Oh No! Overdues! (aka: Public Libraries)

overduestamp1

Overdues! Auugghh!

I’m kicking myself. I mean honestly, I have no excuse. Our family lives within walking distance of the public library. Kind of a long walk, but still. The library even has these convenient drive-up book drops for lazy peeps who can’t be bothered to park and walk a few hundred feet to return their books.

No excuse. And yet…

There is just something about libraries. Returning my checked-out materials on time has been a lifelong struggle. No exaggerating. Somewhere on one of our family’s packed bookshelves, I’m pretty sure there are a couple of books that were due to the El Sobrante Public Library in 1985.

I can’t begin to imagine how high those fines must be by now. *Shudders*

Other than the overdues issue, the public library has been one of the richest parts of my life. When I was a kid, I used to spend long, leisurely summer days in the children’s room, nose glued to a book. Or making sock puppets in the craft room. Or watching family movies on the little projection screen. Or any other special events they had on the schedule. I adored the summer reading program and took great pride in filling up my bingo grid with all the books I’d read while other kids were busy watching TV or playing with friends.

library books

With the public library, there was nothing I couldn’t obsess over. When I was obsessed with learning foreign languages in 4th grade, I checked out every existing library book for learning Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Japanese. (It’s very hard to learn Japanese from a book, by the way). When I was obsessed with learning how to cook, I discovered a world of colorful cookbooks. Same goes for crafts. Same goes for obsessions with sci-fi, supernatural stories, and books about kids getting kidnapped or hooked on drugs or sent off to summer camp. I even went through a phase of checking out record albums, so I could learn a zillion new folk songs to drive my family crazy.

Finiculi-finicula, Finiculi-finiculaaaaaa!

overdue fines Charlie Brown

But as easy as it was to check out materials, as simple as it was to flip through the card catalogue to find the right Dewey Decimal code, it was really, really hard to return my checked-out books on time. I blamed it on my lack of consistent transportation to the library in those days, which required a long bike ride, or a trip on the back of my stepdad’s motorcycle. In later years, I attributed my constant string of overdues to the books themselves, and their pesky tendency to hide among the hundreds of books in our family’s library, or in dark, hard-to-reach places, like deep under the bed, among spare socks and loose coins.

But I know the truth.

The reason why it is so challenging to turn in library books on time, and why it’s so easy to lose them, is because they do not belong to us.

Think about it. You spend a portion of your hard-earned money to purchase your own shiny new Thing. Then you are far more likely to take care of that Thing. To nurture it. To look after it. To keep it in a safe place, so that it won’t get lost or destroyed. Why? Because it’s yours. You value the things that you feel a sense of ownership for. Or at least, you should. But library books? Those are just worn-out things that belong to everyone and no one. And so, we become careless. We fold down the pages instead of using bookmarks. We read them in the bath, not fearing water damage. We use them as makeshift coasters, or frisbees. (Okay, maybe not frisbees).

Because they don’t belong to us, we don’t cherish them.

Isn’t it kind of the same with people? We tend not to cherish the people who are outside of the little circles we build. We tend not to value the opinions of others. We tend to forget about the feelings of other people. We absorb what we want from people, then we carelessly turn away, leaving them worse than they were when we found them.

Lucky for me, I managed to scrape together my overdue library books and turn them in with a less-than-$10 late fine. Only a small fraction of some of my prior overdue fines. I paid the fees, and get to start again with a clean slate, because that’s how it works with books. People are a lot more complicated. Our carelessness can do irreparable damage. No late fee can mend the human spirit. Only love can do that.

kindness

Like library books, we don’t have ownership of other human beings. We only get to check them out — sometimes for a lifetime, and sometimes for just a little while. But while they are in our care, we can treat them with all the care of our most valuable treasures. There is no one who is worthy of less than that.

So Many Poppies (aka: Follow the Yellow Brick Road)

wicked witch of the west

I’d be all, “Why are you green?”

I would have made a terrible Dorothy Gale.

Let’s just say that if a giant twister had picked up me instead of her and transported me to the magical land of Oz, then we’d be looking at a whole ‘nother story.

For starters, I would have questioned everything. Was the tornado actually a wormhole to another dimension, or am I lying in a coma and experiencing all of this in my mind? Did the Munchkins relocate to Munchkinland on their own accord, like some sort of Little People Cult Compound, or were they segregated from the rest of Oz society and banished there like Native Americans to a reservation? Also – does Glinda the so-called Good Witch really expect me to hike for miles along a brick road while wearing uncomfortable, tacky pumps that had just been on the feet of a dead woman?

magic sneakers

Still tacky, but probably a lot more comfortable than the slippers.

I’ll just walk in my bare feet, thanks.

Then there’s that little issue of people. Er…or whatever one would call the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale was clearly not an INTJ. Would I have stopped to help the Scarecrow down from his stake or offered oil to the Tin Man? Well, maybe. But I doubt I’d start telling them all my business, the way naïve, trusting little Dorothy does. Because you never know who might be hiding beneath that friendly scarecrow mask.

