Monthly Archives: September 2016

Getting Carded

I have a relic in the corner of my dining room, a dinosaur that I often have to explain to younger visitors.  They mistake it for a toolbox or curious storage cabinet.  “This,” I say, running my hand across the rectangular drawers, “is a card catalog. It’s how we used to keep track of books in the library.  Kind of a prehistoric  internet.”

I get it, when the young ones digest this information with puzzled expressions.  Now that information is a click away on a glowing screen, when Wikipedia does all the heavy lifting, a bank of file drawers with titles, authors, and subjects typed by hand on index cards seems archaic, like an abacus, or 8-track, or jello mold.

As soon as I was old enough to pedal my bike without training wheels, I headed for our local public library.  My mother helped me get a library card, an official laminated square with my very own name on it that magically gave me free access to shelf upon shelf of books.  When the librarian asked to see my card at the check-out counter, I slid it across to her like it was an American Express on Rodeo Drive.   That card was my sole reason for owning a wallet.

It was my impossible goal one summer to read every book in the children’s section.  I got mostly through the A’s before realizing there was juicier fodder in the card catalog.   I loved the crinkly plastic jacket covers.  I loved the pocket stuck to the back cover that held a card stamped with dates tracing the number of times this book or that one had been selected, borrowed, and returned again.

Then, privacy wasn’t such an issue, and the card bore the names of past readers, their signatures a witness to their interest in a given topic on a given day.  The names on those cards used to fill me with stories of the imagined lives of the borrcard-libowers.  Why did Alice Dodd renew Sounder three times?  Was her life so hectic she couldn’t finish it or did she just like a good cry?  What kind of a person was Mark Amos that drew him to read Sylvia Plath?  I always felt sorry for the books with blank or sparse check-out histories.  If I found one, I’d renew it just to give it an extra stamp.

High school research papers forced me to the library for business, not pleasure.  I gained blue-booknew respect for librarians:  the Fairy Godmothers of Knowledge.  No topic was too vague or obscure for them.   A few flips through the card catalog and they could unearth the holy grail itself.   I honed my hand-eye coordination by operating the microfiche machine in a dim-lit room, scrolling through old newspapers to find material.  Librarians will run heaven’s registrar office.  You will be able to cross the pearly gates after a nasty bump on the head with no idea who you are.  They will peer down at you, size up that scar on your left knee and the slightly upturned nose, flip through a dusty tome or two and recite your ancestry, character flaws and deeds of note leaving plenty of time for lunch.

Libraries exert no pressure.  Unlike bookstores, where I feel as if I must carry around a book or two to give the appearance of being a potential purchaser, libraries are for loafing.  Borrow it, or don’t.  Read the whole thing in the chair by the window and they won’t cast disapproving looks at you because they’ve lost a sale.  If they don’t have it, someone else in the world wide library family probably does, and they’ll send it over!  Even their overdue fees are ridiculous!  Ten cents a day?  No other civic institution operates on these sort of fumes.  Libraries are the best game in town.  They don’t play favorites.  Anyone can come to story time, have access to reading, and take home a stack of books to explore.  They give out library cards like Halloween candy.

Some of the most beautiful places in the world are libraries.   We stopped in Dublin’s Trinity College Library this past summer for a glimpse at the famous Book of Kells.  This was one of the most beautiful books in the world housed in one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.  When we left after our tour, my husband and I were both pretty much like this:

Image result for so cute crying meme

Seriously, floor to ceiling leather-bound volumes with gilt edges.  An arched wooden ceiling with a spiral iron staircase leading to the topmost stacks. trinity-library Golden letters on the shelves to alphabetize by author.  Unfortunately, they weren’t keen on a couple of American tourists becoming “Readers in Residence,” despite our offer.

Because libraries often rely on donations and limited acquisition budgets, they tend to keep books around a long time. The more ancient and historical libraries are literal repositories for the history of the world.  As Virginia Woolf said, “I ransack public libraries, and find them full of sunk treasure.”  Indeed.

Plus, when you reach a “certain age,” they’re one of the only places where you’re still going to get carded.  Free books and an ego-boost:  who can’t use more of those?

