Sunday, May 28, 2006

Weeding memento mori

So, you might be wondering where I've been. If it's between 8 AM and oh, say, 5 or 5:30 PM on a weekday, chances are that I'm weeding. Books, that is. Turns out that due to work issues too complicated to go into here, I may have to pack up and/or move the library for next year. All 12,000 or so volumes. So, I'm weeding the stuff that hasn't been checking out.I've cut out some of the end-of-year stuff I usually do, so that I can weed and weed and weed. I'm even going in to weed today for a few hours.

In library school they teach you that weeding is important, maybe as important as acquisitions (i.e. buying new stuff). First, if you don't weed regularly, obviously you'll run out of room pretty quick unless you have an Expand-O-Library. Second, people check out more new stuff if they don't have to slog through all the old stuff to get to it. It's true! They've done studies!

But you know how it is with the stuff you don't have to do immediately-- often, it just doesn't get done. I did weed a few sections a few years ago. But in the last couple weeks I have weeded more than half the library. That means I have picked up each book in my very own dusty hand and, with practiced (well, I'm practiced by now) professional speed, evaluated it based on the following criteria:
  • Checkouts (has it checked out even once since I put in the date-due stickers back in 1999? No? Well, maybe it could go),
  • Physical condition (is it falling apart? Does it have an ugly buckram cover that a 21st-century kid will never pick up of his or her own free will? Is the cover illustration dorky and dated?)
  • Currency of information (The classic example is the "one day man will go to the moon" book, but there are lots of others. Computers! Atlases! Dinosaurs! I'd hate to think some kid grew up believing the wrong stuff about dinosaurs, all because of my sloth.)
  • Presence of other books like it in the collection (How many biographies of Helen Keller does one library really need, anyway? A lot, to judge by the checkouts, but maybe not that one falling-apart paperback I remember from my own childhood...),
  • Literary or curricular value (Newbery winner? By a famous author? Only book we have on that particular topic? Probably it stays, even if all it will do is sit there forever and friggin ever)
...and kept it or pitched it. I must've weeded over a thousand books by now.

Weeding brings on all kinds of fleeting thoughts about the impermanence of, well everything. Weeding the fiction section was especially hard; fiction doesn't date in obvious ways the way nonfiction does, and I'm painfully aware that each book might represent years of the author's life. Plus, lots of them look like they'd be fine to read. And each one is unique; it's not like nonfiction, where I have no trouble making the call that, say, one or two books on each planet is plenty.

I'd look over the book, note the undistinguished cover, the one lone checkout stamp from six or seven years ago, and then I'd read the inside jacket and think, "hey, this looks pretty good! It's about a kid with divorced parents-- I'm sure that'd speak to some kid now. And aw, look, the author's a school librarian too. She must've been so happy when it got published! I could read this, right now! Maybe if I read it over the summer, I could come back in the fall and convince some kid to read it, and its shelf-sitting days would be over. I'd have rescued a book from oblivion!"

Then I think of all the new books on my own personal summer reading list, and the unlikelihood of me getting to it, and the even further unlikelihood of a kid actually reading it, and I remember my weeding mantra: not "will anyone possibly read this book?" but "is this book likely to be actively missed if it's gone?" And into the box it goes.

It's surprisingly emotional work. The other day I weeded some books by Paula Danziger, a wonderful children's author who died two years ago. I kept her "Amber Brown" and "Longer Letter Later" books, but I pulled some falling-apart 70's-era paperbacks, even though I remember loving them: "The Pistachio Prescription," and "Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?" People can find her books in other places if they need them, I thought defensively. There are the big public libraries, and university children's book collections. Not to mention But still, when the books hit the box I felt like I was shoveling dirt into her grave.

This book had its time, I remind myself, over and over. The author probably loved writing it, and lots of people read it, and now its time is over. We have newer books, more likely to be actually read. And this isn't a historical archive; it's a small, working, school library.

Just like it says on the Six Feet Under DVD cover: everything, everyone, everywhere ends. Even buildings named named for people get torn down, and replaced with new buildings. Even cities end. Even civilizations.

So, that's the kind of stuff I've been thinking about during work every day, as I listen to archived "Fresh Air" interviews on my laptop and pull one book after another off the shelf.

Now that I've written it all out, it does sound like kind of a downer. But it's not. For one thing, it's great to have a job for once where I can actually see the results. At the end of the day, I look over the emptier, brighter shelves, and at all the boxes on the floor waiting to be deleted from the catalog and taken away by the guy who will sort them and donate them to tutoring programs, and I feel light and airy and cheery. I wash my dusty hands, and head out to the parking lot.

One day I'll be gone too. But I'm here now, today.

And summer starts in a mere four weeks.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Quick hello

Thanks for all the comments on those last couple of posts. You guys are really nice.

The timer on our Internet connection is going down in a few minutes but I just wanted to say hi. I was going to make lunch for tomorrow, and maybe sit on the porch for a while, but instead I've been reading and reading and clicking and clicking and reading the screen.

