Monday, January 6, 2014

To Approach a Child

Hee hee!! Absolute glee! Success!!

A shy little boy came in today, one whom I have never seen. His Mom told him to go find a book. Then she went to the adult side, leaving him standing there, swaying a little.

Rule 1--Do not approach. Watch but don't seem to approach.Big, overly helpful, smiling white lady in the face is not necessarily the help one might think it would be. It's overwhelming.

The little boy wandered around, emboldened by being alone. He walked over to the books and walked up and down a stack or two. Overwhelmed, he retreated to the Lego table. Not interesting. To the train table. Meh. He's standing in the middle of the room. Now's the time.

Rule 2-- When the kid is ready, approach slowly-- as if approaching a wild deer. Really.

I wandered over to him, not too close. From a distance, I said, quietly, "Hey, bud. Need some help finding something?" He shook his head no. Too much, too soon. Ok. Retreat a little. Stay near-ish. Look at something else. After a minute, the little boy said, "Do you have a book on dragons?" I told him we did, and started to look. Nothing! How did we have no books on dragons??

I told the kid we had chapter books, but really no picture books on dragons. He said, "No. I mean, about real ones." I said, "You mean, like lizards? There are no real dragons." (Hating myself now. Blighter of hopes and dreams!! Monster! Murderer of belief!!) He shook his head. I had struck out. Dang.

I went straight to my book jobber, convinced that the next kid to ask me for a book on dragons would find one in our collection. Found a good one. Checked the OPAC (online public access catalog) to make sure it was a good fit for us-- and found my library owned it. Whooo-hoo!!

Went to my own shelves. Found 6 books on dragons-- Dragonology, myths about dragons, a look at cultural understandings of dragons--bonanza! Have to get better at using our circulation system.

The little boy is on the floor looking at movies. I approach him slowly and say, "Hey. Guess what? I was wrong. We have books on dragons." I put them on the floor by him and leave.

Too much interaction will spook him. Back to my desk.

The kid picks up all the books, comes to the table nearest me and POURS over them. He's devouring them as if he's a dragon himself. Inside, I'm dancing the Chinese Lion Dance. It's a Mardi Gras over here. I'm snickering and jumping up and down-- while straight-facedly, quietly looking at my work calendar. HUZZAH!! Found a little boy a BOOK HE LOVES!!!!! Remember the Charo dance from Love Boat? Sure you do! Front- and back--and a belly and a belly and a belly and a belly!! (But it's all on the inside. Big crazed dancing white lady won't go over any better than big regular white lady.)

Mom comes over the check on him. He goes to Linden. He is studying Chinese. I tell Mom I bet he's heard of dragons from his Chinese teacher--it's almost Chinese New Year, after all.

Rule 3- wait. I'm waiting. If he shows any signs of wanting interaction, I'm on it. We'll build a paper dragon together. We'll talk about dragons stories. I'll ask him to tell me what he knows about dragons.

Kids can be like a bush deer-- shy, quiet and wanting to be alone. That's okay. Some kids are a one-woman band-- they need an audience, a person to talk to, laugh with, bug, destroy. That's me too lots of times. I like them all.

The little boy walked out with him Mom, book under one arm. I braved it. I yelled after him, "'Bye, sugar!" He turned around and looked at me for a minute. Then he raised his hand, and said, "Thank you."

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.