True, they turn out to be good guys. And true – they discover that the four of them have a shared goal of reaching the Emerald City, and so help each other along the path. Kind of like Harry Potter and friends, supporting one another through their years at Hogwarts and beyond.

Huh. Guess that makes me like Voldemort. Only without the evil and horcruxes and megalomania.

The other problem I would have if I were in Dorothy’s place is the poppies. Those lovely poppies, blooming so innocently along the path. See, that is already an issue for me at times. The Emerald City always glows in the distance like a giant jewel. Maybe it is the goal of completing a novel and getting it published. Maybe it is finishing my second-time-around college education. Or some other huge life goal. And all I have to do is stay on the yellow brick road. See yellow bricks? Keep walking forward. Keep studying the things it will take to establish you in your new career field. Keep writing and editing your novel.

sleeping in the poppiesBut then, there are those damned poppies.

Other exciting things to study that are not related to my career. Brainless television shows and book candy. Writing countless stories and blog posts and poems that are not my novel. And okay, it’s not so bad to stop and gather a few every now and then. But sometimes, I lose sight of the bricks. Off I go, skipping across another field of poppies, until I am completely distracted and filled with the intoxicating fragrance, until yawn…I just want to take a nap and forget about responsibilities and goals and…what novel? Zzzzz…

Dorothy needed a nudge to wake her up and set her back on her path. Luckily, she had the watchful eye of Glinda the Good Witch, who sent down soft, cold snowflakes to revive her (and her apparently good-for-nothing friends, who fell asleep, too). And hooray! They were back on track, and on their way to the Emerald City.

Follow the yellow brick road

Sometimes, I need a random snowfall to shock me awake, too. Or maybe an alarm clock. Or hypnotherapy. Whatever it takes to make sure that I stop playing in the stupid poppies and get back on my merry way. Because the Emerald City awaits. And the only thing that’s going to get me there is the power of my own two feet – ruby slippers or no ruby slippers.

Oh Poo! (aka Pets, Pets, and More Pets)

“Mom, when can we get another dog?” my 13 year-old son asked me yesterday.

pet overload

Pets are cute, but it is important to know one’s limits.

I looked around at the piles of cat fur waiting to be vaccuumed, at the unscooped cat litter boxes, at the hamsters waiting to be fed, and at the Beta fish, who swam in lazy circles around his tank, which needed a change of water.

“Um…never?” I said. Not that I don’t love dogs. Well-trained dogs are great companions, and our family really misses our Golden Retriever, whom we lost a few months ago. But I do not miss the expense of owning a large dog. Or the monthly baths. Or the constant poop scooping in the backyard. Or being yanked down the sidewalk on our walks (because as sweet as she was, we never did train her well on a leash). Pets can be a lovely addition to a household. They are fun to play with, nice to snuggle and pet, and can provide a much healthier and more active lifestyle than sitting around playing World of Warcraft for hours on end. But let’s face it, they also require a great deal of responsibility.

I spent most of my childhood in the hills of the Bay Area, with a yard full of pets. At one point, our family owned ten hens, two rabbits, a duck, a goose, a cat with several kittens, two dogs, and one gorgeous blue parakeet, named Hope, who belonged only to me. Honestly, I have no idea how we managed to care for so many animals. Both of my parents worked full time, and we children were busy with school, Scouts, and sports. But somehow, the animals survived. That is, until our pet wolf, Muppet, killed several chickens and the goose. Oh, and my parents killed the rest of the animals and served them for dinner (which I did not know until recently). Okay, well, not the dogs or cats. Or the parakeet. I don’t think.

I think I had a point here somewhere.

Oh yes, responsibility.

Well, now that the kids are a little older, it is becoming easier to care for pets. We all take turns feeding and grooming our two cats, and scooping litter boxes. The beta fish belongs to my 8 year-old son, who never forgets to feed it twice a day. And the two hamsters are the pride and joy of my 11 year-old daughter, who now has three colorful cages full of hamster toys and plastic tubes. Dewdrop the Dwarf HamsterIn fact, the whole family is pretty enamored by the hamsters, who are tiny and cute and very entertaining, although the Syrian hamster is quite the escape artist. We have had to reinforce his cage in several places with duct tape. I have considered creating a Twitter account just to chronicle the tales of Gumdrop the Runaway Hamster (in 140 characters or less). However, I discovered that Twitter already has a slew of hamsters tweeting from behind bars, including the intellectual and amusing ramblings of Edward the Hamster.

 

Still, as much joy as pets bring our family, I think that it is important to have limits. Despite my own happy childhood petting-zoo memories, will never become the suburban farm family of the neighborhood. The truth is, I really just don’t like cleaning up so much poo.

“I think we’re finished with dogs for the time being,” I told my son. “If you really want another pet, you can always collect a new one on World of Warcraft.” There! No poo. No fur. No cages or tanks to clean. Thank goodness for videogames.