Not the most productive behavior. On the other hand, I had the pleasure of clicking to a blog I'd never read before and encountering this immortal sentence: "I found Daughter in her room, constructing what appeared to be a Polly Pockets Junior League meeting."

Dang. Like I didn't have enough blogs to keep up on.

Must. update. blogroll. Must. update. blogroll...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day Post: A Picture of Autonomy

When I was nine years old, my favorite outfit was a pair of stretchy bell-bottom pants with an eye-popping green-and-white pattern, paired with a knitted red-and-white striped HealthTex sailor shirt. I thought all the colors and patterns together were exciting and cheerful, and I wore that lovely combo once a week or so all through fourth grade.

As an adult with a (slightly) more sophisticated sense of color and fashion, I used to cringe at the memory of that outfit. How could my mom have let me wear it? What on earth was she thinking? I must have been a laughingstock! Yeah, she was busy, she was a divorced working mom with two kids to look after, but still! She must have been totally oblivious, I thought, not to mention irresponsible, to let me go out like that, week after week, without even saying a word to try to dissuade me.

Finally, several years ago, I asked her about it. She laughed. "Oh, that outfit!" she said. "It was terrible! But I decided it was your choice, they were your clothes, and you'd make your own decisions about what to wear. I knew you'd figure out what colors went together eventually."

She hadn't been oblivious at all; she'd made a conscious decision to let me make my own choices, without comment or criticism. She felt that my growing sense of autonomy was more important than whether or not I went to school looking like a fashion plate, or whether I might get teased, or even the risk that my teachers' eyeballs would explode from viewing my fashion disaster every week.

I was amazed and impressed when I realized that, but I didn't understand what a tremendous gift it was until I had a child and realized that everything she does or says--or wears--can be (and often is) seen as a reflection on her parents. In my mind, if not always in reality, there's a constant murmur of criticism from the world at large about Mermaid Girl's every imperfection: if she's rude, it's because we've spoiled her or haven't taught her manners; if she's shy or afraid of something, we've somehow impressed our fears upon her; if she's vain, we make too much of her looks; if she's fixated on Barbie and Disney Princesses, we've failed to stop her from being swallowed up whole by the heteropatriarchy...

Whether or not anyone actually says or implies these things, they're there, in my consciousness. It's hard to remember that MG is a person, herself, and not just a reflection of our parenting competence or lack thereof. It's hard to remember that letting her be her own person, and make her own choices, is more important than what unspecified (or even specified) people might think about her or us. It's just about the most important thing, I think. But it's way, way harder than I thought it would be.

Way, way back at the dawn of time, when MG was a baby, Renaissance Woman and I agreed that there were three circumstances under which we would make rules or say "no" to her:
1) Something dangerous to her or someone else
2) Something unkind or disrespectful
3) Something that we JUST COULDN'T STAND (reading "Strawberry Shortcake Cinderella" one more freakin' time, for example.)

"Something that someone somewhere might construe as evidence of poor or lax parenting" was conspicuously not on that list. And we have tried to stick by those guidelines, but man, sometimes it's tough.

Like, last Thursday night, when I was putting her to bed and she picked out her clothes for the next day: a pink and green flowered jumper, a blue and white flowered blouse, and yellow flowered tights. All flowered, but all different patterns and color schemes. I thought of her running around school all day in that eye-popping getup, and what her teacher might think, and I almost said something. Not to tell her she couldn't wear that outfit, but just to make, you know, a gentle suggestion: maybe a plain shirt under the jumper? Or some white tights?

Then I reminded myself that she hates to be coaxed or jollied, that it just makes her clamp down. I remembered that I need to pick my fights with this one, and that there will be plenty of other chances to cash in my parenting points. But mainly, I remembered my green-and-red outfit, and how happy I'd felt when I was wearing it, and how that happiness would have been sullied if my mom had done so much as raise an eyebrow in criticism.

And I kept my mouth shut.

And this morning, after MG presented us with the Mother's Day cards and paintings and sachets of bath salts that she'd snuck home from school and hidden in her room (two of everything, thanks to her thoughtful and clued-in teacher), she and RW gleefully unveiled the masterpiece they'd been working on in secret all week: a hand-decorated wooden frame holding this photo of MG, taken last Friday afternoon:

I've never been so grateful for not stepping on her choices.

Thanks, Mom, for the example. And a belated Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Teachers Wearing Black

I'm trying to figure out how to write about why I'm sad this week. Mainly it's that one of the parents at my job died on Monday. It was completely unexpected; an aneurism, I heard. He was the at-home parent; the mom has a full-time job. I'd always see him around at pickup time, usually with his youngest kid, a preschooler, clinging to him. He used to come to the library to chat sometimes, though often I was busy and didn't have time.

So, I wasn't really close to him. But something like this shakes a whole..."community," I was going to write, but the word "community" feels so overused and drained of meaning these days that I might as well write "afaglement," or any collection of letters. Organism, I think, is better for what I'm trying to say. Or habitat. Or biosphere. Something where everything ripples through to everyone, from the front-office ladies to the cooler-than-cool middle-school kids to the littlest three-year-olds.