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here:

Too Quiet

The rules of physics shift when we become parents.  Somehow the airwaves change and we are suddenly tuned in to sound in a new way.  Noise is now a thing we both fear and crave.

A  baby can scream non-stop for two hours from colic or exhaustion or teething, fraying every nerve in your body until you make unholy bargains with the devil for some quiet.  When he finally falls asleep and that blessed quiet falls upon the house, the crazy sets in.  Now your radar is super-tuned to the static of the baby monitor.  He doesn’t usually sleep this soundly.  It’s awfully quiet in there.  You quiz your spouse:  do you think it’s too quiet? You ninja-creep into his room and hold a finger under his nose:  is he breathing?

With age, the noise increases, especially if siblings are in the mix.  I can scream louder than you.  No, I can!  Then eardrums are no longer a thing, and it’s worse than having spent three hours at an Iron Maiden concert.  It’s an endless barrage of questions, singing, yelling, and fighting. On the way home from an afternoon of errands, I used to tell my kids “Mommy’s ears are tired!  Let’s let them rest for 5 minutes!”  Who do you think invented the Quiet as a Mouse game?  A mom.

But you don’t want them to be quiet either.  You know the kind of quiet I mean.  A friend of mine foolishly relished a few extra minutes of sleeping in one morning.   Her rambunctious toddler twins were unusually quiet.  She got up to find they’d emptied five pounds of flour all over the kitchen and living room and were gleefully driving their trucks through the paths of “snow” they’d made.

Quiet does not bode well.  Quiet means smearing the contents of their diaper all over the crib and walls.  Quiet is eating the cat food, cutting their own hair with great concentration, dropping your earrings in the toilet one by one.  If siblings are involved, quiet gets more interesting:

My older sisters quietly devised a fun game one afternoon while my mother made dinner.  The oldest had to capture the younger two in a cowboys-and-Indians charade.  She found the first sister, tied her hands and feet and added a gag and blindfold for good measure. She ordered her to stay put while she went off to find her other quarry.  As the bossy first-born, she expected her instructions to be followed and didn’t think it important to tell the prisoner that she’d been stationed at the top of the stairs.  Like any self-respecting prisoner, the first sister attempted escape:  hop, hop, CRASH, TUMBLE, CRASH!  She landed at the bottom of the stairs with her knee through the drywall, the other two sisters staring wide-eyed from the top of the stairs, and my mother incredulously trying to make sense of the scene as she rushed around the corner.  On the upside, they learned from my father how to patch drywall.

As tweens and teens, the quiet is harder to navigate. The noises are loud music, friends hanging out and raiding your fridge, slammed doors, and huffy sighs.  Does an eye roll have a sound?  Yes. It speaks volumes.  That Spidey sense when it’s too quiet still works, but the signals can be hampered by hormones.  They are the ones who now both fear and crave quiet.  Mom, why do you have to ask so many questions?   Seriously? I am transported back to their loud public toddler queries:  why is that lady so fat?  why do we have to poop?  do babies come out of your bottom, mom?   In comparison, my questions seem civilized and tame.  They want you to be interested but not too interested, near but not too near, available but not intrusive.  The quiet you worry about now is the silent scrolling through the phone or clicking sites on the computer.   What are they up to?  You’re still holding a finger under their noses, checking for signs of life:  are they depressed?  lonely?  sad?  worried?

Sitting on the porch this morning with my coffee, it was blissfully quiet. The good kind, not the hair-prickling uneasy kind.  It’s nice to have an occasional coherent thought and time to just be.  I get times like these more often now that the kids are mostly grown, but now I look forward to the noise.  There’s peace to be had in noise, too.  Noise means life and love live here.  Noise is wrestling, jumping in the pool, and slamming car doors when your kids come home for the weekend.   “Guys!” I yell, when the couch almost tips over.  “Quiet!”   A little voice inside pipes up with a smile:  But not too quiet.

Just a Minute

I had a solid grasp of time before I became a parent.  I knew how to keep appointments, schedule my day, and meet deadlines.  Time was my minion.  It was just lying in wait to stage a coup, it turns out.

Once the babies arrived, it was all about the clock.  Meal time, bath time, play time, blessed, blessed nap time.  I had to schedule the day around those things or we’d all pay the piper.  My first born thrived on routine.  She needed to know what was coming next, and counted time in “how many sleeps” before the next activity.  The youngest was more of a play-it-by-ear sort.  Sleep was to be avoided at all costs lest he miss the party.

