Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kids and Libraries

I love taking my kids to the library.

Let me rephrase that. I love the fact that my kids get to go to the library. Taking them there myself just happens to be the only way to get them there.

As someone who only recently discovered my love of libraries, I enjoy giving my kids an early introduction. I want them to grow up feeling comfortable in libraries and confident finding books, doing research, and asking the librarians questions. We attend a weekly story time for preschoolers, and it's a good chance for my kids to play with other kids and hear books read by someone besides us (and for me to talk to fellow adults, huzzah). As the kids get older, I'm excited for them to get their own library cards and be immersed in a world of literacy and literature. And let's face it, children's picture books are expensive, and the library allows us access to many more books than we would want to buy or keep in our house. I have nothing but love for libraries. Love. Love. Love.

But.  BUT... Taking young children, especially a small herd of young children, to the library is not always a fun experience. It's a lot like taking young children to a church service. I know we're allowed to be here, but... do they actually expect my children to be quiet? How can I let my kids explore without destroying anything or disturbing anyone? Why oh why do they have to put computers with colorful keyboards in the kids' section (I take my kids to the library in part to keep them away from screens!)? How exactly am I supposed to nurse a baby while I have two older kids to manage? And seriously, when is my 2-year-old going to outgrow pulling books off of the shelves, pushing books through the shelves to the other side, and lying down on the shelves (this is a new one)?!

I also just have to admit that taking kids into the library bathroom is the least favorite part of my week. Changing at least one diaper while trying to keep at least one other kid from getting soaking wet or, God forbid, touching anything, is not my idea of a good time, especially when other women, who could be either doting or judgmental depending on the day, are sharing the space. 

And yet, I do look forward to library day every week. It would be easy enough to go to the library by myself to pick up kids' books on the weekend while my husband watches some kiddos, but it hasn't come to that. Deep down, I really do want them to come with me and to enjoy spending time in the library. Here are some ways we make it work.

1. Go during story time

Not only is story time fun for the kids (and for me); going to the library on story time day guarantees that there will be a flock of other children in the library at the same time. If I'm lucky, some of them may even be worse-behaved than my own children so I'm not embarrassed.

And as another mom pointed out to me once, anyone who uses the library to get research or work done is probably smart enough to avoid the library on Tuesday or Thursday mornings during story time.

2. Reserve books beforehand

We use our library's reserve system liberally. Rather than trying to wrangle kids and find books at the same time, I can do my research and request books online a few days before story time day. Given that I like to get at least ten and often more books per week, this saves a lot of time and stress. I'm also able to put more thought into the books I get, rather than simply grabbing whatever books happen to be on top of the shelves.

3. Find diversions and events for kids

Our library has some toys in the kids' section, as well as preschool-level puzzles and board games that my kids can do with some help. Once I have a kid set up with a puzzle, I can often duck over to the adult section for a minute or two to (gasp) look for a book for myself. Oh frabjous day.

Depending on the season, our library offers special kid-friendly events like holiday tea parties, themed story parties (Pete the Cat was a recent one), and family movie screenings, and on a regular basis, they set out building block sets and craft supplies for kids to explore. 

And yes, I have to confess that I finally gave in and let my 4-year-old play games on the library computers. Those keyboards are just so darned colorful, aren't they? We don't have kids' computer or tablet games at home, and it keeps the oldest occupied while I manage the higher-maintenance under-3 crew, so I figured, why fight it?

4. Let kids pick books and DVDs

This seems obvious, but I only recently started encouraging my kids to pick some of their own books and DVDs. I don't have them choose all of the books we'll get because that would be insane at this age, but they usually each pick one or two. I've found that even the 2-year-old is more manageable when I direct her to the board book section and read her choice aloud before we go. I usually also take advantage of this time to nurse the baby, as there is a couch right next to the board books. I often end up reading several selections before we're done.

5. Snacks!

This should be on the list of how to do anything with kids, shouldn't it? Because our library trip usually cuts into lunchtime and we have a 45-minute walk home afterward, I must bring snacks for the kids. In addition to keeping our blood sugar in the normal range, snacks are also a handy bribe to get them out the door and back into the stroller.

6. Make a day of it

As I mentioned, our library is about a 45-minute walk, and conveniently, there are a number of businesses and a beautiful park between here and there. I will often (but not always) stop on the way home for an item or two at the grocery store or pharmacy, or at the playground if the weather is nice. We might have lunch at a cafe, or (more often than not) at least grab a chai tea for myself for the walk home. Because taking kids to the library is stressful. I figure I've earned it. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Coming Back

It has been a while since I've written here, and I'd like to say it's because I've been so busy on other projects. That is partly true: I took on the rather consuming project of growing and birthing the third child in our young family, a project that has involved much thinking and planning about what our car-free lifestyle will look like with three kids (more thoughts to come on that subject).

Since late summer last year, we have also been traveling off and on, travels that have reinforced our notions about what we value in a city. On top of this, there has been a seemingly endless parade of local walkability and transit issues taking up my head space and mental (and sometimes physical) energy. Some have turned out well, some have been annoyingly contentious in this sometimes backward community, and some are still in process and make me want to plug my ears and sing "la la la la la."  

It can be frustrating to live in a place with beautiful natural surroundings, wonderful potential, and a committed cohort of involved citizens striving to develop that potential, and yet to see change happening so slowly. When it comes to walking, biking, and transit development, nothing here can be taken for granted as it might in a more progressive city. Every project or levy to improve transportation choices has to be explained, debated, and justified in painfully simplistic terms. The community at large, as well as a few very powerful business interests, often don't understand (or refuse to concede) that walkability, bikeability, and centralized, reliable transit are good for business, public safety, and the community. 

Car is king here. All too frequently, the attitude one hears is, "We don't have congestion here, and everyone is happy driving cars. Why would we possibly need new transit/sidewalks/bike infrastructure?" Here, transit is for poor people, sidewalks are for the downtown business core only (and should be obstructed as little as possible by actual people), and bicycles are for trail riding only (after you drive your bike to said trail, obviously). 

This is by no means an unusual state of affairs for a mid-sized American city, and Spokane is certainly not the worst. It passed complete streets legislation in 2012, and many encouraging projects to make the city more human-friendly have been completed in recent years. The city is undoubtedly improving as a place to get around without a private vehicle. But for a family with young kids deciding where to settle down for the long term, I have to admit that the overall culture is discouraging. 

I am the first to say that one shouldn't complain about something one is unwilling to work to change. Especially where walkability is concerned, I believe in making the most of your situation, even when it is not ideal, and advocating to improve it. But if I may be honest, I would prefer not to spend these years of my life - while my children are young and require so much of my energy already - in a place where living out our values has been made so very difficult, when we know that there are other places further along the development path. Until my children are old enough to walk and bike the required distances on their own, it would be great to live someplace where those distances are shorter and safer. And I definitely don't want to succumb to a culture where strapping children into car seats is considered the normal way to get them from place to place on a daily basis. To me, a place where children cannot walk and bike safely everywhere they need to go is not a "great place to raise a family," a claim one often hears about Spokane.

Whew. But. Enough venting. In the meantime, here we are. We are fortunate to be able to live in one of the most walkable neighborhoods in town, and we are enjoying ourselves as spring is in the air. I want to continue documenting our adventures with our now three small children, as well as some new thoughts I've had on education, creative expression, and simple life at home with kids.