Friday Funnies: Four-year-olds and Curators Don’t Mix

(not laughing–not yet)

.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to laugh about this incident yet. In fact, I know I’m not. But I haven’t done Friday Funnies for awhile, and if I don’t document this now, it won’t be readily available to torture my son with later.

I love genealogy.

I’ve loved it since I was a little girl and my mom would tell me stories about my ancestors fighting in the Revolutionary War or coming over in the Mayflower. It’s fascinating to see pictures of great, great, great grandmothers who have my eyes—or I should say, I have theirs. It’s very cool.

There is one line of our genealogy that has been stuck in the 1800s forever. This family lived in America, in Ohio actually, so this has been very frustrating. It seems like there should be more information than there is.

My sister in Utah emailed me earlier this week saying we might have a lead. Someone found reference to a book, a diary, of one of the daughters in this family, that dates back to 1863. In this diary, she lists not only her parents, but her grandparents and where they were born. A huge breakthrough. The online description told us that much about the diary, but of course, not what those names are.

But the best part was this diary is being preserved in a library 45 minutes from my house. In Michigan. Of all the places for it to be, 45 minutes away from me!

Cool, right?

Wednesday, I dropped the two middle kids off at school, looked in the rearview mirror at the youngest (4yo), and said, “You want to go for a little drive?”

He’s bored to tears at home. Our house is too quiet now that the other kids are in school. So of course he agreed.

Keep in mind here, I’ve been a mother for 16 years. I’m experienced. I’ve taken many four-year-olds on many adventures. I know better, right?

It wasn’t until we get lost in Ann Arbor trying to find the address, that I realized this library was smack dab in the middle of the U of M campus.

There wasn’t any parking within three blocks. But it was a beautiful, fall day in Michigan. The air was cool and crisp. Perfect. I hoisted my laptop bag over my shoulder and convinced him to go on a “little” walk. This little walk ended up being over a mile, because apparently there are two University Avenues on the U of M campus. A North University Ave and a South University Ave.

That would have been nice to know going into this.

But I was still stoked. I’m about to make a major breakthrough.

The 4yo got tired two blocks in.

I carried him around with the heavy laptop bag, trying to figure out why I couldn’t find this library on N University Ave, while trying my best to fit in on the prestigious university.

FYI: 4yos don’t blend in at prestigious universities. Just in case you’re wondering.

As soon as we found the library, I realized this wasn’t the massive library I envisioned. It was a tiny, quaint library. A special library. Which meant it wouldn’t have the world’s cutest children’s department where the 4yo could occupy himself. In fact, from the lack of children I’d seen on campus, I figured this tiny library wasn’t going to have a children’s department at all.

But I was an experienced mother. I knew how to distract my kids. I didn’t let this deter me. My family had waited 80 years for this breakthrough. I drove 45 minutes and dragged a 4yo around the UofM campus. I wasn’t turning back. I could do this.

We took a ten minute pretzel break outside. I got him in a happy mood, and ventured in.

Clue #1 that this wasn’t going to end well:

I was greeted by a receptionist who sat in front of a closed door. Closed. I couldn’t even peek inside the library.

Clue #2 that this wasn’t going to end well:

While eyeing the 4yo, she asked why I was there. Then she gave me paperwork to fill out. Paperwork. They wanted to know who I was, what was my intent, schooling, and research history. I’m surprised it didn’t ask for my height and weight.

Clue #3: She asked for two forms of ID.

Yep. Driver’s license and a Visa. And she wrote down my license #. Keep in mind, all of this is to READ A BOOK. I’ve already learned from the paperwork that I’m not allowed to copy or photograph the book. I can only read it and take notes. But it still required two forms of ID.

Once I went through the screening, she called a man down to escort me inside the library. He, too, eyed the 4yo, but introduced himself. As a curator.

Clue #4: Not a librarian. A curator.

Suddenly I felt like a scene out of a Dan Brown movie, where Robert Langdon breaks into an old library vault, and searches through documents he shouldn’t be touching, ruining books right and left.

The guy, this curator, was wearing a white shirt, bowtie, and sweater vest, fulfilling all stereotypes. He informed me that all of my bags must be stored in a locker before we could enter.

Clue #5: Bags in locker.

And that’s when I remembered, I’m not Robert Langdon. They weren’t going to let me ruin any book for this lifelong search of mine. Or my four-year-old son who suddenly stuck out like a freckled red head in Bangladesh. But I played along. I signed my life away, locked my things away, and, under my breath, I did something I try to never do as a mom. I bribed the 4yo.

