I’ve always been a bit of a homebody. I prefer having travelled to actually travelling. My second-favourite phrase on earth is ‘quiet night in’. Snow days are my favourite holidays. There are times, at the end of the day when the dog will look at me, thinking, “Dude! Other than walking me, you haven’t been out all day!” And then we high-five each other and I feed him treats, because Ruffles is a total home-body, too.
Of course, this has to be balanced with the fact that I also love people and need to make a living, which means that I now get out more than I otherwise might. But when I was little, almost all the people I loved lived in the same house as me and so I never wanted to leave.
Seeing that this tendency was going to intersect badly with my upcoming start of school, my mother signed me up for a six week story hour at the local library. We called it Library School.
And I was eager. I loved the library. The smell. The quiet. All those freakin’ books!
So, my first day of Library School, I skipped along happily beside my mother. It was a short walk from our house and I probably chattered all the way. We might have even sung a bit.
We got into the library and there were other children there. Lots and lots and lots of them. Somehow, this hadn’t been part of my happy plans. I had actually envisioned a cosy grouping of my mother, the librarian and me.
They had us line up, two rows facing, holding hands to form an arch. We were singing a little song and starting at the end farthest from the door, the kids broke from the line to walk under the arch two by two into the storytelling room. My panic reached unmanageable levels and I ran to my mother in tears. The librarian was very understanding. “Maybe next week,” she smiled. Trembling, I nodded.
All the way home, my mother tried to understand what had gone wrong. “But you love the library!” “You love stories!” “It’s only for an hour!” An hour of blessed peace that my mother was probably really looking forward to.
I, of course, felt like an asshole for chickening out. We shy types are champions at self-berating. All week long I gave myself pep talks. My sister gave me pep talks. We practised building arches that my stuffed animals could walk through.
That week I actually took a few steps into the arch of hands before wheeling around, shoving the children behind me out of the way and running into the arms of my mother.
“I really don’t understand you,” she said on the way home. She named children from the neighbourhood who walked under the arch and stayed in the story room. She meant it as a way of pointing out that the place wasn’t a seething pit of total strangeness. There were people I knew in there. Actual friends that I played with.
It didn’t help. And now, not only was I a chicken-hearted asshole, I was also not keeping up with my demographic. I was damaging my social life.
Week after week my mother patiently got me ready and walked me to the library. She even tried singing with me to get me in the right frame of mind. But that walk had changed from a happy frolic to the library to the death march of doom.
I tried so hard to be brave. Week after week I got just a little closer to the door before caving in to my fears and being taken home. The tears gave way to sullenness.
On week five, I actually made it into the story room before the hounds of hell found me and chased me out.
Week six involved more elaborate pep talks. “You know this is the last week, right? If you don’t stay for story hour, that will be your last chance…”
“OK!” I said, gathering my little five-year-old reserves of courage. “I’m going in!!”
And I did. Under the arch. Into the story room. Sat down on the edge of a chair at the very back and listened to the story. When our time was up, we sang another song, made another arch and marched back out of the room.
I ran to my mother in glee and excitement. The librarians congratulated me and I thanked them for hosting such a wonderful programme. I think I even shook a few hands. On the way home I recounted the story to my mother, word for word, with explanations of allllll the illustrations and how the story lady turned the pages at just the right times.
My sister was so excited for me when she got home from school. “You did it! I knew you could!!!” I was triumphant. I tried not think of the five weeks prior. All the stories I had missed. All the marches under the arches. The fact that it had taken me the entire six weeks to get into the damned story room and now Library School was over. But I had a plan. “I’ll go again next year!” I told my mother.
“But,” she said, hesitantly. “Next year you have to go to school…”