A Library of Memories

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Most of the time I’m pretty happy that I don’t have small kids anymore. My kids are 21 and 24, so I no longer have to make them snacks all the time or help them with school projects. They never throw tantrums in Target anymore. It’s great. Most of the time, I’m just fine with the kids being grown.

Until recently, that is, when I visited the children’s section of my local library, where I was seized with the urge to either have a kid or BE a kid again, just to soak up all the wonder and sheer awesomeness there. I haven’t been to the library in a couple of years—shame on me. And I haven’t been to the children’s section in well over a decade, I’m sure.

First of all, it smelled exactly the same. That sweet old book smell, combined with that clean, air-conditioned, industrial carpet smell, and some kind of paste—that’s how my library smells. It’s right up there with cut grass and summer pine on my list of favorite smells. You can’t stand around in the children’s section and huff the air because that might alarm the parents in the vicinity, but if it were socially acceptable, I might have hyperventilated trying to suck in more of that smell.

Second, there are still giant paper mache creatures there. When I was a kid, they had a stegosaurus that I took for life-size, although I didn’t actually know how big a stegosaurus is supposed to be and I still don’t, but I remember that thing was huge. Maybe it seemed that way because I was about three and half feet tall at the time, but still. Giant.  Now, they have all kinds of animal heads mounted on the wall like trophies, but instead of looking like tragic, taxidermied safari victims, they look like happy, playful animals who’ve only just poked their heads through the wall for a minute. And they appear to be quite large, even at my current size.

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There is still an events calendar with activities that are still exciting to me, although I am about 35 years too old to participate: mask making, a World Rhythm party, Pajama Story Time… activities that I would undoubtedly appreciate way more than your average elementary school kid. Pajama Story Time? Are you kidding me? How do I get in on that?

Anyway, I went into the kids’ section to check out a copy of The Secret Garden, which I’m re-reading in preparation for a writing project I’m working on. I needed a timeless children’s novel written prior to the 1930s, and The Secret Garden has always been one of my favorites. But as soon as I got to the library, I remembered: the whole library is my favorite.

I spent a lot of time in the library as a kid. I remember summer reading contests, with badges and coloring pages and lists of books you could check off as you read them. I remember craft workshops and musical productions and Easter egg hunts. I remember a Library Pet Show, where my box turtle, Emily, got a prize for “Most Unusual.” (I also remember burning with jealousy over a glossy, black rabbit that another girl brought to the pet show in a picnic basket, like Dorothy carrying Toto. If you asked what was in the basket, she’d dramatically lift the lid and let you peek in at the rabbit like she was revealing The Mysteries of the Universe. I loved my turtle but goddamnit, I wanted that rabbit in a picnic basket.)

I remember helping my little brother, eight years younger than me, choose books from that same library. And of course, when my kids were born, I took them, too. Oddly, those memories are the least clear; I think I was too exhausted and frazzled to retain sharp copies of those.

Now my kids are technically adults, and even though I’ve sternly warned them not to attempt procreation til they’re at least 30, I secretly can’t wait for them to have babies. I need an excuse to hang around the Children’s section without looking like a weirdo.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my own Pajama Story Time. With wine. Me, in my sloppy gray night shirt, an amazing children’s book written in 1911, and a chardonnay bottled in 2013.

I’ll do this at home, of course.