Thursday, October 26, 2006

Vigilante Justice, Preschool Style

My son is in preschool in the neighbourhood two mornings a week, and he loves it. He is up for anything that gets him out in the world having adventures.

It is a cooperative preschool, which means that Jim and I sometimes help out as helper parents. I was helper parent yesterday for the first time and I actually had lots of fun. Kids are so cute. There was 'supercat', a little girl who spent the whole time crawling around the floor looking for people to rescue with her kitty superpowers. There was the extremely shy little blond girl with a brace on her leg and a heart of gold. There was the Irish sweetheart who turns out to be an unabashed nosepicker. And there was the gaggle of good old boys - football players just waiting to grow up.

And then there was trubba. There is one kid - let's call him Ralph - who has a few behaviour problems. As in, without warning, he will walk up to a child lying on the floor and step on his head. Or if another child is walking down the stairs near him, he will grab the other kid's ankle and say "Do you need some help getting down the stairs?" (at which point adults lunge in to prevent injury).

It's hard to be an adult in the room, trying to teach him how to behave around other kids, and trying to prevent unprovoked violence. But I think it's harder to be another kid in the room. Three and four year olds don't lie about what they're thinking, so yesterday I heard, "I hate that kid Ralph," from one child, and "I don't want to sit next to Ralph," from another. And there were a lot of troubled looks and avoidance tactics, to avoid getting hurt by him.

The most surprising, though, was when I found two of the good old boys sitting under the slide. "We're planning how to GET Ralph," they said, conspiratorially. And they were totally serious. It was like looking into the face of Peter Pan and his cronies. Or like standing on the island in "Lord of the Flies", waiting for the pig-sticking.

I never think of very short people as being old enough to have stereotypical characteristics, but these preschoolers were cowboys, plain and simple, making the wild west safe for decent folk.

It was vigilante justice, preschool style.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Extreme Librarianship

So, I have been working downtown for years, and downtown is where a lot of colourful characters go to use the library. I am very used to people who behave oddly. And now, I have moved to one of those suburban branches where people behave, well, decently. It's like moving to Pleasantville.

And yet.

You can take the girl out of the crazies, but you can't take the crazies out of the girl. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo magnet. It's one or the other. (And let me remind you, for this story, that I walk a lot and so people stop me to ask directions constantly. It's Street Librarianship.)

I got a ride home the other day from a colleague, and I asked him to let me out of his car early so that I could have a bit of a walk before I got home. He dropped me off at the yoga studio strip mall, and I had only walked for a half a block before it happened.

I suddenly became aware that a young man on a bike was pedalling madly straight at me, hollering at full volume, "Help!!! You've got to help me!! I need help!!"

Being a librarian used to strange behaviour - and quickly considering that he's probably on drugs, but there's lots of traffic going by so I probably won't die, or at least die alone - I stopped and gave him my full attention. He rode up, dropped his bike, clutched his chest, and said, "I have asthma, and maybe I'm [pant, pant] having an anxiety attack! [pant, pant, sweat, sweat, eyes rolling wildly] I'm really, really scared! I'm so scared, you've gotta help me, etc., etc."

I was about to offer to find a phone to call someone to help him, when A SECOND PERSON (woman) came up to me, ignored the young man, and asked directions to a nearby street. I multitasked by pleasantly answering her question while keeping my eye on the other guy, sent her along on her way, and resumed helping him (while thinking "HOW CAN SOMEONE NOT NOTICE THAT I'M KINDA BUSY WITH THE EMERGENCY SITUATION, HUH? STUPID FREAKING LADY...")

By this time, had assessed that the young man was likely not on drugs after, but was simply having some sort of mental breakdown.

Anxious had decided, after all this, that all he needed was for me to stay with him while he walked to a phone to call his friend. I agreed to walk him to the strip mall, and took him to the shoe store that was still open. We went in, and in my best 'librarian in charge' voice, asked if the young man with asthma having the anxiety attack could use their telephone. He was still puffing and agitated, and called his buddy on the portable phone. I was pretty sure he was not going to do anything really odd, like rip off their cash register, but I had my beady little eye on him steadily all the same. I got him to sit down after a while to calm down, and that sort of worked, even though he was on the phone for a good five minutes.

And then it got dull, so I asked them if they were indeed closing right away. The woman was great: she said, "He's calming down. He can stay as long as he needs to." They had three staff members there, and two of them were big men, so I figured my superhero job was done. After checking with them about whether I could go or not, and getting a confirmation, I was off like the littlest hobo.

A little extreme librarianship after a long day at the branch where they all play nice. Keeping my hand in, I guess.

After all, what would the crazies do without folks like me roaming the streets.

Monday, October 09, 2006


It is Fall, and the urge to hibernate descends on all squirrels. Except me.

I have started my new job, and in fact, I feel like I am just waking up from a long, deep sleep. Why? Because suddenly I'm the go-to girl. I haven't supervised more than one or two people for about seven years, and mostly my charges were so competent that they didn't really need me. Now that I'm the branch supervisor, I am the first person to talk to when something needs changing or fixing.

Not that I'm unhappy about this new responsibility. This is why I took the job; to learn more about being a manager, in case I want to go there. My first week there, though, was full of a thousand little conversations of the sort that I'm not used to having. In my head I kept thinking, "Oh, wait, yeah, they need to talk to me about this! Wake up, Gwen!!" Yawn and stretch, squirrel. Yawn and stretch.

My first week at the branch has been great, despite my sleepiness. The staff are fantastic, and they work really well as a team. The building has great light, from the big windows. The maintenance staff there keep it sparkling clean (yes, this is news). The patrons are nice, and there are lots and lots of cute kids around to make me laugh.

I think I'm going to like it at the little branch with the big heart.

Once I dust the cobwebs off my brain.