Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Small Kindnesses

I believe in small kindnesses.

This afternoon, I took my children to our central downtown library, to continue in their endeavor with the summer reading program. I’ll admit, I got started a little late this summer, with all of the other obligations that came throughout June, but we have really enjoyed getting back into our weekly library visits this past month. Over the last year, the librarians have become quite familiar with my little clan, as we would often visit once a week, during the school year. My kids have grown comfortable enough with the staff that they will ask them questions and strike up conversations. It’s lovely to see that feeling of tight community, especially at the largest library branch in the city, where things are a little busier and the staff has more demands on their time.

This morning, I pushed myself to the edge of heat-stroke, by working in my yard when I probably shouldn’t have. Lesson learned. So, by the time it was time to roll out to head to the library, this lil’ mama was not feeling too stellar. Still, it was Tuesday, and Tuesday is library day—period. I packed up our 15 books and 6 movies, and off we went. Despite the fact that I had debriefed the offspring on what today’s protocol would entail, they had their own agendas. The plan had been to make things quick and painless. Mommy wasn’t feeling well. Let’s just get this done, shall we? Well, that just turned into a festival of “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” and by the time we reached the check-out desk, I just wanted some silence. C’mon—isn’t that what libraries are all about?

So, there I am, with 3 kids repeating my name, 3 little hands in my face, 3 library cards that need to be passed out, 3 summer reading program folders that need stickers, and 15 books that need to be managed and accounted for, and all I could do was just let out a quiet sigh. What I wouldn’t give for someone, anyone to just make the world stop for a second, so I could just catch my breath. And that person, was my beloved children’s librarian.

She is always so kind and soft-spoken, with all of the patience in the world. We struck up an acquaintance last fall, when she realized I worked in education. I think it may have surprised her when she learned that the mom with all the tattoos and goofy-looking hair actually worked for an elementary school, and since then, we always chit-chat about the latest book-related nonsense, and seem to appreciate that there is another adult out there who loves children’s literature just as much as they do.

She is used to seeing happy, smiley, enthusiastic mom—not quiet, tired, overstimulated mom. I saw a clear look of sincere sympathy on her face, and she took a few moments to offer me some words of encouragement. She didn’t have to do that. It’s not in her job description. If anything, nobody would have blamed her if she had just tried to get us out of there as quickly as possible, but that isn’t what happened. She was kind and she was patient and took the time to try to make things better. She doesn’t even know my name.

After we made it downstairs to have our parking ticket stamped, my phone rang—and it actually rang, because I forgot to turn it off when we entered the library. Oh wonderful. Way to go, Hill. Phone ringing in the library. You’re so awesome right now. I answered, and it was my librarian. She told me that I had accidentally left my sketch pad behind, when I unpacked the old books, and was hoping to catch me before I left. I was so grateful, and then she insisted on bringing the sketch pad to me, instead of having me drag the kids back upstairs. I was blown away. When she arrived, she acted apologetic for calling me, as if she had invaded my privacy by looking up my phone number. I extended my gratitude yet again, only this time, she stopped to ask my name. “Hillary,” I said. She smiled, “You’re kidding. That’s my daughter’s name.” And there it was. After a year of sort of “getting to know each other”, we were finally formally introduced, all because she could tell that I needed a momentary superhero.

If I can say anything about living downtown, it is that it feels more like living in a small town. Everyone knows everybody else. There is a real sense of community. You see the same people every day at a coffee shop. My baristas know my name, and I know theirs, and they ask you how your vacation was, or how your work day went, and so on and so forth. You actually get to know your neighbors, and they help each other out, whether it’s repairing your house, or getting your mail when you’re out of town. We even have a community garden. When I go to the grocery store, the check-out lady always likes to tease me about how much milk I buy every Tuesday. And when I go to the library, my librarian has takes the time to get to know us. She knows what authors and subjects my kids like, that I come there once a week, and that I’m a single mom who sometimes runs herself into the ground for her kids.

It is the small kindnesses that can make such a difference in a big, big world. They keep us all from feeling so lost-in-the-shuffle. They make us feel like we’re part of something—that we’re not invisible. I have experienced more of this in my few years living downtown than I ever have in all of my years of suburbia. As ironic as it sounds, downtown is breeding kindness, or at least my experiences lead me to believe so. There is a lot of love down here, and for this lil’ mama, at least, it has made a real difference.