The Force of a Revelation

“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.

IMG_8183They were loud; they were boisterous.  They were laughing the infectious laughter of childhood, the kind that starts in your belly and ends sometime shortly after middle age.

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.


4 thoughts on “The Force of a Revelation

  1. Isn’t that always the way?!?! Our local library has loads of kid books, but we actually drive a little bit further to a library with…(wait for it)…librarians. Yes. That’s right. The city library no longer has librarians. They have staffers in the front that can assist you with questions and check out, but not necessarily BOOKS. The country library that we drive to? They have multiple librarians. Seated at all the different sections, ready to help. My eldest has discovered non fiction and hasn’t looked back. Last summer he walked in with a Lego MiniFig of a pirate, walked up to the children’s librarian and asked, ‘Can you please show me more books about people like these?’ Sure as sugar, she walked around the desk leaned closer to him, and said. ‘Hmmm….I think he’s an explorer. Would you like explorers, pirates or Vikings? I can show you where these kids of books are? Then you can take your pick.’ I was sort of shell shocked. I hadn’t seen a ‘real librarian’ answering real questions in years. She invited us back for school age story time. I mentioned that I thought he was a little big for that, she smiled and stated that school age started at 1st grade. ‘Because of the scientific explosions and stuff. Your younger ones can totally come to family story time.’
    You want him to come, explode things, sing loud, log his summer reading and recommendations online, and you know pirates??!?!
    Madam Librarian – we’ll be here every week.
    But we had to find this niche, hopefully you and yours can too?
    ps – I’m not sure through which blogger I followed you from? But I’m thrilled to hear about someone else with a houseful of boys and subscribed immediately. Here’s to a summer full of leisure and enjoying those fleeting moments of calm.

  2. Sadly, I don’t go to the library with my children much. When I was a stay-at-home mom I had a lot more time for the library. Now that I’m a full time working gal and, during the school year, my first grader has a barrage of homework I have to choose our activities wisely.

    In my town, we have a lovely children’s library space. It’s on a floor separate from the adult library, so one would think the children’s library would be more tolerant of the kind of noise and exuberance from kids. As toddlers, my boys were often shushed and admonished for ‘running.’ No, I didn’t let them run wildly like monkeys, but it can be exciting being in the stacks and it seemed the librarians I encountered had little patience for…. children. My youngest LOVED any sort of stuffed animal. Our library has huge beautiful plush story characters, but they were all up high on top of the stacks so they could only be admired and desired. One time there was a parent and tween working on one of the computers. I don’t recall the details, but they were arguing and the tween was being very stubborn, so the librarian’s solution was to threatened to call the police. She could have tried shushing them first. Another time, a child with Down’s Syndrome approached me and asked if I had signed up for the field trip. He had made pretend permission slips and I thought this was great, so I totally went along with this imagination. The librarian was visibly annoyed. As soon as he started skipping away, he was told firmly “no running.” I haven’t been back much after that.

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