Today concludes National Library Week, a weeklong celebration and observance of the important work that libraries do for communities. The 2018 theme for National Library Week was “Libraries Lead” which prompted me to reflect on the role libraries have played in my parenting, particularly during the hard parts.
After my first child — Blossom — was born, I was left to fend for myself in the labyrinth of new motherhood without a compass. Caring for a delicate human is terrifying. Isolating. I didn’t yet have a circle of mom friends, I didn’t have nearby relatives aside from my parents. I had to figure this gig out for myself and it’s no surprise that I developed postpartum depression and anxiety along the way. My days at home with my colicky, inconsolable baby who could never be put down lasted ages longer than the standard twenty-four hours. I cried and I raged and I lost myself. This wasn’t how motherhood was supposed to be.
At the suggestion of another new mom from a La Leche League (breastfeeding support) meeting, I tried “Babies with Books” at the library one morning. I’d honestly had no idea until then that the library even offered such a thing. During my pregnancy I had spent hours in the C. Burr Artz library in Frederick researching natural childbirth and healthy pregnancy titles, but I’d never paid much attention to the signs advertising the children’s services. And so Blossom and I plopped ourselves down on the floor one Tuesday morning and sang songs while twirling a silk scarf. I bounced her in my lap during “Bumpy Road.” I showed her how to turn the pages of a board book filled with expressive babies’ faces. Those thirty minutes were a turning point for our mama-baby dyad. We’d finally gotten out of the house and done something fun. Nobody cried or screamed and we truly enjoyed one another. We connected. We went back the following week, and the week after that. I healed and she grew. We found our rhythm.
When I was pregnant with my second child we moved to Brunswick and became regulars at the library branch there. I made friends and so did Blossom. We started hanging around after storytime and playing at the train table. I chatted with other parents, including fellow expectant moms. I felt like I was a part of something. When my son Oakley was born in the spring of 2012 and we returned to Babies with Books after a brief I-just-gave-birth hiatus, we were welcomed with hugs and squeals by the librarian and the other families.
Postpartum anxiety and depression found me again a few months later. I was prepared for it, so it didn’t blindside me or knock me down like the first round had. On my dark days when mothering two small children felt like an insurmountable task, we ran away to the library. I could mentally check out for a bit while Blossom played with the trains and Oakley crawled around in the building blocks area. There were almost always other children there for them to play and interact with, which meant there were parents for me to talk to, too. It’s funny how even small talk about the weather can be enough to make a weary and lonely mom feel connected to the world again.
We moved again and bred again. The Thurmont library would be our new hangout spot while I grew our third child. My first two were a bit older now and could play independently at some of the fantastic learning stations set up in the children’s section at Thurmont. Blossom loved creating visual stories on the felt board and telling me about them. Oakley loved the building blocks. We’d check out piles and piles of books and a new CD – usually Laurie Berkner – every week after storytime. On the nice days, we’d pack lunches and hang out on the gorgeous wraparound deck overlooking the woods. When Mavis was born in July 2015, she joined our crew and loved playing at the library as much as her older siblings had.
In our new – and forever – hometown of Boonsboro, we’ve come to fall in love with another library all over again. This one has a wonderful children’s section with storytime, a puppet theater, a play kitchen, and cozy reading nooks sized just for little ones. And it’s the place we escape to when we’re having a bad day and need that safe haven, that recharge, that connection that only the library can offer.
Yes, libraries lead. My libraries have each led me through the labyrinth. They’ve been the compass which has helped me find resources, camaraderie, and even myself. Someday I’ll be the one leading children’s storytime and I’ll be on the lookout for the lost new mom who’s looking for her sanctuary. I’m going to help her find it.