I've had a post brewing for a long time about how the people at my job, the other staff especially, are my Village. I still want to write that post, but this isn't quite it. This is more about the school as a whole.

This is the second year in a row that a parent has died at this school. No one ever did before, in my eight years there.

As I was leaving on Monday, chatting with Pat the front-desk receptionist, Arlene the aftercare teacher rushed through and tossed off some logistics about Frank not being there to pick up his kids, and she had them in aftercare, it was no biggie. "But where is he?" Pat shot back, before we picked up our conversation. I left and didn't think anything of it; parents are always spacing. Pat and Arlene are always checking in to try to deal with something that turns out to be a traffic jam, or miscommunication between spouses, or just a flakeout.

But this time it wasn't. I got the call at nine that night; they were calling teachers and specialists, so we'd know when we came in on Tuesday.

The kids were awful today, especially the younger ones. They bickered and whined and picked on each other. One kid, who's always chipper and friendly, burst into tears out of nowhere and said people had been being mean to him all day. His friends chimed in with stories about mean kids on the playground, but I didn't think that could be the whole story. The second-grader whose mom has cancer has been shaky and fragile all week.

School let out an hour early, so people could go to the funeral in the afternoon. I didn't go; I had to pick up MG at her aftercare. But I wore my black dress and jangly grownup necklace. It seemed like the right thing, somehow. Everywhere I went today, there were kids and teachers and parents in black, so they could go right to the funeral after school.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wake Up, Wake Up

Oh crud, I'm sick! But I'm having one of those bursts of energy that happen during illness, usually conveniently right when I could/should be taking the opportunity to get some rest.

So here's what I've been wanting to write about MG. It's a sad thing, sort of. But funny:

She's discovered vapid teen pop music.

A few weeks ago, she started incorporating a new routine into her nightly living-room performances. Along with the somersaults and dances, she'd do this chanting/droning/sort-of-singing thing where she'd go, "Wake up! Wake up! on a Saturday night! Maybe New York! Maybe Holllllllywood imbine! London! Paris! Maybe Tok-eee-yoo! Sump'n goin' on, aaaaanywhere I go, toniiiiight....." Then with a big finish, she'd jump down and splay out her arms and go: "I'm.......Indian Girl!" [I know. I cringed. But I feel I must report the whole thing.] "I'm......Cheetah Girl!" [another jump, another splay,] "I'm..... Hilary Dove!!"

Because I occasionally do crawl out from under the rock where I live, I recognized that last reference as a mangled version of "Hillary Duff," teen sensation and Disney property (The Mouse strikes again!). A little investigative Googling produced this, and then this.

If I were as clever about childrearing as I am about tracking down information, I would've waited to do all this until MG was in bed. Instead, she heard me playing the 30-second RealAudio sample Amazon provides, and insisted on listening to it over and over, until it embedded itself stickily in my brain, torturing me for days.

"Is that her?" she asked, pointing at the image on the screen. "Is that Hillary Dove?"

"Hillary Duff," I corrected, pedantic to the last.

"She's even prettier than I thought," she breathed.

Somehow she wormed out of us the information that this song, in addition to being passed around on the playground like a virus, exists on a CD that can be purchased for money. So now it's on her birthday list.

I knew this day would come. I just didn't think it would be this soon. RW and I are consoling ourselves that at least she's had high-quality musical influences for the first 5&1/2 years of her life: The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Broadway musicals, Richard Thompson, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Lucinda Williams, Barenaked Ladies, Dan Zanes...

I know, I'm a music snob. We both are. But it goes beyond that: this is the first time that my kid is the one introducing me to pop culture, not the other way around.It's kind of a shock.

I know this is just the beginning. But her taste's gotta get better, right?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More shameless plugging of my favorite contest

Once again, it's Blogging for Books time. The theme this month is "cheating" and you have until next Monday morning (not midnight, this time) to enter.

Please enter! I have a vested interest in seeing Blogging for Books stay alive, because one day, when I'm feeling brave enough, I think I'll email Joshilyn and ask if I can be the special judge who picks the final seven entries. (Because, you know, I won once! Did I ever mention that? I think maybe I did. Never mind that it was an extremely quiet month for entries, that month when I won. I'll take my ego trips where I can get 'em, these days.) (My other point being: you might win too! And even if not, think of all the people who might read your blog. You could make a new friend!)

Actually, what am I thinking? I'm incredibly indecisive and being the special guest judge would probably drive me right over the edge. But I keep hoping that maybe one day I'll become a better, stronger person who makes decisions with lightning-like clarity, and when that day comes, I'd like B4B to be around so that I can exercise my decision-making powers on the dozens of fantastic posts that will no doubt be generated that month.

And this month! (Not that I'm judging this month. God forbid. It's all I can do to get lunch made. But what I meant is, there will be I hope dozens of fantastic posts entered this month too. Yours among them, if you get hopping!)