It’s not that I’m against bribery. I’ve used it plenty of times, but most times it backfires, turning seemingly wonderful kids into monsters. Next thing you know, they expect every candy bar from every grocery checkout simply because they woke up for the day. No. I keep bribery in my back pocket to pull out in the most desperate of times.

As I follow the bow-tied man through the doors to the main room, I knew I was 100% desperate.

Whispering, I promised the 4yo that if he was silent the whole time—the whole time—we’d get ice cream and lunch as soon as we left. I’d even buy him a pony. Okay. Not the pony, but I wasn’t against throwing it in if needed. I’d received ‘the look’ from every employee I’d passed thus far. They don’t get kids to their library. Probably ever. He had to be perfect. I had to prove these people wrong about kids. Kids are great. Kids are awesome! And mine know how to behave, right?

Sort of.

For fifteen minutes.

The curator had already pulled my book from the back vaults (or wherever they stored it), and it was waiting for me at a table, perched on top of a special stand—a stand!—that protects the binding and book cover.

What number is that? Clue #6?

You’d think I was asking to read the Declaration of Independence.

But at last, Bow-tie man left me alone with the book in the dead silent, drop-a-pin-and-hear-it-echo room. I sat my son next to me and pushed him as far away from the book and the stand as possible. I prayed a silent prayer that he wouldn’t get a sudden case of stomach flu and vomit all over it. That would be just my luck. In front of us sat another curator, watching all of us in that room with our books, making sure we didn’t breathe–or vomit–wrong. 

My time was limited. I was smart enough to know this. Yet, I was so anxious to see this precious diary with the keys to unlock my heritage. My family has waited 80 years for this moment. I could break through, I could get us to the next level. But I had to balance it with my present issue of bringing my 4yo into a Robert Langdon movie. Have you ever seen a 4yo in a Robert Langdon movie? Neither have I.

There’s a reason.

(Why didn’t I leave him home with a neighbor??? My spontaneity backfired. Big time.)

I flipped through those pages like my eldest flips through his chemistry book.

I skimmed, pretended to read, yet saw very little. And it was amazing stuff in there. Entries about the civil war. Hand-copied obituaries. Even old recipes for pickled cherries. It was awesome and totally worthy of Bow-tie man’s protection. But I was flying through the book, passing it all up in search of “the page.”

The son finished his drawing and said, “More paper, please.”

I looked around. I panicked. My bags were in the locker. My bag of tricks.

Not good!

I shoved my copy of the paperwork I just filled out (yes, they gave me a copy!) and knew I had to wrap things up. There was very little white space on that paper. I had three minutes, tops, before he was done.

More flipping, and I found the page in the diary. There it was. Name after hand-written name on that page, giving us the links we’ve been searching for. I started scribbling frantically.

The son messed up his pictures and threw his pencil down.

He wasn’t happy. And to let me know, he made a peep. A small peep, but it echoed through the room. I felt patron eyes glare at the back of my head. The curator up front gave me a warning look.

I started erasing his mistake for him.

He peeped louder. He didn’t want my help. He wanted another piece of paper. So I whispered in his ear and reminded him of the ice cream and pony awaiting him. He clamped his mouth shut, but more peeps tried to break through. And more escaped. He still wants another piece of paper.

Stupid lockers.

I no longer had three minutes. I had 30 seconds before all heck broke loose. I could see it in his watering eyes.

I gathered my things, left the book on the special stand, and informed the 4yo that it was time to go.

He freaked.

Yep. Freaked.

I overestimated. I didn’t have 30 seconds. I had 10. And even then, I wasn’t fast enough.

You see, my bribery backfired. I promised him he could have the ice cream only if he was quiet while I worked. He knew he hadn’t been quiet. He wanted to stay and try again. He was desperate to fulfill his end of the bargain. But I knew there was no way he’d be able to pull himself together after driving 45 minutes and walking a mile. Not even for a pony. He was done. But he was convinced otherwise. He tried hard to cry silently. He even pinched his red eyes to keep them from watering. But he wasn’t fooling anyone. Not in the silent room.

I grabbed my laptop in one hand (extremely awkward, considering it’s not in its case), I shoved the paper and pencil and 4yo’s jacket on top of it, and stood up.

“Let’s go.”

He freaked his freak.  

No longer would his tightened lips contain his displeasure at leaving this locked-down, oval-office-type-security library. He wanted to stay! He wanted ice cream!

Pride flying out the window, I picked him up with the free arm that’s really not all that free. So he went limp noodle on me and dropped.

Hard.

