When I worked in the children’s library, my boss offered me the most rewarding challenge of my life.
Create a story hour that would attract a heretofore underserved group of library patrons: Babies and toddlers.
Up to that point, libraries had been unenthusiastic about providing a program for squirmy, diaper-wearing, non-sharing, babbling short people with limited attention span.
It was right in my wheelhouse.
I had always adored babies and toddlers. They staggered around, haphazardly pulling books off the shelf like tiny drunks, squealed, whined, laughed wildly playing peekaboo. They were adorable. Of course, I didn’t have one at home, nor did I see the darker portions of their little personalities. I had them for only an hour a week. That quickly became two hours when we had to offer sessions at 9:15 and 10.
I created a time that began with a chaotic grabbing of dum-dum suckers from a jeweled treasure chest. Once the calming sugar took effect, I read two books, using voices and sound effects that seemed to dazzle them. I was competing with Thomas the Train and every piece of Disney crap at the local cineplex! I did animal imitations, including a realistic elephant, until one day I saw black spots in my field of vision and felt like I was going to faint.
And there was always a lot more to come. We sang songs and banged on instruments. One day I played a Rolling Stones CD and we all danced. The babies played with dry oatmeal like sand, smeared shaving cream all over themselves and others, finger painted, strung beads, built with blocks and imprinted me with more memories than I ever dreamed of.
I had babies from the U.S., Australia,China, England, India and Mexico. Most came with mamas. Some with grandparents. There were a few dads over the years, too. Often the crowds were huge, and I felt like I was swarmed by puppies. I learned that it is impossible to make a fool of yourself with them. It was exhausting, like throwing two big birthday parties every Monday morning. I did story hour for twelve years.
Last week I found out from a mom that one cherished toddler is now driving to and from high school. For many, their bar-and-bat mitzvahs have come and gone, and they have graduated several times over. The puppies have gotten potty trained and headed off to new horizons. I hope I gave them something. I know they gave me everything.