Wednesday, November 11, 2015

thanks, mom from the library.

One of the best things about being a parent in Ann Arbor is having access to some of the coolest children's programs ever. This past Monday, we went to a "Sensation Stations" program at one of the smaller library branches, and Rowan spent an hour happily swishing her hands around in bins of beans, pasta, sand, styrofoam, and yarn. And yesterday, we went to preschool story time at the main branch of the library.

Ann Arbor District Library's story times are...amazing, for a few reasons. First, there are separate baby and preschool story times, which is helpful when you don't want your eight-month-old to get mowed down by a rambunctious five-year-old. Second, there's at least one story time at at least one of the branches every weekday. Third, the story times get families to the library, which exposes both parents and children to everything our libraries have to offer (including craft machines and activity bags for rent!). Fourth, our children's librarians? Are legendary storytellers. We're talking puppets, costumes, felt boards, dancing, singing, special voices, musicians - all bound up in a predictable routine with the same songs to start and end each session, which you know the early-childhood crowd thrives on.

But! This post isn't actually about the story times, specifically. It's about what happened after yesterday's story time.

Rowan and I spent a happy chunk of our morning listening to and singing along with the librarians. She hesitantly crept away from me at the end to get a hand stamp all by herself (we're working on her bravery for those independent hand stamp missions), and then she bounded back over to flaunt her two stamps, one from each librarian, and each of which was related to the day's story themes. Then we hung around and read books together, did some puzzles, checked out the fish tank, and listened to her favorite story on the library computers.

After a while, we wandered over to the open area in the back of the children's section, where there were a couple large bins of toys set out. Only a few kids were back there. Rowan started zooming a fire truck around the carpet, and I got my phone out to catch up on Facebook.

It happened in less than a minute. A little toddler, younger than Rowie, was dragging one of the bins out of the open area and over to the puzzle area. An older boy (maybe four?) was trying to stop the toddler girl from taking all the toys away, but she was on a mission. The older boy got furious, ran back to his mom (who was browsing the stacks nearby and periodically reminding him that the baby was smaller, and to let her take the bin), and collapsed in a screamy heap next to her.

We've all been there, right? Your kid wants something that another kid's using, and the kid is younger, so you, probably reluctantly, follow the laws of the land and tell your kid to back off. Predictably, most kids aren't too pleased with this outcome, and some kind of tantrum ensues.

But what happened next was a total game-changer for the boy. His mom knelt down with him and started out by delivering a swift ultimatum: "If you're going to scream like that in the library, we're going to have to leave." She was firm but gentle. I have no idea if she was prepared to follow through on that or not, but the boy stopped screaming. Then she continued, explaining that she knew he was upset, but that the baby was younger and didn't know that the toys needed to stay in the open area. She then helped him talk through his anger, helped him name his strong emotions, validated those emotions, and helped him come up with an alternative activity while he waited for a turn with the toy bin. Soon, her son dashed back to the open area to play with a different toy - maybe not 100% happy, but definitely feeling better.

The mom turned back to her browsing, and I so wanted to walk right over and tell her how awesome I thought that parenting moment was. But I couldn't. I didn't know how to phrase it without sounding like - I don't know, her supervisor or some shit - and I wasn't sure if she'd be weirded out that I totally snooped on her little discipline session. And then Rowan bolted for the puzzles, so I had to walk away and follow her.

On our way to the puzzle area, I saw the toy bin. The little toddler girl had abandoned it and was engrossed in a dinosaur puzzle with her grandparents. Rowan settled in at a different puzzle, and I decided to carry the bin back to the boy.

When I set it down in front of him, he looked up, surprised. I said, "I heard you were waiting for a turn with these toys, so here you go." He grinned and said, "Thanks! Yeah! Thank you!" and scooped some of the trucks out of the bin.

His mom was still standing nearby, looking at books, so I bit the bullet, walked over, and said what I was thinking: "Excuse me - I just wanted to say I thought you did such a great job of talking with him earlier." She looked at me with wet eyes and started to say thank you. I kept talking: "It's just - if that had been my daughter? She probably would've had a full-on tantrum. But I loved the way you talked him off the ledge." She was smiling, eyes still wet, and replied, "That is so nice! Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you."

"You're welcome. Take care," I said, and headed back towards Rowan.

Look, I'm not saying I did anything amazing or miraculous. In fact, I almost didn't even write about this. Today was full of extreme parenting news that wrenched my heart in all directions: long-awaited pregnancies and births (hi, baby June!!), children in hospice, children dying, mamas missing their babies who are gone. What's the big deal about a possibly out-of-place compliment to a stranger at the library in the midst of all the grief and celebration?

But I did want to post this. Because here's the big deal. These connections, the ones that make us care about the big bad news and the big good news, are what make us human. And as a mom, someone complimenting me on my parenting skills would absolutely stick with me, would shore me up against the tougher moments of mothering - both because it would make feel proud of myself, and because it would make me feel connected to the person who noticed and complimented me. These connections, however they're forged, remind us that we're all in this together, and that we're all on the same mission as parents and people: trying to do the best we can with what we know.

Before I became a mom, I was definitely aware that all parents are doing their best, and that they all want what's best for their kids. Working in early childhood, my coworkers and I reminded each other of that a thousand times a week. But what changed - grew exponentially stronger - when I had Rowan was that connection. Now, any other mother's tears are my own. It's why I couldn't read or watch sad news stories for so long after Rowan was born. It's why, during my new-mom group meetings, if one of us started crying, we all started crying. It's why I stepped out of my comfort zone and approached the mom at the library and told her how impressed I was with how she helped her son talk through his anger. That connection is a precious layer of humanity, and it's our job to bolster it whenever we can.

That's all. It was just good to remember that, just like in my old job, it's still important to seek out my coworkers (fellow parents) and try to build them up. So, thanks for the reminder, Mom From the Library.


Also, just in case you forgot that our kids are always listening and soaking up our influences, even as babies: I haven't sung this song to Rowan in months and months, but I used to sing it to her all the time when she was a tiny baby. I randomly sang the opening words the other day, and she finished the rest, unprompted. Caught a little on camera on Monday before dinnertime:

She's singing (to the tune of "Who's That Lady?"): "Who's my baby (who's my baby)? Rowan Sophia (she's my baby)!" Good gravy, I love this little Rowalie of mine.

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