His lip hit the corner of my laptop. Suddenly, he was mad and injured. I scrambled to keep hold of the laptop and papers, knowing I would never be allowed back on the U of M campus, let alone in their precious, special library.

The 4yo was on the floor, flailing.

Mind you, he hadn’t pitched a fit like that since he was two. Why in that place, at that time, did he choose to regress, I’ll never know. But I was mortified.

The lady curator was kind enough to ask if I needed help. I shoved my laptop and papers at her, and picked up the limp noodle. Man, he’s heavy when he wants to be. We got out of the main room and were greeted by the receptionist who gave me a look like, “Why did you ever in a million years bring a kid to a place like this?”

So the fun part was, I still had to get my stuff out of a locker and packed up. I dropped the 4yo on the ground so he could flail around without injuring me. But he’s an intelligent boy. Once free, he jumped up and ran back to the door. Remember his goal. Ice cream. He was determined to get back in there and earn it. (May I never bribe another kid as long as I live.)

He got the door half open before I realized his plan. Stupid lockers.

Sadly, the doors weren’t made out of steel. They weren’t soundproof either. In fact, the building was probably 100 years old, so every sound of our episode in the hallway was probably echoing in their perfect little setting.

I wasn’t happy.

It seems like the incident would have ended with me dragging him, literally, outside. It almost did. But alas, even that was too dignified an escape for us. Life wasn’t done laughing at me for the day.

Thirty yards away from the building, the crying, screaming kid informed me I’d forgotten his jacket. I stared at him for several minutes, contemplating. If we didn’t have a mile to walk in the crisp, cool air, I would have left it. I would. But cold skin leads to more screaming. College kids passed us right and left, carrying their heavy backpacks and giving us ‘the look.’ I couldn’t exactly leave the screaming child outside with them. Could I? I’m not proud to admit that I considered the possibility longer than I should have. But I did the right thing.

I picked him up and dragged him back inside.

The receptionist looked up as we entered. Words cannot describe the expression on her face.

Without speaking because, really, what was there to say at that point, I walked past her, snatched up his jacket, and walked back out. And then we started the long walk to the car. 

I’m not quite ready to laugh at this episode that is sure to live a long, vivacious life in the minds of those curators at the U of M. Someday, maybe, but not yet. But I can promise you that when this child of mine has a child of his own who throws a fit at the worst time, in the worst place, I will be quick to remind him of this day.

In case you haven’t lost all respect for me yet, I should finish the story.

We got ice cream on the way home.

Yep. I’m officially that mom.

Anyone else have a story that reaches far beyond humiliation? Anyone else ever momentarily tempted to give their child up for adoption? (jk) Comment here.

(Oh. Since they took all my information, there’s a chance that the U of M curators have tracked me down and are reading this post. If that’s the case, I absolve you of any and all disdain you feel towards me for putting all of us in that situation. I knew better. I did. And I will never make that mistake again. Hopefully.)

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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

10 thoughts on “Friday Funnies: Four-year-olds and Curators Don’t Mix”

  1. Hilarious!!! I love how you write. I love that you have Jacob so that you can use all of your writing talent to entertain the rest of us. :) Cyndie

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    1. Thanks! I’m sure someday I’ll appreciate the experience and even look on it fondly. Um. Maybe not. He is definitely entertaining, though–and he knows it. He is a true youngest child.

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  2. I don’t blame the kid for wanting to earn his ice cream. I’ve done some pretty stupid things myself to get a Dairy Queen trip, or Sonic. Glad you took the time to write this down. I felt your pain as you were trying to get your genealogical info. I think a 4 yo in a Robert Langdon movie would provide the comic relief that was missing.

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  3. True. Very true. I’ve done far less to get a brownie sundae. Can you imagine a 4yo in Angels and Demons? Haha. Yeah, that would be funny, though I can’t quite see Tom Hanks being game.

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  4. But the question burning in my mind is…DID YOU GET ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEEDED???? Poor little dude. Impossible situation for you both.

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    1. Yes!!! The names I scribbled in desperation have broken us through another generation. When I get time, I’ll jump back into the research and look for these new ancestors of mine. I can’t wait! Originally, I thought I’d head back down to the library when I don’t have him in tow. Now…I’m not so sure I can face them again. I might have to pay to digitize the whole book. :)

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  5. Possibly the best mother son story I have read. I thought I had it bad… that was pretty terrible. I have a 1 year old and 3 year old. I try not to ever be spontaneous for that very reason. Things always go wrong and bribery hasn’t turned out well for me either. Glad you go the info you needed. WOW! Great story!

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