As part of my refusal to let my disability hinder my commitment to being the best mom I could for my kids, I volunteered to work at the school library when each of them were in kindergarten through third grade. I wasn’t sure when I signed up if the physical demands would be too much for me, but I took the chance and was very glad I did.
I knew that I would mostly be seated at the desk where the students came to check out books. I was good at sitting and knew how to use a computer. I had some concern about not having the use of my left hand to do the job, but I knew I would figure it out as I had everything else in life over five years of becoming disabled eight weeks before my youngest son was born.
The librarian was a professional woman who had worked at the school for a long portion of her career. She took her job seriously and was dedicated. Mrs. M. was fascinated by the story of how I became disabled by a stroke while I was pregnant with my younger son. She made an effort to accommodate me by asking the other volunteers to shelve the books that were returned so I could sit at the desk and check out books because of my limited mobility.
It was sort of exciting for my kids to see me go to “work”, since I had been disabled for their entire lives. It was a way for me to be like the other moms at school. I loved to watch them proudly tell their friends, “That’s my mom.” as they filed into the library with their class.
Mrs. M. had years of experience with unruly kids in the library. It is difficult for them to be quiet and listen. I sat at the desk and observed her call out and discipline many a five or six year old kid who just couldn’t follow the library rules. Sometimes it was one of my own sons.
I loved meeting all of my kid’s classmates. They were required to borrow a book every week. Sometimes the computer would tell me that a child had one or more books that were overdue. We usually wouldn’t loan them another book in this case, but Mrs. M. kept track of just about every kid in the school and made carefully considered exceptions. She would know if there was any trouble in a particular child’s home such as illness or divorce which would make keeping track of library books completely unimportant. I heard many adorable stories and excuses to my questions, “Do you have this book at home still? It was due two weeks ago.” There is nothing like a five year old running through their train of thought out loud. “Well, I think it’s still under my bed, I was going to bring it back, we didn’t read it yet, can I still take out this book?” I was able to watch all of those kids grow up along with mine through high school graduation. I have an uncanny ability to remember names so they felt like I knew them when I greeted them by name around town or school.
There was a section of the library devoted to books for early readers where the younger students were encouraged to browse. Sometimes the kids got lost and would show up at the desk and ask to check out a 300 page novel. I would try to tactfully suggest they find another book, and offer to help them find one.
The best complaint I ever heard about a book was from a six year old who told me she didn’t like it because it had “too many words.”
Working at the elementary school library was not paid employment, but I reaped rewards from those six years of volunteering that I have never seen in any paid job.