I'm a little afraid that if I share this story, you all will laugh at me. Or think I'm strange. But I need to blog this as therapy, and perhaps you will have some good advice. You can tell me how a normal person would have reacted.
I don't like the children's librarian at our local library. I just keep having run-ins with her. The first time was when Marko was small and was banging on a table. She came into the play area and told me to make him stop, and I was flustered and already in a bad mood, so I was somewhat rude. I can't remember what I said, but I felt bad immediately ... sure, it's a little picky for her to be insisting a one-year-old be quiet in the children's area, but whatever. It's her job. She doesn't need to deal with rude patrons on top of that.
I tried to be nice to her after that, out of guilt for being rude that one time, and she seemed nice enough. But two weeks ago, I had another negative encounter with her. See, my kids are addicted to the water fountain in the foyer. We arrive, drink from the water fountain, get books, get to the play area, and they instantly want to go get another drink. But parading through the library with three kids (one of whom is a flight risk) is not my idea of a good time, so I always say no.
This time, Marko was begging to go to the water fountain, and finally I said, "Do you think you could manage to go alone?" This is kind of a big deal for him. Up to a year ago he wouldn't go to the bathroom in our own house without me coming along because being alone is scary. I thought he'd say no. But instead he said he wanted to try it. I thought, "Hey, this is great. My kid is actually being brave and developing some independence." I reviewed the directions to get to the water fountain and off he went. The first couple attempts, he came back a few seconds later because he was confused or lost. (I guess the dozens of times we've walked this route, he never paid attention!) But eventually he disappeared and I thought, "He must be doing it!" I figured I'd go out in a minute or so in case he got lost on the way back. But I was very proud.
And then I heard this terrified wail, the sound of Marko panicking. I rushed toward the sound and was met by him barrelling into me. On his tail was the children's librarian. She said, "Sorry, I didn't mean to upset him, I just was telling him to go back to his parent."
I said, "Oh, he has my permission to be out there by himself."
She said, "Well, we have a policy. Kids under eleven have to be supervised."
I said, "He's not out there playing or anything! He just wanted to go get a drink."
She said, "Oh, in that case I guess that's all right."
And she left. I felt proud that I had handled the situation assertively but not rudely, and happy that it was going to be okay to try this again. But I was a little mad that she had scared Marko. I wish he were not so intimidated by strange adults. We have not ever tried to scare the kids away from strangers -- instead we tell them never to go anywhere with an adult without checking it with us first. But we have told them that it's okay to talk to librarians. It's just that he's shy .... well, more than shy, terrified. Which he gets from me, I suppose.
Fastforward to today. We're playing in the play area, I'm reading a good book, all is well. Marko actually talks to one of the library workers! It's an older woman who asks him about the dinosaur he's playing with. Bingo! He's happily telling her about all his favorite dinosaurs. He hardly even stammers. I'm so proud.
A little later he says he's thirsty and suggests going to the water fountain all by himself. I say, okay. And if the librarian asks you what you're doing, you can tell her you are just getting a drink. She said that was okay last time.
A few seconds later along comes the librarian, telling me all about their policy. I said, "But you told me last time it was okay if he's just getting a drink!"
She says, "No, I've thought about it and I really think it's not safe .... people come in and out of the library all the time and could just snatch him .... a kidnapping takes seconds ..... when I was four someone tried to take my hand and I ran away, that goes to show how common kidnapping is .... you need to talk to your kids about stranger danger ..... anyway I didn't make the policy ....." On and on.
As she's talking, I get more and more tense. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I don't know what to say. I had tried saying I thought it was okay, and that didn't work, so what comes next? Do I say "yes ma'am" or something? Is that what she's waiting for? And in the back on my mind a voice is shouting "I'M IN TROUBLE, I'M IN TROUBLE, A GROWN-UP IS MAD AT ME." I am trying not to panic and also trying not to get mad. I feel like she's switched the game on me, it's not fair. I tried to follow the rules and here she is lecturing me. I focus on her nose to try to calm myself down, but I think I'm weirding her out. Here is this patron who has a history of being grouchy, and instead of answering, I'm staring her down. I don't want to be staring her down. But I don't know what to say. She's not asking me any questions, but she's leaving pauses like she's waiting for me to .... what? Argue? Apologize? I don't know, I feel like there ought to be a phrasebook for socially anxious people that gives the appropriate answer. When I was a kid, "Yes Daddy" usually worked, but I feel like that isn't right, even if I knew this lady's name, which I don't. I want a way to say, "Look, I didn't mean to break a rule and I won't again. Also this rule is STUPID and there has NEVER ONCE been a kidnapping in this whole town. And my kids have stranger danger out the wazoo and usually run screaming if a strange adult comes within ten feet. I am not worried. I am their mother. It is my choice. Only it's not actually my choice, because this is a library and it has rules. Fine. I will follow the rules but please stop talking!"
Eventually she sort of wraps up but says she's going to go doublecheck the policy with her manager. And something about getting me a copy of the policy, which I don't want. When she's out of sight, one of the kids starts asking for a drink of water again and I just feel like I am falling apart. I tell Marko he can't go get water, and he starts to cry. Then I say that I think we'd better just go home, and he starts to howl big time. I drag them all up front to the self checkout, check out my books and am about to pick up Miriam (who is heading for the stacks again) when I see Michael doesn't have his boots on. "Go get your boots," I say. "Never mind, I will come with you." Because heaven forbid my child should walk ten feet without me.
