Friday, June 20, 2014

When Strangers Become Family

It was August 2009 when I finally gathered enough courage to begin taking my trio of terror to the library.  The twins were a few months shy of one year old, which meant the trip involved the limousine stroller, complete with its bulldozer-type handling.

I distinctly remember keeping the babies firmly strapped in their seats--completely against their will, of course.  I also remember being hyper conscious of every sound they made and madly buying their silence with a golden bribe known to mothers everywhere--Cheerios.

Lots of them. Doled out one at a time and shoved--along with an entire fist--into little bird mouths. 

Big brother Wyatt fell instantly in love with this book haven, and just like that, we started a weekly routine of visiting the children's section.  Every Tuesday morning, I would stroll through the electronic front doors of our local branch to check out 15 books--no more simply because no more would squeeze in the cloth bag with the quaint sunbonnet dolls printed on it. And no less because if more could fit, then my then two-year-old would make them fit.

At some point during those first few months, one of the librarians at the front desk told me I had just missed Storytime, which just so happened to be held every Tuesday morning.  The next week, we made it on time. 

The library became our sanctuary.  It was the first place I felt my children were expected to be children....were accepted as children, were celebrated as children.  Tables, chairs, and crayons beckoned them to come in and stay awhile, no matter their occasional lack of inside voices. There before an entire wall of glass, we put together countless puzzles and read even more books together.

It wasn't long before we were on a first name basis with most of the librarians, and while members of our precious librarian family have come and gone over the years, there has been one constant since our first visit--Mrs. Annie.

To say my children love Mrs. Annie is to minimize how integral a part of our family she has become. 

She has read to my children almost every week at Storytime for the past five years.  She's sung ridiculously silly songs, created amazingly cool kid crafts that have lived on my fridge, and has been patient when my trio wanted to "help" restack the carpet squares before we were finished using them.

When Wyatt started Kindergarten two years ago, his greatest regret was not leaving his mother at home but rather missing Storytime.  Since then, during summer break and holidays, he has always been excited to rejoin his siblings and Mrs. Annie for this hour of fun, no matter that he's now taller than most of the other children and is surrounded by many noisy babies and toddlers.
Time with our favorite librarian didn't end with Storytime, though.  The first "Mrs. Annie" event was pumpkin decorating when Wyatt wasn't quite three.   Since then, virtually every month has found us calendaring some excitement with Mrs. Annie.    In years past, she's guided my children through Egypt and helped them become Master Librarians from The Magic Tree House series.  The past twelve months alone have seen my children playing Valentine BINGO with Mrs. Annie as well as attending Dinosaur, Dr. Seuss, Turtle Power, and Elephant & Piggie parties with Mrs. Annie.

For three summers, our friend has been the one to gently encourage my children to fully participate in the Summer Reading Program (even when this mother wasn't sure she was up to the challenge) so that now, it's not a question of if we'll read the fifty books to earn all our raffle tickets for a bike but when we'll read them.

Two weeks ago, we learned Mrs. Annie was leaving for a new job.  My heart felt the loss so much that I didn't tell the children for several days, and when I did, they met the news with an equally long pause of perfect silence.  It's not often I can leave my children speechless. 

Every day, my trio asks if today is her last day.  The second question is "Will we ever see Mrs. Annie again?"  I assure them that we will, even if just on Facebook (where I'm sure they'll stalk her photos for awhile).

In the Fall, the twins start Kindergarten, leaving Storytime behind, so in a way, it seems a fitting end to this season of life, to know that as our family is passing on to new things, the face of the library will change as well.

We will continue to make new friends and adopted "family" at our local library, all while knowing that the changing seasons of this life are made special by the people who inhabit them.  I thank God above that for this five year season, He blessed us with a Mrs. Annie whom we could love and who would love us back.

One day when my little ones are turning grey, themselves, I know we will sit around with the photo albums and share fond memories of the librarian who was the first to cultivate in them a love of books.

We love you, Mrs. Annie.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Worm Guts and Mosquito Bites

The children have begged me to take them fishing for two years now.  Begged.   As in the hands and knees kind of persistent groveling.

