The Great Summer Escape
Libraries have always enthralled me. I don’t really recall hanging out at libraries as a child, but I hold vague, fond remembrances: the transfiguring effect of leaving the harshly bright, muggy summer afternoon behind and entering the cool, subdued atmosphere of spacious, musty-aired, book lined rooms.
The silence inside the library was reverential, the books carefully aligned on the shelves, each in its designated place and neatly protected with clear plastic sleeves that crackled expectantly when you opened them. You felt privileged to touch them, honored at having access to these channels of knowledge.
It was these warm and cozy feelings toward libraries that recently got me sucked into “The Great Summer Escape,” a reading program sponsored by our local library. With promises of fun and prizes and a learning opportunity for children, how could any conscientious parent refuse? Besides, it would provide a perfect summertime endeavor for my preschoolers; something to keep them occupied and entertained and out of trouble while my husband and I worked at getting our new house ready to move into.
I could envision my two daughters sprawling on the carpet of the living room, their faces aglow with excitement and enthusiasm as they pored over colorfully illustrated, oversized books lying open on the floor. They would entertain themselves for hours, making up their own stories to match the pictures. Then, in the evenings, after we had polished off a nutritious home-cooked meal and taken our baths and were sitting in the overstuffed chair enjoying the light summer breeze that would float gently through the open window, I would read the books to my daughters as they quietly snuggled into me, eyes drooping to half-mast in anticipation of a restful night’s sleep.
By the end of a week, we would have read the ten books needed to earn the girls a prize, and I would proudly lead them into the library to collect their treat, which they would covet forever because it would invoke in them the same warm and cozy feelings that I held for libraries.
We checked out three books from the library and read them together, and I carefully entered the titles on the form the library had provided for us to document our progress toward our goal of ten books. We were off to a great start.
But somehow the “great summer” I envisioned truly did “escape,” and I was left with harsh reality. I got too busy to go back to the library, so we kept reading the same three books over and over and over again. Which is something a mother is used to, but it wasn’t getting us any closer to our quota of ten, and the girls began to fret that they’d never get their prize.
As the weeks wore on, the girls spent more time in daycare, while I spent more time house painting. One day the girls’ daycare class attended the weekly children’s story hour at the library, and Madison came home aghast with tales of how “all the other kids” were turning in their book lists and getting prizes, and there weren’t going to be any prizes left by the time we made it through ten books.
Here I was trying to choreograph wonderful childhood memories for my daughters, and instead all I was managing to do was instill massive anxiety. At this rate, I’d be lucky if the girls ever dared venture into a library again. In a panic, I hauled them to the library one evening, foregoing their much-needed bath and trying to hide my paint-spattered arms, and trying to convince the girls that, yes, we would eat sometime tonight, I just didn’t know when. We checked out seven books and came home to read them.
Pulling the girls onto my lap (“Madison, don’t kick your sister!”), we began to read. (“Emily, stop turning the pages so fast.” “You girls quit playing and pay attention!”) It was muggy, there was no breeze anywhere, and our bodies stuck together in a sweaty, wilted mass. We made it through one book.
Six more to go. Madison has her eye on winning the sunglasses with orange star-shaped frames, and knowing Emily, she will want the same thing that her sister picks out. If the prizes run out, I will be scouring the five-and-dime stores in search of star-shaped sunglasses. In the meantime, the TV dinners are in the oven, I need a bath, and the girls are on the floor surrounded by library books: they are using them to build a “fort.”
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