Chilling out at the Pittsfield Branch
by Sarah Royalty Pinkelman
It was after my four-year-old son dropped his pants and wiggled in front of the distorting mirror in the play area of Busch's that I felt the need to limit our public exposure for a little while. So for a few weeks, we restricted our excursions to branches of the Ann Arbor District Library. My own childhood experiences with libraries were so positive that I felt I could handle any behavior he threw at me there.
Growing up in Atlanta, I remember my Cloud Climber shoes clanging on the metal stairs as I descended to the library's basement kids' section. I watched Marx Brothers films and realized I preferred their cleverness to the eye-poking humor of the Three Stooges, my first cultural snobbery. The mystery novels my mother checked out added an exotic streak, with their covers showing stylized guns and pools of blood and grandfather clocks and with titles like Tick Tock to Murder.
Now, as a stay-at-home parent, I seek out libraries as a source of comfort and community, a place where I can indulge without spending money, make choices instead of feeling warped by consumerist passivity. My first choice for a good time is the Pittsfield branch.
Saturday morning, sipping my coffee at home, I search the library catalog on my computer. I click "request this title" with an abandon that can only stem from caffeinated optimism and pure euphoria at all the information at my beck and call. The lovely people at the library email me when my selections are ready to pick up.
I choose the moment based on kid moodiness, hunger, other errands, and the great force of gravity known as nap time. Then I load the returns in the stroller-flaunting the overdue items, knowing I can pay the fines online-and truck the kids in. I can almost hear the book-return slot say "feed me" (with either Alice in Wonderland or Little Shop of Horrors inflections, depending on my mood) as I empty my tote bag.
I fetch the books I've requested and glance at what a friend of mine has waiting to pick up (today, it's the I Am Legend DVD). Then I'm free to wander with my one-year-old daughter while keeping an eye on my son at the computers. Ten minutes of browsing, and I feel cleansed of the dirt of the world. So far, no one has lost control-and I'm having a blast.
[Originally published in June, 2009.]