Juggling these polar opposites was part of the universe’s scheme to undo me.  Toddlers don’t live inside time.  This is why you never, never tell a small child about an event more than 5 minutes before it happens.  Their emotions are volcanic.  Anticipation cannot be contained.  When are we seeing Santa?  Is it time for Santa?  Can it be time for Santa now?  Mommy, Santa, Mommy!!!!  If you mention Christmas in casual conversation sometime in October, you will hear about it 157,000 times a day for the next three months.

Minutes mean nothing.  Minutes are sands in the hourglass.  An hourglass snagged by small, sticky fingers that gets tipped, shaken, and hurled into the wall.  You hold up a finger to indicate these minutes while you’re on the phone:  Just a minute, honey.  While you’re checking out at the grocery store:  Hold on a minute, sweetheart.   While you’re in the bathroom:  For the love of all that’s holy, IN A MINUTE!

Once, I was in a long line at the post office waiting to mail six heavy boxes of Christmas presents I’d stacked on the counter. As the line inched forward, I slid the boxes and my squirming toddler along together.  She had to go potty, of course, because she absolutely did not have to go before we left home.  “Can you wait a minute, punkin?”  She sweetly nodded twice, and then let go, all over the counter and down the sides onto the floor.   Turns out “wait a minute” in toddler-speak means “now.”

Parenting is full of now moments. Our bodies get in on the game at ground zero and we have nine months of having to eat now, sleep now, go into labor now.   Parenting puts us at melting-clockthe mercy of the universe’s clock, which looks more like the ones in a Salvador Dali painting.  Babies demand soothing now.  Small children want everything right now.  From the time they can talk, we hear “Watch me!  Are you watching?  Look what I can do now!”  It’s exhausting.  Some days you spend wishing for time to speed up.  Bedtime can’t come fast enough.  If only they could walk, talk, be out of diapers, be more independent!  Some days, the ones you just survive, last forever.   Some days, the ones full of rocking and smiles saved just for you, you wish you could freeze frame.

Parenting is full of delayed moments.  Eventually, as they grasp the concept of time, instead of making life easier and more organizable, somehow it backfires into you having to wait.  The minutes you desperately wanted them to grant you, they give you in spades.  Except with the words “five more” tacked on as a prefix.  Time for bed!  Five more minutes??  Time for dinner!  Five more minutes! I’m almost to the next level/waiting for this show to end/on the phone/doing my hair/catching a Pokemon.  Some days you spend wishing they’d catch up.  Hurry up is an impossible dream.  How long can it take a human being to finish a bowl of cereal?  Find their shoes?  Walk out to the car?  For crying out loud, we are going to be late to school/practice/church/life again!   Some days, the days you spend in a mad scramble of calendars and agendas, disappear in a dizzy haze of push and pull.  You’re Alice’s white rabbit.

Parenting is full of later moments.  Teens want everything later.  When are you going to take out the trash?  Later.  Have any homework?  I’ll do it later.  When will you be home?  Later.  How about scheduling a college visit?  Can we do that later?  Gotta run, mom, I’ll text you later.  Their time becomes more their own and their friends’ and less of it is reserved for you.  The now’s have turned into “whenever’s.”  It’s rare that they yell for you to “watch me!”  More likely, they prefer privacy and hands-off.  Still, you watch the clock with sleepless worry when they’re out late behind the wheel.  You bite your tongue and try to wait to be invited to talk about the heartbreak or disappointment they’ve faced. With fewer demands on your time, there’s somehow the backward sense of time speeding by, those hourglass grains slipping through your fingers even as you try to gather them.  Time warps:  the days are long, but the years are short.

I’m fast approaching the empty nest, when I’ll return to being able to schedule my days and minutes sans interruption.  Funny thing is, I stopped wearing a watch about a year ago.  My oldest turns 20 this week–an age I can’t fathom.  All the now’s, hurry up’s and later’s seem like both yesterday and ages ago.  Suddenly, I want to pause:  just a minute!  Five more minutes?  But time, in its own cadence, marches on.