It’s that time of year. Summer. The time when hope in the library springs anew.
I tell myself it was just during the school year that we couldn’t get our books returned on time. Summer will be different. Just look at all the time we have. Look how much older my kids are. We won’t lose anything. That fifty dollar fine from May was just because it was the end of the school year.
We make our way to the library and sign up for the summer reading program. My children can’t keep track of their own shoes. I have had to stop at a store and buy shoes for their bare feet before (because they left the house without any on and I didn’t notice). But I am somehow supposed to believe they will place their library books in a nice stack in their rooms just like I’ve asked them to. Right. And they’ll probably count them each night, making sure each has returned to its place.
We start back to the library slowly, as if easing back onto a horse after being thrown off. Ten books each, I say, and one movie each. The kids complain, throwing their arms about as if disconnected from their bodies. I consider putting them in a drama course for the summer, then realize they already have the drama covered. Home we go.
A week passes. The movies are due. I see the email from the library telling me. We use the three day grace period, scramble to find them, and rush to the library before it opens. We slide the animated items into the drop box, give each other high fives, and head to the pool.
The next week, we return all of our books early. We’ve read them all, and the kids are ready for more. How can I deny them? We up the amount to fifteen books each. Two movies. Less grumbling this time, but still, they give it a passing shot. Gotta love their commitment to the drama cause.
Again, we return the items slightly more than a week later. I begin to feel heady with our success. Sure, get all the books and movies you want. I wave my hand across the library shelves as if I’m Santa himself, bestowing free things we have to return on needy children. They scamper through the space, beside themselves with delight. Four movies are clenched in my son’s fists. He will never watch these movies. He always watches the same ones at home. But I am giddy with our track record. Haven’t paid a fine in weeks! Go for it, I say. And so we do. We struggle to the car, dragging bags pregnant with library items, the kids not able to carry the load.
Summer begins to roll and fly like a roller coaster. We’re at the pool, friend’s houses, work. We settle into a routine. And then suddenly, I sit up in bed in the middle of the night, certain it’s happened. I’ve missed the email from the library telling me when everything was due. I just know it. I run to the computer and find that not only are the books overdue, we still have the movies from the last check out. Those are a dollar a day! I wince. We are in the grace period for the books. But we only have until… the next morning. Before the library opens. We can do it! I tremble a bit as I fall back to sleep, but I cling to hope. They are older, I remind myself. This. Is. Our. Summer.
The next morning, I rally the troops, barking out titles we are missing like a drill sergeant at boot camp. The kids stare at me with blank faces. They vow they never had this item, or that we already returned it. (And let’s face it, we all know the second one isn’t true.) We rush to return what we can find—only we miss the grace period by ten minutes. If we’d had the books back before the library opened, then we wouldn’t have incurred fines. But now they have to add them all on. And that’s not counting the movie fines. We only get those for a week. I don’t even want to know the amount of my bill.
It’s like a monthly fee, I think. A membership. I sigh, grab the kid’s hands as they reach for books and slowly shake my head.
I’m sorry. We can’t afford the fines.
At my whisper, their eyes fill with tears.
Fine. One each.
Big, fat, dramatic tears roll down their cheeks.
Fine. Five each.
I attempt to do the math of what the fine will be on these items, but then I remember I don’t do math. The kids grab what they can, and we head out to the car. I can’t wait for school. Maybe then they’ll forget about the library and this whole reading business. But until then, we’re nothing if not committed to the cause. The library doesn’t need to raise money. They don’t need to raise their budget each year. They just need moms and children. We’ve got it covered.