Storytime at the library. It paints an enticing image: stylish stay-at-home mom, peppy grin, hip outfit, adorable bright-faced child, a healthy snack in her bag, a stack of books in her arm, and endless patience. She quietly enters, sits on the floor while her little one piles neatly into her lap, and they gaze cheerily at the librarian as she reads books after book. Sounds nice, right?
Well, that picture is far from my reality. For starters, I am only able to stay home with my son by caring for other children a couple days a week. This means that a trip to storytime involves not one toddler but two. Two diapers to change, two hats to hunt down, two zippers to wrestle, two mouths yelling “No” and “Mine.”
By the time the final hand has been wiggled into its mitten, I’m too frazzled to worry about what I’m wearing! So I set out for the day with wild hair and jeans splashed with the morning’s OJ. We navigate two sets of stairs and out to the sidewalk where we strap into a double stroller and make our way to the library – the most peaceful part of the experience, for once we reach the doors of the library, the children are, once again, unstrapped and ready to run.
Before we even approach the room, my hair is disheveled, my face sweaty from wrangling energetic two-year-olds, and at least one child is near tears because I’ve asked them to stop at the door to remove their many layers. As I pry open the door, two flashes disappear into the room and bounce from one side to another. I attempt to seat them neatly in a chair, but they argue over which chair they want, how each is crowding the other, who sits on Mama’s lap, and in the end, they both slide off their chairs and run around again.
On this particular day, a kindergarten class has come to put on a short play, complete with paper mâché puppets and a large cardboard set. For the next ten minutes, I chase one child after the other and kindly remind them not to climb on the stage and pick up the fish and push on the set and yell and jump and…
At one point Shea, the little girl I watch, is lifting her shirt over head and showing her belly button to everyone in the room. At yet another time, my son Emmett has climbed up on stage and is loudly jumping as the librarian is trying to read. This means I have to carefully navigate past a dozen children who are sitting quietly, while trying my best not to smoosh any little fingers or toes.
Then when I’m able to breathe in a moment of relief while both kids are actually sitting still, Shea turns to me and says, “Eat?” Of course, we had a snack just before leaving the house.
But then the librarian sings the first verse of a song about a little bird flying through the window, and I watch Emmett excitedly hop up to join the older children flapping and flying under the librarian’s outstretched arm. With his elbows lifting and lowering erratically and a huge grin on his face, Emmett gleefully follows the big kids’ lead, and he reminds me that it doesn’t matter if they can’t sit still or listen intently to every word in the books.
It is okay if they occasionally behave like belligerent college kids. The value lies in being here, in the experience of words and song, in seeing other children, in dancing and wiggling, in getting ourselves out of the house on a cold wintery day to expose these fresh minds to stories with their peers. As parents and caregivers, we can’t control their behaviors, and they may sometimes leave us feeling exhausted from trying our patience, but we can shape the types of experiences they have and to what learning opportunities we expose them. In the end, the way their innocent faces light up during these experiences makes all the chaos worthwhile.