I was kicked out of the public library last Thursday. Seriously…who gets kicked out of the library? The experience was so traumatic it has taken me several days to process. I had conserved just enough energy to take my three boys to the library following a morning of homeschooling. We had overdue books to return and books needing to be checked out for next week’s studies. It had been a trying week, and my nerves were a little frail already. This was a run in, run out kind of trip. Everybody knows that the library is a quiet place…everyone, I guess, but my one year old, Judah. I don’t know if children can sense a baby-unfriendly environment, but upon arrival, Judah immediately started fussing. The fussing turned into crying; the crying became screeching. I dodged into the restroom hoping to console this restless child, and perhaps convince him of his unacceptable behavior. (I told him to take a good look at himself in the mirror–at his ridiculous pouting and fussing. He didn’t show any remorse.) Caleb and Liam were busy picking out their favorites and were not prepared to make a quick exit. Judah continued his intermittent fuss-cry-screech routine, confirming it was time to go. I whispered loudly to the older ones to stop, drop, and go in the most serious, “I-mean-business” voice I could muster. I should practice whispering loudly at home because it didn’t seem to get their attention. With one arm holding a 24 lb. kicking toddler and another carrying a bag of books, I attempted to round up my children. It was at this very moment of distress that a librarian walked over to me and said matter-of-factly, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave with the baby.” The first thought that crossed my mind was, okay, but what about the other two? At this point I was sweating profusely and wishing I had a remote control for my children: mute, obey, walk. After what felt like an eternity at the self-checkout followed by the entire bag of books toppling out of the bag in our haste and the alarm mistakenly sounding off twice upon our exit, I stood outside the library with my three boys, two bags of books, and tears running down my cheeks. I loaded all the boys in the car and I sniffed and sobbed all the way home.
I was chagrined, yes; exhausted, no doubt; frustrated, absolutely. There was no injustice in keeping the library quiet and asking my boys and me to leave. But what I needed was empathy–a little sympathy, a little help. What would have made the difference in that situation? What if the librarian had seen my attempt to make an exit and offered, “Could I help you and your boys check out while you take a minute with your baby in the lobby? You look like you have your hands full. Is there anything I could do to help you get out the door?” She was only doing her job and I can’t fault her for that. In fact, I have now thought of many occasions in which I’ve jumped to conclusions about mothers who can’t control their children at the mall, or babies who kick and scream. I have been guilty of being annoyed, myself, rather than empathetic. My youngest will not be accompanying me on future trips to the library for some time, but I only reflect in order to draw attention to how often we fail to recognize another mom’s distress with assistance and understanding. Sometimes we are too busy with our own children or too task-oriented, but sometimes we are just forgetful of our own shortcomings and struggles. For this mother, the trauma and drama of last Thursday will not soon be forgotten; neither will the lesson learned.