“We are so happy you are having fun, but, remember, you need to use your inside voices.”
The scene was the children’s room at our local library, the speaker, of course, one of the beleaguered librarians. The recipients, my children . . . naturally.
But no doubt they were disturbing others. Or at least distracting them.
It is a library, after all. People are there to do work, ostensibly, even in July. At the very least they’re there for a semblance of peace and quiet and air-conditioning.
There is just one problem.
My children were not giggling with enviable delight over something they shouldn’t have been, weren’t running wildly through the stacks. In the corner of the children’s room there is a wind machine—the likes of which you’d find in a children’s museum. Next to the wind machine is a large container filled with foam discs, ribbons, small pieces of fabric. Emblazoned across the wall near the machine are words like “science” and “discovery” and “experiment”—a veritable invitation to animated if not occasionally rowdy responses from those it beckons.
Children instinctively put the objects in the wind machine, watch them do some sort of dance involving physics I can’t explain, then pop out from four feet above and, invariably, land on their heads. Cue the giggling.
Adults should be pleased that audible joy is the result—not just for the palliative benefits for our at times dampened spirits but for the fact that children are associating science with positivity, with wonder and excitement.
That is until someone tells you to use your inside voice.
Of course, in 2014, the euphemism of “inside voice” seems light years better than other importunities to “be quiet” or even “shush.” But the feeling inside the child is the same. At best it’s temporary, but no matter it is always crushing, a metaphorical slap.
Standards of behavior exist, and they should. A person who is going to a five-star restaurant for an elegant (expensive) meal should be able to expect a quiet, sophisticated experience free of clowns, dancing dogs—and, yes, rowdy children. Similarly, if a library expects quiet “inside” voices, it should not bring in objects that invite children to make noise—or at least place them where their very reasonable reactions will not intrude on the very reasonable expectations of others.
I took my children out of the library yesterday lest their persistence in enjoying themselves caught the attention of the librarian a second time.
As we exited as unobtrusively as possible, my children repeatedly asked me if they were “in trouble.” I told them they were not but that the library needs to be a place of quiet so people can work and learn.
My five-year-old looked up at me and said, “But, Mom, I thought you said learning is messy and learning is fun. You said that kids learn best when they’re playing.”
I told him that was true—sometimes—and sometimes it’s not, that it depends.
He crinkled his nose, and I saw something float off from the force of this revelation. But this time there was nothing funny or whimsical about it–because it was a little piece of his childhood joy.