The glass doors slide open and our steps quicken in anticipation. It smells of fresh-printed ink and musky paper. The toddler in my grasp points to everything he sees— the glass elevators, the row of colorful posters, and blinking self-checkout stations—clutching his beloved Mr. Fox’s stuffed paw tightly.
The library. We could live here if they’d let us.
The children’s section is my son’s dream with the woodblocks, puppet shows, assorted puzzles, and rows and rows of picture books. Books on airplanes, origami, the animal kingdom—some that intrigue me, others that only intrigue him.
The children are chattering, adults shushing.
We dash over to the author section, “C” for Cousins, Lucy. Fingers crossed, I say a little prayer sent to Heaven with the incense of my sincerity. Please, God, please let them have a few new ones today.
I can’t bear the idea of reading the same books again next week. And the look on his face when there’s a new one available will make my day.
My prayers are answered. With unfeigned excitement, I pull out new Maisy books or at least ones we haven’t read recently. This is a world of primary colors and characters that dance across the page. We know all of their names—Dotty, Tallulah, Cyril, Ella, Eddie, Charlie, and, of course, Maisy, the mouse extraordinaire with the adventurous life. She’s well-traveled, visiting places like the fair, the city, the countryside. She’s mastered the first day of preschool and potty training like an expert. She plays soccer with her friends and, of course, it ends in a tie. No hard feelings in the making of that book. My son eats it up like Annie’s Mac & Cheese.
Then he beckons me to a children’s table, and I sit next to him on the kiddie-sized chairs.
We read to Mr. Fox, his threaded black eyes staring straight ahead at some 4-year-old picking her nose before putting the last piece into place in the Old MacDonald puzzle.
She needs to wash her hands, I think, looking up from page five. That puzzle should be disinfected.
He tugs at my sleeve and suddenly, I am lost in the primary world of Maisy with him again. The worry and striving of my grown-up thoughts melt away with him nuzzled next to me.
When the hour fades, I have the daunting task of ripping him from the block fort he is building. I give him five more minutes, and then five more, fearing he’s going to grow up with a very skewed perspective of time. I disinfect the puzzle, check an email.
Then, finally, I say, “Ezra, let’s go. We will check out these books here.” And, “No, you can’t take your fort home with you.”
But we do take our mound of books to the check-out station, where he insists on helping and making the process take 100 years longer. And that’s not hyperbole.
And yes, I’ve had to succumb to getting a rolling suitcase for the number of books we check out each time. I swore I would never be that nerdy, but here I am. It’s almost as bad as getting a van, but I promised myself I’d stick with the SUV. I know, never say never.
We leave our little library-haven and tumble into the car. Five minutes out of the parking lot, a dreadful realization swallows me.
“Ezra, Mr. Fox.”
The toddler’s tone is panicked. He knows as well as I do that Mr. Fox is sitting inside a block fort, cold and alone, praying hard that some other grimy, nose-picking hands don’t decide to adopt him as their own in the 10 minutes of our absence.
We turn back, this time entering the glass doors with a different feeling of anticipation.
I carry him on my hip so we can rush to the children’s section. There are new faces. My son’s block fort looks like an earthquake destroyed it. No sign of Mr. Fox.
I suspiciously eye the children around me. Any one of them could be the culprit. We ask the librarian if there’s been a “worn-in, red fox with a freckled face, bushy tail, and green waistcoat” turned in.
She shakes her head, says she’ll let me know if it shows up.
In my mind, I’ve already started writing the email to the nice creative on Etsy to replicate the endearing piece of childhood she made for us. But it’s not just another stuffed animal, it’s this one. And can it really be replicated with a knock-off or will the magic be gone without this very stuffed fox?
Two more rounds around the library, scanning the nooks and crannies, the aisles, the play areas, the puppet stage where a community theater production of princesses and dinosaurs is taking place.
“Mr. Fox,” I call out telepathically, “where are you?” But, he is quiet, wherever he is, because he prefers to only communicate through the 2-year-old.
And then, as I’m about to walk away in the magnanimity of the loss, I spot the little, apple-red tail poking out from the cupboard of a wooden-toy kitchen set.
“Ah,” says a man nearby, “is that your fox? My daughters were cooking and serving him to the other kids.”
I laugh with relief and notify the daughters their dinner is now going home with me as take-out. I hand him to his rightful owner, who smiles with tender love in his eyes and squeezes the little creature in his stubby arms. We walk back out the door, hand-in-hand, feeling lucky.
Mr. Fox and Ezra lay down that night, as always, in Ezra’s “big-boy bed” and I “nurse” a stuffed fox until their eyes are shut and they’ve drifted off to sleep. I smile as I tiptoe out of their room.
Motherhood has expanded my heart to new depths I didn’t know existed within me. It means I love very much a little primary-colored mouse creature and her peculiar set of friends. It means my heart genuinely thuds in fear when I think a stuffed fox may have disappeared from our lives forever.
Because this love means I take an interest in what he takes an interest in, and that ability to care for someone outside myself has changed me.
But, there’s more than that. Motherhood has caused me to slow down and keep my eyes open to the world around me.
We never get anywhere fast, but there’s a beauty to the slow-pace of raising children that I’ve come to appreciate.
It’s spending hours in a small corner of a library and noticing the glass elevators go “so high.” It’s teaching how to do the simplest tasks, like setting a book on a counter or stopping on the pavement to pick up a leaf and observe it’s pretty colors.
Sometimes, I think about how much easier it would be to get things done without a child. I always said I didn’t want children in my 20s. I wanted to travel and build a career so my to-do lists could have clean little check marks on them instead of invasive scribbles. I’d answer emails and update inventory for work without a single disturbance.
But I got pregnant and had a baby in my 20s. I became a stay-at-home mom by 24. How did that happen?
For me, motherhood became the surrendering of expectations for the years, the months, the day, the hour, even just the next 10 minutes. It became the realization I could be lost in a world of wonderment alongside a little person. To experience the world through his lens.
Yes, parenting is hard, but isn’t that part of the beauty of motherhood? We walk the slow, grueling steps with them until they can walk them on their own.