. Pepper for Mama, and a “Root Deer” for Gideon. Fun had been had, and our world felt right and sure once more.
It doesn’t take much, you know, to heal the wounds of your little chicks…just a little “something”…and the countenance that was cloudy will shine once more.
And Mother Hen heaved a great and happy sigh of relief…