things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #27

This is a scene played out every day in public libraries all across North America.

I'm at the information desk, and I see a boy, by himself, a chubby little toddler, toddle fast in one direction, then back in the other direction. He can't be much over 12 months old. When I see him cross the floor for the third time, I get up and go to chat with him. "Who are you here with, sweetie? Is your mom here? Where's your mom?"

As I talk, his face starts to pucker, his eyes well up with tears.

"Come with me, let's look for Mommy. I know she's here, let's go find her."

He won't hold my hand, but he walks unsteadily beside me. We go around to different moms, dads, and kids. I'm hoping he'll soon recognize his family and run straight to them. By this time he is full-on crying.

A woman reading with school-age kids asks them to wait and joins me.  He wouldn't take my hand, but she lifts him confidently onto her hip. Maybe she looks more like his mom than I do -- younger, brown, hijab -- or maybe it's a motion he's familiar with. She says, "Come on kiddo, let's go find your mum."

We walk together into a busy activity area, and I announce, "Is everyone's child accounted for? Do you have all your children?" Twice. A woman waves and points to someone else -- a woman sitting by herself, texting. I am standing six inches away from her. I say loudly, "Excuse me." She looks up, uncomprehendingly, then sees her sobbing child, and jumps up, takes him from the other woman.

She says, "They were playing on the computer. His sister and brother were supposed to watch him."

I give her The Talk. You must stay close to your children. Your other children are too young to have that responsibility. You are responsible for all your children while you're here. He was very frightened. You must pay attention. I'm saying these things because I have to, but it feels useless. Maybe the sight of her son's face will make a difference.

We see it every day. We all have stories. The child who crawled out of the library into the mall. The child who was found on the public square outside City Hall. The children who are dropped off in the morning and instructed to say their mom is in the washroom. Not just moms, of course. Dads, too, and all manner of caregivers. Neglect, sometimes to the point of abandonment.

For me, it's the worst part of the job.


Amy said...

That is scary.

laura k said...

Good thing you commented, it led me to find a typo. *Worst* part of job.

Yes, it is scary, especially how common it is. It takes a toll on staff, too.

Amy said...

(I saw that, but figured you'd catch it. I am always torn about correcting people's typos.)

laura k said...

I'm always happy if someone catches my typos, but I refrain from correcting anyone else's! Unless I know them really well and know that they'll be glad I told them.

Amy said...

I knew you didn't like it when others corrected typos in comments, so I figured I'd bite my tongue! But now that I know you don't mind, I will let you know. However, in all these years of reading WMTC, I can't ever remember seeing a typo before!

I have typos all the time in my blog posts despite proofreading zillions of times. I also like to have people let me know, though generally I prefer a separate email so I can correct it discreetly!

laura k said...

I make typos constantly. Almost every post. I don't care about being discreet. Typos are not embarrassing.

What I don't like commenters to do is correcting other commenters' grammar or useage. To me that's a very different thing.

allan said...

I have fixed typos in some posts. (I don't say anything!)

johngoldfine said...

My mother had a family-lore set-piece she loved to recite--a set-piece my wife refuses to believe ever happened, at least not the way my mother liked to tell it.

Snowstorm outside. Knock at the front door. Ma opens the door to face a furious driver holding four year-old me, wearing only pajama tops. Furious driver: "He was running along through the snow like this and said he was going to the little o'phans' home--what kind of mother ARE you?"

She found the story hilarious!

laura k said...

John, that's so funny -- not the story so much as the doubts about its veracity. We have similar lore in our respective families. Between my mother's current memory loss and my late father's habitual lying, a good chunk of my family history may actually be fiction. :)