Dear Mom

I wish I could’ve met you at my age. I wish I could somehow travel back in time and watch you grow up. I’m sure it wasn’t always pretty – real life is hardly ever a bed of roses 24/7. Did you ever wonder about who you’d fall in love with? Did you ever imagine yourself with seven crazy children?

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Did you think you’d successfully homeschool them all while keeping track of a home and a farm?! Yikes. If you did, no wonder I’m such an overachiever. I must’ve gotten it from you.

I must say, kudos to you. You managed to snag yourself a pretty handsome man, though I do say so myself.

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You have good taste in guys! He’s a hard worker, super cute, loves kids, watches chick flicks with you… though I don’t need to continue.

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You know all this, and your marriage with him is the reason that I want to be married someday. You two are #goals. Seriously.

 

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Looking through all the pictures we have, it’s fun to see just how happy you are in all of them.

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I know you’ll be embarrassed that I even posted any of these, so I’m sorry. I get that (after all, I am your daughter!), but I’ve been realizing just how important it is to be in front of the camera sometimes.

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You were always behind it, documenting your children growing up. I hope that even though you’re rarely found in our photo albums, you can remember that it was YOU we were smiling at.

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It was you who raised such happy children, you who kept us safe and fed and loved.

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You were behind the scenes, orchestrating our wonderful childhoods.

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You’re the reason we’re grinning from ear to ear in so many of the photos that fill the pages of our albums.

I admit, in high school, I thought we’d be lifelong rivals, doomed to a future of fighting and disagreements. I imagined myself as the girl who moves far away from her nagging Mom. Boy, was I ever wrong. I never would have guessed then that in a few short years, you would be one of my dearest friends and closest confidantes. You’re one of my favorite people to spend time with, and now I can’t imagine moving away from you. Maybe I’ll buy a tiny little shed and live in the backyard with my bookshelves, near your favorite lilac bushes.

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You’ve agreed (somewhat reluctantly) to be my model and wear wedding dresses multiple times over the years, whether they were yours or not, and whether my attempts at photography turned out well or not…

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Even though I know you hate being in front of a camera and don’t think you’re beautiful, all I see when I look at you is the loving, giving woman with laugh lines and wrinkles and maybe a stray hair or two.

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To me, you’re beyond beautiful. You’re gorgeous. You look like a woman who has lived – and lived well.

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Often I look at you and wish I could slow down time. Other times I can’t help laughing because I’ve started to sound like you. We are so very different, and yet we are alike in many ways. I just hope that someday I’ll be as wonderful a Mom as you are, but I doubt it. There can only be one you.

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You’ve got the whole supermom thing down to a science, even though you’re an introvert and would rather stay in the house all day.

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You’re out helping someone else today, despite it being your birthday. (Personally, I think you should be pampering yourself. You’ve survived seven children for this long! Celebrate!) Typical you, however – always thinking of others, wanting to help out, working hard even when you’d rather stay home and read a book. Could I ever be like you? Oh, I hope so!

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In all these little moments, life is going by. I’m so glad that our laughter has always been more prevalent than our tears; our jokes more common than our angry words; our good times always longer than our bad times.

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When I was born and everyone thought I wasn’t going to make it, you were there, holding me close to your heart.

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(Yup, pretty sure that’s me. Who knows, though. I mean – babies look alike when they first come out. That could be any of us. I know who would know for absolute-positive-sure who that is in the picture. You. You would recognize all of us as babies, even though we look the same to me.

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And I’m glad you didn’t mind having a bald baby girl for two whole years. My hair came in eventually, but it took a while. Sorry.)

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I love you, more than words can express. Happy birthday, Mom!

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You’re gorgeous.

Love,

your daughter

East, West, Southwestern is Best

College didn’t teach me the things I thought I was going to learn.

Sure, sure – I read the books, I got the grades. I know how to create a fabulous PowerPoint, format APA papers correctly, and write a speech. I know a bit of fire and a beaker of alcohol is too tempting of a combination to resist, and I should not take science classes because I might blow something up *accidentally*. (I may also know how to find standard deviation, but that’s iffy. My grammar abilities are even more questionable.) I know that walking across campus at night after binge watching Criminal Minds is a bad idea. I know that no matter what I choose to do, it will take a lot of hard work and dedication to reach success. Blah, blah, blah – yeah I know, I should be writing this on a poster above adorable kittens.

I’m graduating after two years at Southwestern Michigan College. I still can’t understand how it’s already been two years, or why they’re kicking me out now when I feel like I have just begun. How will I live without the Birdfeeder’s chicken strips?! The lengthy hallways and classrooms of this college hold so many memories for me – hilarious and awkward, painful and incredible. Like the first time I realized I wouldn’t have the same classes or see the same people that I had learned alongside for months, and I cried, or the multiple times I tried to lift my backpack and myself off the floor and nearly fell flat on my face. (Unfortunately, that happened way too often.)

Each building on campus has a certain charm, a particular feeling that comes only through years of weather, cleaning, and life. The main administrative building, Briegel, has well-lit hallways and the constant click-click of businesswomen striding quickly from one office to another in their heels. The aroma of French fries and chicken floats after you temptingly no matter where you walk. If you take the elevator to the second floor (the stairs are shorter, I promise), there are students shuffling about looking very confused and holding math textbooks like shields in front of them. I wonder what would happen if I asked one of them to find the average time it takes to work the elevator versus the average time to climb the stairs. Their brains might overheat from the strain of eight am classes and complicated math equations. I’m sure I could revive them by waving some fries under their nose.

O’Leary is the science building, where my biology teacher humored me and allowed me to play with fire. And also where I fell backwards three times in the same day (my shoes had no traction, it had been raining, the floors are waxed…excuses galore). The building wasn’t open my first year of college because it was being redone. It’s totally renovated and now you can write on the walls! But not all of the walls, as some professors found out very quickly. O’Leary is the modernistic, contemporary building full of deep sinks, the faint scent of bleach, shiny new equipment and even shinier floors (much to my dismay and the dismay of my poor aching bum).

The library is amazing – full of huge windows, soft couches, and the sound of people’s brains working a mile a minute. The thick, sleepy quiet of study rooms is broken only by the swish of pages turning and the rhythmic scritch of pencils against notebooks. There are the few brave souls who manage to disrupt the whole library atmosphere by shouting a greeting or “Eureka!!!” after figuring out an assignment. The tutoring center is tucked away in a corner, always filled with students searching for help with a particularly challenging paper or stats equation. There is nothing like the heady smell of books and pure desperation to wake one up in the morning.

The air in Lyons smells like worn-out, sweaty dance shoes, oil paint drying on canvas, wrinkled sheet music, and dusty theater seats. There’s always music echoing from some corner of the building – someone pounding through Beethoven, a voice singing a few lines from Parade, uproarious laughter from the art studios. No matter where you walk in Lyons, you cannot escape the melody – even late at night, when everyone else has gone home but the theater students are hard at work practicing their lines, or painting sets, or the choir is going over that difficult measure just one more time. If you take the stairs to the second floor and wander down the hallways, the strident piano notes are ringing through the floorboards below you and mixing discordantly with the violin in the practice room next door. If I can sense history, stories, and people anywhere on campus, it would be in the Lyons building. (Even if the stall doors in the second floor bathroom sound like tree branches breaking off in an ice storm, or in a horror movie. Depends on the time of day.)

The little cafe where I worked for a year and a half is in the student activity center, and the activity center is a whole world and culture unto itself. My cafe is right in front of the floor-to-ceiling window wall that wraps around a curve, and the whole building is full of sweaty people. The gym where all the people lift stuff and show off their muscles, the other bigger gym where they play basketball in the evenings, the climbing walls where the music is always louder than your heartbeat, the dance studios, the pool tables, video game stations, movie theater, multiple tvs – all in one place. The gym addicts and the serious gamers converge. There’s a strange dynamic in the building because couch potatoes and health nuts are thrown together and motivated to try and enjoy different things, and after months of observing, I’d say it’s going well. I love my little cafe. I love that I can be inside working and watch the seasons changing slowly outside at the same time.

The people who filled these buildings are the ones I really should be writing about. People who I will never forget, who laughed with me and cried with me and struggled over assignments with me. I would list all of your names, but that would take me all day and I’d start crying and it would get messy and sentimental and emotional as I try to explain just how much each of you mean to me. Just know I love each one of you, and the only reason I’m writing any of this is because your love and support is what made college what it was for me.

We remember beginnings and endings most clearly, but my favorite has always been the middles. Isn’t life really about the middle? Memories and moments and people tend to blur into an endless stream of time going by. I finally understand why people say college is a life-altering experience. College is so much more than the shift in worldview, the acquisition of knowledge, the lifelong friends and the people who change your life forever.

College is where I realized people are capable of being heroes and villains and sometimes both at once. Love, hatred, despair, joy – the emotions are so much more complicated than I ever imagined. College is learning that all we have is this moment, this now, so make the most of it. College is accepting that it’s okay to get crazy attached to friends I might not know five years down the road, or even three months from now. College is understanding that we might live to be a hundred and two, or we might die tomorrow, so maybe passing that class with an A isn’t as important as skipping a class period to go help out a friend. Now that is higher education for sure. Grades and achievements aren’t more important than people, and I think we often forget that.

College didn’t teach me the things I thought I was going to learn. College taught me the things I needed to learn. (And a lot of inspirational things that I should probably just sell to Walmart or Target or wherever they make those hipster chalk signs for peoples’ houses.)

We’re all in this together and we’re all we’ve got for this short period of time we each have.

Life is so much more than beginnings and endings. Let’s make the most of the middle.

May your journey be ever onward,

Beth

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Why I’m Quitting: A Review on Mondays

I decided to try clickbait with my cleverly worded and rather alarming title. If you reach the end of the title, it gets much less alarming and more… just lame. Ignore that part and keep reading. This is a test.

Usually when I think of Mondays, thinking of death, plastic cheese and a world without doughnuts is in the same mental category. The only truly great aspect of Mondays is that Tuesdays are a mere twenty four hours away. The only truly great thing about this particular Monday is that gas was $1.59.

In human biology class, the teacher read out of the textbook in a monotone that I can see making millions if used as a sleep aid. Since I had actually read the chapter and taken detailed notes – in an extreme fit of boredom this weekend – the only thing left was to scrutinize the other people in class until I would be able to pick them out of a crowd in ten years. Pop culture more than made up for biology class, though, because we watched banned children’s cartoons and oldies music videos (who knew long hair and skintight psychedelic outfits could be so hypnotizing? Never, ever, ever want to another man wearing a neon v-neck.)

Januarys in Michigan should be against the law. Today’s layer of thick gray has settled into me, and all I want to do is lay on my floor (everything is more dramatic if one is prostrate on the floor. I have learned this useful fact from TV shows) listening to emotional, sweeping film scores and thinking about the theraupetic elements of cheese. Who am I kidding – I would also be consuming said cheese and allowing a few dramatic tears to escape every now and then. As it is, I’m hard at work here in my tiny cafe, staring alternately at the gym and a giant slice of brownie. My life is full of important and stressful decisions, as I’m sure you can tell. Update: I procrastinated on both and ate applesauce instead. I fed the brownie to my sister, because she’s so skinny that it doesn’t matter how many brownies she eats.

It’s early on in the semester and I only have six homework assignments I could be working on at this moment. Instead of doing actual work, I wrote a letter to my aunt, who gets all the snarky details I wouldn’t dare share with the Internet. Yes, I wrote an actual handwritten letter and will send it with an actual stamp and envelope. In case no one remembers what stamps are, they are those tiny squares with pictures of Bugs Bunny that taste horrible when licked.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there really is no point to this post and the real reason I’m writing is because procrastinating on something else is far more important. Also I’m busy perfecting my profile on the dating site my professor told us to join as an assignment. “Assignment” – I think she just noticed how single I am. Be right back, texting classmates.

A customer just asked me if the m&m cookies were real. For anyone who asks me that in future, the answer is no. They’re made out of plastic. Duh.

I’m quitting Mondays until further notice.

May your journey be ever onward to Tuesday and beyond,

Beth

 

New Year Confessions

If you’ve ever read my blog, you know that I like to ramble on about myself, donuts/orange juice/Oreos, and coffee. So if you’d prefer to stay far away from this awkward food-and-mocha addict, please feel free to do so. As far away as you want…because that’s what I’d prefer too. No offense intended! Let me explain. Even better, let’s make a list, because that’s what I’m good at and I have coffee. Just holding coffee makes me feel 99% more successful, and when I actually drink it, things get crazy fast.

Confession #1: I’ve been wielding my introvert status as a formidable weapon.

Last time I took the Myers-Briggs (it’s a yearly thing for me…and no, my letters never change) I was 94% introverted. The missing 6% was coffee. Please excuse all the percentages and math references in this blog, because I just finished college statistics and percentages is just about all I remember. But I digress. Once I found out that I was an introvert, letting myself stay in my room became much easier. Refusing offers to travel, go to parties, and mingle with other human beings were all justified because my energy supply was low and leaving my room via books or Netflix was way easier. (Living vicariously and all that.) Makes sense, right? Yeah, I thought so too.

I make an effort to be outgoing, charming and talkative wherever I go. (When I’m not, it’s certainly caused by an extreme donut deficiency.) Attending college has made me realize that I can be around many people every week. (Meltdowns are optional.) (Man, I really love parantheses. They’re great.) The cafe I work at after classes every day is my place to recharge after a long day – even though I’m constantly serving people. Interestingly enough, all the jobs I really enjoy involve a LOT of people all the time. People are fascinating creatures. I enjoy talking to them, analyzing them, imagining little bits of life stories for them, and making them happy…all within a comfort zone, of course. Besides, who doesn’t appreciate coffee, sandwiches, and a good laugh at the awkward barista? The best part is that once they have their food, they go somewhere else to eat it. I can play the charming socialite best in small doses.

Confession #2: Last year was a tough year, even with my handy introvert excuse and many amazing experiences and people mixed in.

On a cheerful side note, this year 97% of my friends got engaged, married, or pregnant! Congratulations, all of you! I just watched it all go down with a mixture of happiness, amazement, and horror. Are we really that old already? Goodness. Just imagining all the delicious cake I get to eat this year makes my mouth water – and all the babies!! My heart might explode this year due to sugar consumption or cuteness overload, whichever comes first. Anyways, back to the confessions.

When I finished this semester, I was both relieved and sad. I always get attached to the people in my classes. It’s nice knowing exactly where my next class is, having friends to sit by, recognizing everyone and talking to the same professor. My classes and work were a set routine in the middle of a really difficult period of adulting. One of my closest friends has been really struggling, and it’s been hard for me to watch them go through their trials. Spring and summer this year were rough, but it was this last semester that things really got rocky.

I skipped classes for the first time to go to appointments with friends. I watched my grades drop sharply because I couldn’t concentrate. I pushed people away when they asked if anything was wrong. I started having anxiety attacks where all I could do was stare at the wall and try to stop shaking. I stayed up until past midnight almost every night this semester, talking friends out of tough places. As the semester wore on, I began avoiding everyone I could and sitting alone whenever possible. I made excuses to avoid hanging out with friends, hanging out with family, or even going to church. I drove home crying for the first time (thank you to all the other safe drivers in Dowagiac, y’all are great) and then many more times. When I got home from college every day, I’d go straight to my room. I did homework obsessively and worked ahead because homework was easier than talking to people. Basically I became a self-involved, self-centered little monster.

I found someone who made me realize that good guys still exist. Cynical, I know, but friends of mine have been going through some really terrible guys. I truly enjoyed talking and getting to know him. I started to want more than friendship -and he didn’t. I felt very rejected for a while (forever-alone-with-Netflix sort of thing), but I could be myself without the pressure of wondering, and that was a relief. Who knew the friendzone is actually sort of nice? Trust me, that hasn’t stopped me from going through a whole range of emotions. Once I get invested in a person and start caring deeply, it’s hard for me to back off. #introvertproblems. #usinghashtagsonblogsisntprofessional. #sorry.

So when Christmas break arrived, I was hurting and completely exhausted from this emotional rollercoaster I’d been on, mostly of my own doing. Seeing my GPA drop to a 3.93 was a huge disappointment. Call me crazy if you want, but I take my grades seriously and it crushed me when I got a B in stats and lost my 4.0. Scholarships and transfer opportunities became blurry and impossible, because what university wants a poor college student without a 4.0? Sigh. Maybe I can bribe them all with donuts and lattes.

Confession #3: I hate Krispy Kreme donuts, and Starbucks coffee is disgusting. Just saying.

Confession #4: If I made a list of people who deserve a heartfelt apology from me, it would take me at least a week.

Being on break was hard at first. I didn’t have anything to do after months of non-stop busy and high-stakes stress, and it chafed. I wanted to go to work and talk to my friends. I wanted to feel useful. I felt very alone. But slowly, as the days passed, I became more content to stay in my blanket cave and read or watch a movie. Many of you don’t even realize that I’ve been avoiding contact with you over the past few months, but some of you have noticed that I’ve become deathly allergic to social situations.

I’m truly sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. I have so many people that I dearly love spending time with, but I’ve been mired in my difficult situation and using my introvert status is a way to allow myself to stay home with minimal guilt and regret. I’ve found excuses to get out of nearly everything recently. Going out means I have to smile, and find something to say or do, and deal with unpredictable humans. (Are they going to ask about school? Donuts? Mocha? Holiday plans?!) Going out means I might start to care again, and get rejected again.

It doesn’t make me feel fulfilled or happy to admit all this to the Internet, if you’re wondering.  I have my pride, and it doesn’t make me feel good knowing that people know about my issues. I’m a reserved person. I hate  do not like people knowing that I’m weak, that I often misjudge people, or that I would rather sit at home and eat donuts for the rest of my life and observe everyone else from a safe distance. But life is the messy bits as well as the laughter and fun, and the truth is better than keeping up an exhausting front of pretend perfection.

One of my goals for this year is to trust that people are kinder than I’ve decided they are. This year I have worked on honing my ability to observe and analyze people, to pick up on and “read” tension and facial expressions and social cues, but I’ve also been making assumptions about people based on my observations. These assumptions are not always correct. (Ugh, I hate not being right. In my defense, I was right about 52% of the time. My mom would say only about 5%.) But I forgot that I send out tension and facial expressions and totally miss social cues as well. I’m sure that more often than not, I’ve been coming across as a snobby, judgmental recluse with a heart of ice. The heart of ice part may or may not be reality, but the other parts are still up for interpretation. Also no, I am not Queen Elsa. I realize you may have drawn some conclusions there…

I apologize for all the years that I’ve thought that I knew what was up, and so I didn’t give you a second chance. I apologize for all the times this past year I’ve studied you and your actions and made assumptions. I apologize for all the times I’ve stayed home and watched Netflix instead of spending quality time with you. Whether or not my conclusions about you have been confirmed, I’m learning about this crazy thing called giving people grace. None of us are perfect, least of all me, and we all deserve forgiveness and second chances. Thank you for all the second chances and forgiveness and  grace that you all have given me since day one.

Confession #5: Amazon Prime is siphoning my money away and I don’t even mind.

Confession #6: Do not under any circumstances let me watch sports, because I will get way too involved and might start screaming mentally or… not so mentally.

Confession #7: When I visit extended family unexpectedly and they welcome me with open arms, puzzles, deep talks, and multiple mugs of coffee or tea, it is so good for my heart. I’ve never been sarcastic or witty, but they are, and they all keep me laughing. To everyone in my family, I love you. Not everyone is as blessed to have extended family (on both sides, no less!) that are so caring.

Confession #8: Every list I make must have at least ten things because OCD tendencies.

Confession #9: I love giving people secret nicknames. Only I know these nicknames, except when I tell them to other people accidentally. Heh. Heh heh.

Confession #10: I love babies, but I also love handing them back to their parents when they scream. When I was thirteen, I decided that if I turned 30 and I wasn’t married, I’d adopt two teenage girls and they would be my special daughters. That’s still the plan!

May your journey ahead be amazing and full of grace,

Beth

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Why Today is Actually Monday

This morning started off really well. I woke up to pleasant morning sounds on the farm. Translation: I woke up to the incredibly loud, unearthly screeching of two baby rooster. If you’ve never heard baby roosters trying to crow, it sounds like someone who just stepped on a pile of Legos with both feet. Yeah. Pretty horrifying sounds.

Thus, I woke up fresh as a daisy and ready to begin my day with energy and enthusiasm! Ha…ha…ha. I wish. I looked like Anna in Frozen and I rolled out of bed more dead than alive. Checking Facebook while still sleeping mentally is not a good wake up plan, because you realize just how idiotic Facebook really is (why is there a dog singing Taylor Swift on my Facebook?)

I somehow managed to get myself out to my car… and then it did the steering wheel lock thing that it does every so often. While wrestling with my steering wheel, I hit my coffee with my elbow. You can picture the resulting explosion of hot coffee and marshmallows. (If it was a YouTube clip, it would just replay instantly again and again so you could glory in the coffee going literally everywhere.) Once the steering wheel was behaving itself again, I started on damage control. Marshmallows must be eaten, even if they’re glued to your jeans and your car seats and the dashboard. Plus, when you don’t have any time to stop or clean wipes, where else do you put half-melted marshmallows???

While I was picking marshmallow glop off my favorite jeans and wiping at the coffee on my windshield, I did some swerving. Multi-tasking is not one of my strong suits. While doing said swerving and cleaning and muttering in irritation, I suddenly heard a distinct THUMP. It’s a good thing my coffee had already spilled, because I jumped and knocked the coffee cup again. I stared out my rearview mirror balefully, wondering if I had another flat tire or if my muffler had gone the way of the asphalt. All I saw was a little ball of fluff, weaving around like a drunk person before flopping over very dramatically. RIP, squirrel. Let this be a lesson to all of you. Don’t eat (marshmallows) and drive, kids. You will injure your car, random squirrels, and your dignity.

After this moment, I was plagued with extreme guilt the whole rest of the ride to college (WHY didn’t I pick him up? Could’ve brought him home and skinned the thing. WHY.) Just kidding. His tail was just so fluffy, his eyes were just so bright. Ok, I didn’t actually see him due to the coffee scum on my windshield, but the mental picture drives me almost to tears. If only they didn’t chew away at my house and wake me up in the mornings… I might actually shed a tear.

I arrived at the college and started the peaceful morning jog to class. There were three lawnmowers and two trailers moving lawn equipment. (Note: if you attend SMC, bring earmuffs.) I was so busy enjoying the morning that I almost didn’t stop at the curve of the sidewalk for two security guys towing a trailer. They noticed me, however, and they stopped. So we both waited for each other to go, and then I started to go at the same time they did. We did this several times until we figured it out, and I let them go first. I heard them laughing uproariously as they drove away. I’m glad I can be so entertaining to people…

If that wasn’t entertainment enough, my biology class was a disaster. We did five seperate experiments today. Thankfully, I have a great group and we get things done 103% faster than everyone else. Problem: we have to wait for everyone else to finish. So I spent 45 minutes staring at the wall. That wasn’t the worst part, however. Oh, no.

Sometimes I think my brain takes a bad day and decides that it can out-do itself today. It gets really excited and I do a lot of really dumb things. To sum things up, I tripped on the edge of a stool and almost dropped a whole beaker of water. Yeah, I almost dropped it. I kinda wish I had, because the water would’ve gone all over the floor instead of all over my front. There I was, completely surprised and stunned, and the whole class of nutrition and sports majors stared back at me, equally surprised. If you don’t know what I mean by nutrition and sports majors, it basically means that I have a class with guys who watch football and work on their muscles 24/7, and one random guy who looks like Zac Efron in the first HSM.

They aren’t really sure what to do with someone who is at least three years older than they are, isn’t blonde, and doesn’t run track or play volleyball. One of them finally got over his shock and handed me some paper towels, but I fled to the bathroom to regain my wounded pride.

While in the bathroom, I checked my phone multiple times. My calender thinks it’s Thursday, but I’m pretty sure this is actually Monday.

I have statistics in twenty minutes, so the day’s just getting better. Here’s to coffee and friends and Mondays  Thursdays that you just have to laugh about.

May your journey be ever onward and don’t forget to eat the hairy marshmallows,

Beth

P.S. Hairy marshmallows aren’t THAT bad.

Don’t Put that Book Back, and other Library Tales

You don’t know what chaos is until you work as an assistant librarian  library aide well, until you work at a library during the summer program. This summer I spent June through August at my tiny hometown library, and it was all sorts of interesting (and by interesting, I mean as in I tripped on the stairs once and almost gave an elderly woman a heart attack, and I never figured out how to work the fax machine).

For the first part of June – before The Chaos began – I spent most of my time shelving books and straightening books, just the way my Grandma taught me. I learned pretty quickly that one can spend a lifetime straightening books, and somehow they’ll be unstraightened again the very next day. I had the children’s room all to myself because a librarian retired suddenly a few days after I started work. (I’m guessing that having to see my face every day pushed her over the edge.)

I’m writing a new version of The Hunger Games, except I’m calling it The Chaos Program and it’s actually a children’s summer reading program at a small-town library. (I’m calling dibs on being President Snow, because he actually survived almost all three books. Plus then my fictional counterpart could afford roses.) Instead of fighting to survive, these kids are fighting for the best prizes. Cheesy? Not at all. Our library gives Kindles to the top child readers, and a four year old got a Kindle this year. I’d fight for that too! I was never big on the whole democracy thing either, so the kids will have to deal with MY rules. So far, the book is sounding pretty good to me.

Whenever children were being rowdy, I went and sat behind the desk. It’s amazing the silencing effect a frowning person behind a desk can have on loud, naughty children. (On some of them, it has no effect whatsoever. Ugh. Those children are the ones to watch out for, mark my words.) Usually I didn’t have to speak a word, I just used the Mom Look on them. My mother has taught me well.

I learned that when you want to make connections or learn a little too much about people in a small town, go to the library. It feels like half the people in town went in and out of the computer lab each day. When you’re checking books out for someone, there’s always an awkward little pause while you’re scanning and stamping and they’re waiting that should be filled with small talk. I asked one elderly woman about her summer and she said that it had been great up until her husband died a month ago. That was really sad, but then we had a great discussion on plots. I helped an elderly man pick out a sweet romance novel for his wife, who is very picky. I sorted through boxes of books donated to the library (to steal the ones I wanted before they were processed). Who knew there was such a thing as molecular origami???

For the most part, I carried tables, arranged chairs, gave children Looks, and tripped down the stairs. Our prize room is upstairs in the library, and one day I went up and down fourteen seperate times. Every few hours while shelving books I would think to myself: goodness gracious, child, why did you leave McLachlan books in the Pierce section?? I fantasized every single day about hanging signs everywhere in the children’s room that say – in big block letters, of course – DON’T PUT THAT BOOK THERE. PUT IT ON MY CART. There were a few others like, STOP SCREAMING and DON’T YOU DARE JUMP ON THE CHAIRS AGAIN. I also wanted to literally beg parents to take their screaming babies away from my poor ears.

There are several children that I saw again, and I loved it. Kids grow up so quickly. I try to develop friendships with the children who come to the summer program, because my siblings and I have never forgotten the children’s librarian from when we were younger. She was named Linda, she smiled a lot, and she talked and laughed all deep and throaty and I thought she was fascinating and amazing. That’s why I don’t put the signs up… kids will be kids, and someday they’ll all be glued  to their smartphones too. I really should’ve been hanging up signs that said, PUT YOUR DARN PHONE AWAY. (Or just give it to me and Sue, and we’ll flush your phone down the toilet for you.)

It made me sad, seeing all the parents who just got on the computer or their phones and didn’t even bother to read their kids a book. Please, if you take your children to the library, at least read them one book. Books are an escape from the world that aren’t permanently damaging like alcohol, drugs, and video games. Books are intellectually stimulating and they make your child smarter. (I grew up reading books every single day and I am intelligent. I hope. I am awkward and clumsy, but hopefully I have common sense. Sue, one of the librarians, would disagree with this statement.)

Speaking of the other librarians – oh, where do I start?! Here begins a tell-all expose on the librarians:

Just kidding. (I wouldn’t do that to you, Sue. Unless you cross me.) In all honesty, Sue and Patty and Sarah and Stephanie are the most fun to work with. Sure, they all have their quirks. (Some of them maybe have a a few more quirks than the others.) Sue loves to tease me, but she patiently – occasionally, not so patiently – put up with me giving her extra work every single day up until I left. She left the books for me to shelve every day, which I appreciated because I got very good at my ABC’s. I can’t tell you how many times I sang the ABC song in my head. Patty was always calling me over to show me cool ideas she’d found on Pinterest for the children’s program. Sarah provided a calm outlook on the world when the library exploded with noisy children everywhere.

It was Sue and Patty who listened to me giving myself countless pep talks and even spouting complaints before diving back into the fray. They were my comrades, and we carried out mission after dangerous mission on the front lines of the children’s program. We didn’t scream when the animal man brought out his snakes and spiders with a flourish (well, I don’t know about Sue, but I didn’t scream). Sue and I celebrated quietly together when every exhausting program was over for the day, and Patty and I pooled our creative juices for the new library website. (Okay, so it was mostly Patty’s creative juices, but still.) I spent the majority of my time bantering with Sue and waxing philosophical about Legos with Patty, all while putting books away (does the Darth Vader lego man have a helmet, or is his head actually his helmet??! Does his cape represent darkness? I couldn’t find him amongst the multiple boxes of Legos, so I might never know).

I helped kids pick out prizes, and that took a while each time. If they had gone over twenty minutes, I set my timer. It’s funny how fast children will make a decision when they know they have a deadline thirty seconds away.

Lunchtime at the library is my favorite time. You get to know someone so much over a dinner table (in this case a lunch table). Sue and Patty and Sarah and Stephanie all got to know me better – how fast I eat, how loud I chew my chips, how many crumbs I spill…etc. Sue is the neat freak and I think she may have actually winced once when I almost spilled my cup. During lunch we discussed the day, our lives, our food, the library patrons, the towns, problems, loves, and silly stories. I think lunch at the library is a sort of mix between corporate employee meeting, educational experience, and wild party. Mix some food into that and it becomes something very strange but amazing.

I will miss every aspect of the library – the kids (yes, even though they are CRAZY. One little girl noticed the Lego earrings Sue made me and spent the next twenty minutes building Legos onto my ears), being among the books, singing my ABCs mentally, and most of all, the librarians at lunchtime. We laughed together a lot, but a lot of that laughter happened at lunchtime.

I can honestly say that working at my small-town library has changed my perspective on a lot of things. Small towns aren’t always the sweet places they are in books, and people aren’t always as easy to understand as the characters on a page. The real characters in life can’t ever really be written down properly, and they are infinitely complex and never what you expect. Confession time: when I was younger, I was terrified of Patty. Yup.

Now Patty and Sue are two of my favorite people to spend time with, even when they are both laughing at my clumsiness.

May your journey be ever onward and into a library – but DON’T put that book back on the shelf!

Beth

P.S. Sue, I asked Grandpa about the Beaver Island baseball team. He said they might still play a few games, but he doesn’t know if they’re called the Beaver Island Ball-Bangers anymore. Sorry to disappoint you.IMG_6123