It's not that big of a stretch to understand why--we live on a farm with a pond full of whatever fish God has seen fit to rain in it.  My children have grown up seeing it almost every day, completely unaware of the gut-sucking panic this mother has experienced every time they have gone near its watery depths for fear of them falling in and drowning or finding a poisonous moccasin hiding in the reeds.

All they saw, though, was an opportunity for fun.

Pond = fishing.  Right?

I am many things, but a fisher-woman is not one of them.  At any given moment, I could easily rattle off a hundred or so reasons why my children + fishing  was a bad idea.  I understand the thrill of the catch.  My daddy and I used to fish at my great-grandma's old farm place, so like most people, I have my own story of the big one that got away.  I distinctly remember the day he flashed his tail fin into the air as if to brag that we'd never catch him (and we didn't).

I also remember daddy doing all the work--threading the bait on the hooks, taking the fish off the hooks, and letting them splash hard through his glove-covered hands and back into the depths.   He was the one who cast our lines far enough out to give us a chance at catching that big one.  He was also the one with the hook stuck in his skin when my brother or I failed to hit the target.

Then, there is the memory of ever-present mosquitoes who make a bee-line for my particular blood type or the very vivid memory of donating blood to a catfish's barb.  If I could get past those very rational fears, there was still the knowledge that I would be the one sending night crawlers to a watery death, all for catch-and-release entertainment, and that's not to mention the waiting....waiting....waiting (yawn!) for the fish to decide they want to eat said night crawler.

My first excuse was that my children lacked proper equipment, never mind that my brother and I routinely went crawfishing with string, a cane pole, and leftover chicken mama was throwing out. Thanks to a benevolent Aunt Liza and Uncle Johnathan, all three were gifted equipped with their own pint-sized fishing rods, complete with images of various Disney characters all smiling as if to say, "This is going to be great!!!" So much for that excuse.   

Excuse #2 was that the children didn't know how to use a rod and reel.  And so, we spent too many hours practicing our casting in the yard.  Actually, this mother spent too many hours untangling their lines from whatever they'd managed to wrap it around.  The BBQ grill, the oak tree, the cat.  No matter how far apart I placed my three children when they began casting lessons, it never failed that after a few minutes, one child's line would be knotted with another child's line, which would inevitably become knotted with the third child's line when he would come to "help." 

Even after a year of off-and-on practice, just the thought of giving my children a real hook versus the rubber fish used for practice gave me fingers-down-a-chalkboard shivers.  Excuse #2 was alive and kicking.

I tried to pawn the job off onto my husband or my in-laws, gave hints that had to be obvious.  Still, nobody took the bait. Obviously, they, too, thought this was about as fun as a root canal.

Earlier this summer, though, I finally caved in to the pleading and promises of their firstborn children and blind obedience if only I'd take them.  Please?

Instead of an easy date night on the sofa with husband, I was the sweaty, mosquito-bitten, nauseous woman repeatedly pinching thick earthworms into smaller pieces with my fingernails, all while praying aloud for forgiveness as I wove their writhing forms on the hook. I was also the woman ducking for cover as empty hooks floated perilously through the air towards me when the fish stole their bait (again).

That first evening, oldest son, Wyatt, caught three small fish. Bass.  Perch. 

Listening to the screams, you'd have thought they were great whoppers with solid gold scales.  The welcoming committee leaped skyward with child-like excitement, enjoyed the terrified fish for a minute or two, then returned them to their habitat so they could grow into a future meal. 
The twins didn't have their brother's luck, even when they cast in the same location under the branches of the cypress trees.  Amelia caught a bass but failed to land it.   And poor Emerson watched his bobber merely jiggle for over an hour with no results.  Thankfully, they were happy for their big brother and excited for their "next time" fishing, when they did catch their own fish.

As the day's light began to fade, I returned home with worm guts under my fingernails and red spotted appendages from giving blood to a swarm of hungry insects.

I headed straight for the hot water, soap, and hand sanitizer on top of that.

When my children ask what love looks like, I'll point to memories such as this one.  This is the meaning of love.  It is doing for others what you would never do for yourself.  It is self sacrifice for another's happiness.  It is doing what you thought you couldn't or simply didn't want to, all because someone else wanted you to walk with them.

Love is just as the title says--worm guts and mosquito bites.