My family is on library probation.
In our leafy Chicago suburb, we have a beautiful library. Our children’s section is stunning: fish tanks embedded in the walls, child-sized, Dr. Seuss-inspired furnishings, castles to play in, computers to explore, story times, floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the park and the WWI memorial with Hemingway’s name engraved among the many. All of this to gaze upon, all the glorious books to be read, and the helpful and encouraging librarians, including one adorable librarian named Tom. Well, I fell for it.
I fell for the books and the view of the park and the chairs and the fish and even for Tom, who is young enough to be my son if I had gotten pregnant in high school but who is just yummy.
I fell in love with the children’s department, and it has cost me over $200 in broken DVDs, overdue fines and lost books I swear we never checked out in the first place. If you include the babysitter’s parking ticket in that total, we are closing in on $300 for using the public library.
My latest fines accumulated silently, until I received a rather nasty notice telling me I was being sent to collections. Who gets sent to collections by the library? How is that even possible? At the bottom of the notice was a phone number I could call. So I called to find out what was currently overdue and how much we owed this time.
I don’t like getting irate with well-intentioned library clerks, but I do. And it goes like this, “I returned that DVD I know I did, I put it in the scroungy-looking drop box in the bank parking lot across the street in the pouring rain as we were racing to hockey practice, I did, I tell you, I returned it!”
I know the answer. I know the answer because its written on some library clerk’s card for dealing with irate mothers and it’s rehearsed. The answer goes like this, “Yes, ma’am, I’m sure you did return it, but unless we find it on our shelves you are responsible for your overdue items.”
Okay, how about I give you the Clifford DVD, we broke that one, I’ll pay for it, but how about cutting me a break on the Berenstain Bears? “No ma’am I’m sorry but we need to find it on our shelves.” Clearly this guy is a retired volunteer with some sweet pension who has no sympathy for a $67 library fine.
Me, wondering if I can find a younger, more sympathetic library employee. One who is desperately struggling to pay off student loans from their English degree, who might cut me some slack if I hand them a twenty, preferably one who knows Tom.
My sitter, who seems to know everything except where to find the overdue Daddy Hugs (which was the stupidest book I’ve ever read), told me that a significant portion of the library’s operations budget is supported by fines from the children’s department. Briefly, my competitive nature wonders if I’m in the top 3 percent.
The thing is, I’m a fairly organized control freak. I’ve bought the library tote with the picture of the moon and the stars and the pleasant graphic. I installed a hook just inside the coat closet at child height to hang the library bag. I’ve got a smaller bag inside the tote for all the receipts, library cards, even quarters for the insidious parking meters.
I’ve scolded my children and requested that all library books be returned to the tote. The no-library-books-in-our-bedrooms-or-in-the-playroom rule is shunned. I just can’t make this library thing work.
Why can’t I enjoy story time with my 3-year-old on my lap just before nap time, clapping and laughing at sock puppets? Merrily holding hands as my child skips past the ridiculous chairs, a laden library tote on my shoulder, stopping briefly to look at the expensive fish on our way to timely return all of our checked out items? But I can’t. The library defeats me, and Tom probably doesn’t think I’m yummy.
Well, at least now I know who paid for the fish.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at email@example.com.