H spots the mesh cup of golf pencils at the reference desk. He points, swinging his legs and bobbing up and down in excitement. H discovered these golf pencils last time we were here visiting with the children’s librarian. I set him on the desk, and he gets right to work removing the pencils from the mesh cup and depositing them in a rotating rack holding informational brochures and bookmarks, making faint pencil marks on some of them in the process.
“How old?” the librarian asks. She is not the children’s librarian. I have never seen her before.
“He’s almost 16 months,” I say.
She smiles at H, watching him with gentle eyes. She is friendly.
I fish the pencils from the brochures and return them to the cup. H takes them right back out, and I smile at his industriousness. Pencils clatter on the desk and fall to the floor, and I pick them up obligingly. Pencil points that get stuck in the mesh of the cup break off, but I continue to smile. They can be resharpened.
H turns his attention from the rotating rack to the librarians’ phone. He puts a pencil on the phone and presses the nearest button. The phone goes to speaker, the dial tone loud in the quiet library.
“How did you know to do that?” the librarian asks H as she cheerfully lifts the receiver and puts it back on the hook to disengage the speaker.
“Lucky press,” I say.
She moves the phone a bit toward her and I move H a bit away from the phone. She periodically turns her attention to her work, but mostly she is watching H. She is still smiling. She is still friendly.
H sees another mesh cup of pens, markers, and highlighters. He empties this mesh cup, object by object, into the rotating rack. He takes some brochures from the rack and bends and crinkles them as he works at putting them back.
The librarian is smiling, still benignly, at H, but I begin to feel uncomfortable. We have been here too long, I think. We are being a nuisance.
H is focused on his project, oblivious to my growing unease. The voices in my head get louder. I shouldn’t be letting him do this, I think. We shouldn’t be here at all. A better parent wouldn’t let her baby play with the pencils at the library’s reference desk. The discomfort in my body becomes so great that I cannot stand still anymore.
“Would you like to go look at some books?” I ask H.
He pays no attention to me, continuing to find different configurations for the pencils, pens, markers, and mesh cups. He stacks the two cups on top of one another and works at putting one on top of the rotating rack.
“I am going to pick you up,” I tell H, looking at the librarian with embarrassment. I pick him up. He protests. He tries to keep his body where it is, but I am bigger and stronger so he is in my arms. H throws his weight back toward the desk and starts to cry his super sad cry.
“We’ll go look at some books,” I say to H, pointing back to the children’s section.
I look at the librarian. She smiles at me. “Oh, it’s okay,” she says, waving my hand away as I struggle to collect the remaining of the wayward golf pencils.
We walk away. H is screaming, his face red and twisted in displeasure. His cry is easily the loudest thing in the library. I shut out everything else around us, hearing and seeing nothing but him, so that I can remain calm and stay present with his feelings.
We get to the children’s section and H asks to play with the roller coaster bead toy table. I set him down and he stands, tears pooling on his cheeks, half heartedly moving the beads on their curved wires. It is not long before he sits down to crawl away. I follow him back to the main part of the library and pick him up. He points. I walk where he leads. We are back at the reference desk.
“He wasn’t done with his project,” I say to the librarian.
“He’s okay to be here,” she says kindly. She is still friendly.
H happily resumes his work with the golf pencils while I hold him tight against me. The shame of having taken him away not because of what he was doing but because of how I felt sits heavy in the pit of my stomach.
After a while H starts to get a bit frantic. Things are falling and clattering. The mesh cup topples to the floor.
“Are you all done?” I ask H. “Would you like me to pick you up?” He comes into my arms willingly. The librarian helps me right the cups and fill them with the pencils, markers, and pens.
“Good bye pencils,” I say. “It was so fun to play with you. See you next time!”
H and I wave at the pencils and at the librarian. She waves back at us, still smiling and friendly. As we walk away I point out the recycling bin at the check out line. H points and bounces his legs. We go through the metal detectors and turn around. “Bye library,” I wave. H looks and, after a beat, waves, too.
We turn and push the door open together. We are outside, down the stairs. I hug H close and think about all the wounded parts of me that made an appearance in the library. I acknowledge the part that thinks it is safest to be quiet and small, that to occupy space fully is to be bothersome. I notice the part that looks for validation from others in order to feel good about my parenting choices. The part that gives over my authority to others, that lets them decide where I do and do not belong, whether I am too much or not enough, whether I am good or bad, is harder to identify, but it was there. I know that they are not the whole of me, these parts, but they exist. Sometimes they are quiet, and sometimes, like now, they are loud. I know they do not serve me, that I feel stronger and better when they are not around. I think about how bad these parts of me can feel. I feel awful.
I do not know for sure how to keep from passing along these wounded parts to H, but I have a working theory. My theory is that H is watching me even when he does not appear to be, that he picks up on the subtlest of my words and behaviors. My theory is that if I work at staying present with my own feelings, if I turn them over with a curious, non-judging mind, if I hold myself gently, these wounds will heal and H will be less likely to carry them on. I do not know for sure, but I am working on it, for me and for H, anyway.