I'm so flustered at this point I forget Miriam and just walk over to the play area. Then I hear wailing. I turn and the children's librarian is holding Miriam, who is kicking and screaming, and bringing her over to me. I take her, feeling even worse. Apparently I really am an inept mother. Apparently I cannot be trusted with three kids in a library. Apparently I shouldn't have had so many. Surely she is thinking I'm incompetent. But it doesn't even matter what she thinks because I LEFT my baby all by herself by the checkout and didn't even NOTICE.
The librarian is trying to tell me something but I brush her off with "it's time to go, we're going now, sorry." She asks if I'm okay and I call over my shoulder "yes!" in a tone that any human being would instantly recognize means "no."
The kids get their drink and we go outside. Marko is still crying. I tell them that we will go to the playground next door and read our books. As we walk I start to cry. When we get to the playground I just plop down while the kids play, and I cry and cry, big ugly sobs and snot and everything. I don't know why this is so dang upsetting. I don't know why it has to be this way. I don't know when all the other grownups learned to handle this stuff, I feel like I missed that lesson of adult class. But I feel like I'm the one who's five years old. I don't understand how a well-meaning librarian with a gentle tone of voice can make me feel so small.
I'm flashing back to all the other times this has happened. As a kid, my dad yelling and not knowing what it is he wants me to say, so I just cry but he tells me I shouldn't cry because I'm not hurt. In school, my fifth grade teacher, who was very sweet, sitting me down privately to ask what's up with me, and all I can do is look at her eyeliner and sob and sob. I don't know what she wants me to say, all I can feel is that I am gravely defective in some way, and this sweet lady doesn't know what to do with me. I thought I was a normal kid but apparently not, because she expects me to be able to cope with this conversation and I am not coping.
And in boarding school, the daily haranguing at sports. The consecrated would take me aside and ask me why I wasn't giving 100%. And I know there is no answer that is going to be okay. "I thought I was" does not work. "I am feeling tired" gets me, "I don't want excuses." I have been told the reason I struggle with getting lectured like this is because I am proud, and excuses are a sign of pride. So usually I just cry. But one time I am told that these are crocodile tears and I am doing it just to get pity. I hadn't thought so, but later I think, well, maybe that is why. I don't know why I cry when I'm on the spot. All I know is that I do. I guess maybe I think it will make the questions stop and someone will be sorry for me and stop being mad. Which makes me a manipulative, terrible person. I just wish someone would tell me what the right thing is to do. Walk me through it, show me a skit, show me what a good person would say or do to show that they are sorry. Because that's what I want to do. I am not trying to be a bad person.
The kids have gotten over being upset at leaving the library, and Michael asks me what I am doing with my face buried in my hands. I blow my nose and say, "Nothing." Grown-ups aren't supposed to cry -- I hardly ever do. I know it upsets the children a lot when the grown-ups don't have it together. It's just I feel so helpless and defective.
That was hours ago now and I'm feeling some small amount better, but I still feel just as perplexed as ever. What does one say or do in a situation like this? How do you stop panicking long enough to think of the right words, how do you then make the words come out?
John says the librarian is a control freak and this confrontation was her fault, not mine. He says he would have been rude to her. I don't want to be rude, even though I was angry. I wish people would keep this stuff short and leave me with a face-saving out -- "Hey, walk him to the water fountain next time, okay?" Is that so hard? The way she did it was humiliating and it felt like she wanted me to knuckle under somehow -- to agree that she had a point, that my kid could get snatched out of the library foyer when he went for a drink. And I wasn't going to do that, because I think she was wrong.
After this, I am wondering how I can ever show my face in that library again. You know that lady's going to be after me to show me her policy and explain yet more why she is right. I can't face that, I just can't. In fact I'm wondering if I even have any business leaving the house. Here I've been, imagining myself as an adult, buying groceries and getting the oil changed, knowing the whole time that I'm playacting. We're all playacting, that's how public life goes. We know people don't know us, so we put on a persona of "kindly stranger," "pleasant customer." Or is that only me? I have always felt everyone's in on it, we know there are certain scripts that we stick to with strangers and we all know how to do it so it's okay. And when it comes to confrontation, I feel I don't have the playbook.
I've been somewhat agoraphobic for a long time -- well, perhaps always. The Public Square is a place I'd rather not be. It's scary and you never know when things are going to turn sour. For a long time I believed that a woman's place is in the home, before I realized that no, it's just me who wants to be in the home. Since I got a car, I've been slowly stretching myself, coming out of my comfort zone teeny little bits at a time. Chatting up other moms at the park. Trading pleasantries with other people at the grocery store. I was doing this! It was going okay! I was thinking that maybe I had this adult-in-public thing down and all my anxiety was for nothing.
But it turns out it isn't. I feel like I shouldn't even try. Stay home, hang out on the internet all day. On the internet, no one can put you on the spot. Or better yet, play outside with the kids and enjoy the comfort of only being with people who know and love me.
This is letting my anxiety win. I shouldn't do it. But I am sorely tempted.