I signed the babies up for libary time in the fall of 2002. Calder's office was ten minutes from the downtown library, and he didn't lecture on Tuesday mornings, so he could come with me. We would park up by his office, load the babies into their enormous stroller, and walk down together. The librarians would read a few books, interspersed with simple finger plays and dances, and then they would haul out several buckets of toys or a big box of musical instruments for fifteen minutes of free play. At the same time we were doing the library outings, I was also taking parent-child swimming lessons with the babies, and going out to stores with the babies by myself a great deal more than previously, and taken all together, it was during that autumn that I regained my equilibrium. I started to feel normal.
Just after Christmas, Calder went away for a conference one week and I took the babies to the library by myself. I was scared to stay home and admit that I depended on someone else, and so even though I was also scared about the possibility of a toddler whirlwind, I went, and I managed just fine. The babies get a lot of the credit. I think I've mentioned that they are fairly low-keyed and even-tempered, and by then, they knew the routine and the people and how to behave. Also, although I never got to know the other families terribly well, we'd all gained enough rapport to lend a minimal amount of assistance to each other--it extended at least so far as to warn that a baby was breaking for the door. And the librarian knew us by then, and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I could have been irritated that I had to earn her trust, prove that we wouldn't be a disruption, but all I felt at the time was gratitude for everyone's good will.
Once I had proven that I could manage the library myself, Calder's attendance became more and more sporadic, and eventually he stopped going altogether. I had and have mixed emotions about that: I wanted to be normal, and certainly a mom with her kids at the library is the epitome of a certain kind of privileged normal. (Actually, in that particular group, I was abnormal--a bare majority of the adults were nannies.) At the same time I was getting an ego boost from my weekly forays into super-competency, though, I missed spending time as a family with Calder. I also resented the way he took advantage of my growing competence--most of which felt thrust upon me by sheer necessity, rather than conscious will--to withdraw from the intimate participation in the babies' lives that marked their first eighteen months. And it bothered me that Calder rarely seemed to praise or even notice my work with the babies, because out in the world, my quest to be normal meant I had to keep deflecting everyone else's praise.
All told, we did library time for about eighteen months. By late fall 2003, it was clear that the babies had outgrown the toys and that it wasn't worth the hassles of driving downtown. I signed them up for Kindermusik instead in the spring of 2004, after clearing it with the teacher that my good friend Beth, whose daughter is four months older than the kids, would also be attending and could offer me an extra set of hands. Beth was an insurance policy I never really needed to use. My kids rarely wanted to sit on Beth's lap, her daughter didn't want to share Mommy, so I learned how to tap eggs or twirl scarves in sequence. When we signed up for Kindermusik summer camp after our move, I told the new teacher we'd be fine, I offered to put her in touch with the old teacher if she needed reassurance (she didn't), and that was that. I'm done making special arrangements to put other people at ease.
Well, yes, now that the kids are four, most people aren't asking me to make special arrangements. But on principle, I won't do it anymore.
Most parents of multiples are turned away from toddler activites on the presumption that the class--library, Kindermusik, Gymboree, whatever--demands a 1:1 parent-child ratio. This tends to bother me quite a lot. Parents of multiples are already isolated enough without being deliberately excluded from most of the major gatherings of suburban Mommyland. Instead of the presumption being that parents of multiples can't handle it--as was my case, having to provide extra adults to set teachers at ease--I think there should be a presumption that we can. At the very least, I think parents of multiples should feel free to use backdoors into these events. Promise to bring a babysitter or a grandparent and then, once you've won over the group and the teacher, try coming by yourself once. It's certainly better than sitting at home.
One thing we didn't do at the library was borrow books. I needed to get our city's library card before the downtown system would issue me borrowing privileges, and I never took the time. (Our local library refused to sign us up for their toddler class because of the adult:child ratio problem.) One of the first things I did in our new town was drive over to the library and borrow some books. I actually meant to go to the toddler reading hour, but we were late out the door and I couldn't muster the courage to ask a stranger about the rules for late entry, so we picked some books off the shelf and I signed up for a card instead. Boy, was I stupid not to do this before. The kids love borrowing books. Yes, they wish they could keep some of the books,and we've borrowed quite a few twice now for that reason. But it's a great feeling to pull up the old Amazon wish list, print it out, and then borrow all those books from the library instead. Think of all the money I would have saved if I'd thought to borrow library books sooner!
Now that the kids are four, they get to sign up for their own library cards. Tomorrow is the first time we'll have visited since they've become eligible, I haven't told them about this new privilege, and I'll keep you posted on their reactions.
I have meant to write down the lists of books we've borrowed, but never gotten around to it. Now that I'm imagining this blog as more of a permanent record for the kids, I can just copy the list from the library's on-line system and post it here. So be forewarned: every three weeks or so, I'm going to post a boring list just like this:
- Arthur's Birthday by Marc Brown
- Arthur's New Puppy by Marc Brown
- Cinderella at the Ball by Margaret Hillert
- Cinderella: The Dog and Her Little Glass Slipper by Diane Goode
- One Fish Two Fish by Dr. Seuss
- The Too Hot Day by Beverly Komoda
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
- Rumpelstiltskin by Paul Galdone
- Swan Lake by Donna Diamond
- William and the Night Train by Mij Kelly