Sunday, 22 February 2009

My Daughter, The Librarian

"I don't have anything to do here," our Eldest grumbled back in November. "Everybody here has something to do but me."

Unfortunately, she was right. Everyone else here is either learning formally or teaching formally, and while Eldest could learn any number of things here informally, she has not been inclined to pursue any of them. My mother was right: you've got to live a little to know how many things you don't know, and most people have to accrue even more years to want to do anything about their ignorance. I wasn't an exception to this rule and neither is our Eldest.

"You could volunteer in the library," I suggested. The small expatriate-run library here never seems to have enough volunteers.

"Doing what?" she scowled.

"Serving people. Shelving books. Organizing things."

This last one, I hoped, would capture her imagination. While her own room is virtually a no-go zone, our Eldest has a passion -- and a real talent -- for organizing things.

"They don't really need me," Eldest scoffed. "You're just looking for something for me to do."

Sadly, this was true.

"Think of how good it would look on your C.V.!" I implored, but to no avail. There were two things wrong with my suggestion: number one, it hadn't been her idea to begin with. Number two, it reeked of motherly interference and make-work phoniness.

In December, I happened to visit the library and, while looking for a book, got to talking to one of the volunteers.

"I know we've got the book you want," she told me, "but I can't tell you where. This place is a total mess. We really need to get organized."

"You need a few more volunteers," I said, thinking about Eldest lolling about the house, watching Korean soap operas and Japanese dramas all day long.

She sighed and shrugged.

"If I only had the time, I'd volunteer myself."

She smiled sadly. "The only people who have the time don't have the interest. The people who have the interest, don't have the time."

"My daughter has the time," I found myself saying. "Oodles of time, in fact."

The woman perked up. "She reads English?"


She narrowed her eyes. "Does she know books?"

"Yes, and she loves them." Way before Eldest got hooked on Korean soap operas and Japanese dramas, she was a serious book addict.

"How old is she?"

"Seventeen, but she's been accepted at a good university."

The woman put down what she was doing and gave me her full attention. "Do you think she'd be willing to help?" she asked, clasping her hands.

"It's possible," I half lied.

"Please ask her!" the woman said, scribbling down her phone number. "Tell her she can phone me anytime."

"Of course."

I took the phone number the way I would put a wish in a bottle and cast it out to sea. The way I write queries to agents. I knew now that Eldest was really needed in the library, but it was still my idea.

Eldest took the number from me and heard me out, but she was skeptical. "She said she really needed someone?"

"Honey, she was desperate. She practically followed me out of the library when I told her about you."

"Hmpph. You're exaggerating. You always exaggerate."

"Not this time, I'm not." Please oh please oh please.

"I'll think about it."

A week later, I asked her if she'd gotten in touch. She nodded. "I'm going down there on Monday." She shrugged. "We'll see how it goes."

She's been volunteering at the library for a month now. She started with non-fiction, moved on to travel, then children's, then classics, then fiction.

"We're almost finished," she told me the other day. "And it looks so much better!"

There are huge benefits: she brings us home duplicate books, which we all happily devour, and the librarian is so pleased that she actually bakes for her. Eldest has something good to put on her C.V. now, but best of all, she knows she is really needed. And she is doing something she loves.

The other day, Eldest disappeared into her room for half the day and not even the promise of internet time could winkle her out.

"This book is incredible," she sighed when she finally surfaced. "I couldn't put it down."

It's her work and her passion. So what if it was my idea?


tanita s. davis said...

Ach, Mary, I read this and I could WAIL about that whole huge box of books I sent you guys that NEVER ARRIVED. How I hate that. You could have read them and donated them to the library... Yay for having something to do.

Bish Denham said...

There's nothing much better than combining a love of books and working in a library. I'm glad for you And your eldest.

debra said...

When there is passion, nothing stands in the way. Sometimes it is just the planting of a seed-------but we don't make it grow; they do.

Charlie said...

I was going to ask you for something to keep me busy, but maybe I'll ask your Eldest instead.

Mary Witzl said...

Tanita -- Believe me, I could wail with you! I have this fantasy that in some little corner of Mersin, sits the book-loving literate-in-English daughter of the postmaster general, curled up in a chair, reading book after book. Only after she's gone through all of them will she let her father send your package of books...

You were sweet to send the box whoever is reading those books. And you never know: we might just get it some day!

Bish -- Thank you -- me too! I really had so little hope that this would work out, but the fact that it did just thrills me to pieces.

Debra -- I have planted so many seeds and they've all withered on stony ground. But yes: this one took root and grew into a nice little tree.

Charlie -- Do not feel obliged! (And believe me, you wouldn't want to wade through pages of Eldest's fan fiction and translated animated movies...) We've just had a coup at work and I've been handed a brand-new schedule, or I'd polish up a whole ton of stuff and make you busier than you want to be...

Robin said...

Yay for eldest! What a great way to spend her time - no wonder the librarian is baking you guys stuff. With the free duplicate books, that has to be the perfect volunteer job.

I need a job for my eldest (Kevin). