I spend a LOT of time at the public library with my daughter, anywhere from one to four times each week. Why? Going in the morning gets this not-a-morning-mama up and out of the house early. It gives my daughter, who is not in daycare, an opportunity to interact with other children of varying ages. It gives ME a chance to interact with adults. It’s a change of scenery, a change of pace, and gives us different toys and puzzles to play with. And, you know, that whole early literacy thing. That, too.

Because I’ve spent so much time there I’ve conducted my own very unscientific, very unofficial anthropological study of the other parents I encounter and the behavior we all share.

May I present to you my findings after observing the library parents in their natural environment:

1. The futile pleas to play pretend

The library has a great area with a play kitchen, table and chairs, and play house. It’s fully stocked with veggies and other groceries, a tea set and tableware. With so many tempting plastic goodies, those tots simply can’t resist putting them in their mouths. It’s play food! In play cups! Must.go.in.mouth!

 The parents all sing the same tune. “Honey, it’s just pretend. Please don’t put that in your mouth.” “Sweetie, no, no, not in your mouth.” “Hey, what did I say, just pretend, sweetie.”

We know full well this will never work. After all, it’s age appropriate for babies to put every last thing in their mouth, and for toddlers to simply not comprehend the difference between real and play (talk about confusing, right?). The library moms and dads go through the motions because we feel like we need to because the other parents are watching and listening. We all know our pleas won’t be effective, and we all know that if we were the only ones there with our kids playing that day, that we would let this slide without being so insistent that they stop.

Playing pretend at the library. Why is play bologna even a "thing"? Photo credit C.Allard

Playing pretend at the library. Why is play bologna even a “thing”?
Photo credit C.Allard

2. The unheard suggestion to share

Whether it’s that play kitchen area, the train sets or the computers, the babies and toddlers just don’t know how to share. There’s a lot of grabbing and stealing and crying. Again, the parents beg their kids to share with the others, implore them not to grab out of someone else’s hands and try to explain the importance of playing together. And again, this is just age appropriate behavior for the young children to not fully understand what sharing is, let alone why it’s important. Sometimes the kids don’t even care that their toy was just taken away but the parents feel the need to say those words anyway. No one wants to feel like that neglectful mom or dad who just let their kid snatch away a toy without saying anything, so we all do it, knowing full well that it’s more for the other parents’ benefit than the kids’.

 3. The ignored order to “take your turn”

During story time, the favorite activity without a doubt is Humpty Dumpty. Each child has a chance to walk up to a felt board and rip poor velcro Humpty off the wall, and put him back on again.

I have no idea why this is such a hit, but the kids CLAMOR to take their turn. The concept of waiting for your turn is entirely lost on them; the crawlers rush past the babies who toddle up while holding mom’s hands, and the walkers power over everyone in their path, not caring who they take out in the process.

Once again, the parents can do little to prevent this from happening. We’re like those people trying to hold their drunk friends back from getting into a bar brawl, bear-hugging a flailing, uncoordinated, uncomprehending being before they can hurt someone.

The library parents are a unique subset of caregivers who know it is their job to set boundaries and model appropriate behavior, and yet who are also aware of how little control they actually have over their offspring. They also know that a lot of what they say and do is more for the benefit of the other parents and to save face themselves. Look closely, and you, too can observe their behavior at a library near you.

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