Monday, January 6, 2014

Notes from the Hill

It turns out being a public librarian is pretty awesome. And I was right-- I don't have to be an outlaw. I'm pretty much an in-law now-- just part of a network of people doing what they love to do in service to other people.

The Hill is full of citizen champions, to use the term Vanessa German coined. There's the man who brings in the 5-year old to hang out with. They do puzzles, read books, make crafts, play games on the computer. On Friday, this gentleman brought in this little boy who he is mentoring. The little boy asked if I would bring out the keyboard donated by Dr. Jennifer Olbum. I did. He messed around on it with his adult friend, then asked me if I had any drums. He plays the drums. He wanted a beat. I showed him the metronome key on the keyboard. He turned it on, sat and listened to it for awhile. When I asked him what he was going to do, he said, "Shhh! I have to hear the beat!" I shushed. He listened. Then he suddenly put both hands on the keys, Phantom of the Opera style, threw back his tiny head, closed his eyes and sang, "JEEE----SUS!!!"

That kid is awesome. He's one of about twenty I see all the time. He makes me happy.

Then there's the little girl who comes in everyday after school. She is a vortex of papers, coats, gloves, backpack stuff, hot Cheetos and Cheeto-red fingers, which are everywhere. She is blunt, loud and real. The other day, the security guard, who loves kids, asked her how her school day had been. She regarded him, sitting at the table where eating is allowed, crunching chips. She said, "Bad." The security guard asked her, "Why? Do you pay attention?" Immediately she said, "YES!" A minute passed. Then she said, quieter, "" Haha!!

 She sheds her homework like a molting bird. I find it fifteen times everyday in different parts of the Children's Room. I hand it back to her and say, "Come on. Finish it." She asks for help, which I often give. I find it later under the Legos, or in the dollhouse, or under a stack of paintings she did, or among the trash.

Once she had such an attitude that I sent her home. I didn't see her for many days afterward. When she finally reappeared, she said, "I was so mad at you. My grandma whopped me. So did my mom." I told her I understood she had been mad, and that I'm glad she could tell me that. I told her I wasn't sorry for calling her Mom. I told her I knew she was capable of good library behavior. She looked at me, then asked if she could help clean up the Kuumba art center. Without morphing suddenly into an angel, this kid is now my self-imposed champion and helper. Sometimes, you get lucky. What you see is what you get with this little girl. I love her for that. She is special to my heart. She teaches me how to be a better woman every time I see her-- because she is unapologetically herself.

In a neighborhood where 49% of the population lives below the poverty line, at Christmas we were showered with candy, presents, cupcakes, cards and love. My sister works with impoverished families, and she says the poor are always the most generous. I don't know if that is true, but I'm seeing a culture here that I admire. Mothers and grandmothers hold kids accountable. People spend hours and hours looking for jobs-- hours that turn into days and weeks. They don't quit. Moms who bring their children to the library before working all night because they love and trust the library. Moms and grandmothers who do art alongside their children for the sheer fun of it, with their phones off and in their purses. Fathers and grandfathers and great-uncles who lovingly kiss and hug and hold their babies and read to them, sprawled out in an armchair.

Whatever the predominate culture thinks about the Hill, I am glad to see this side of it. It is a privilege to learn alongside these people.


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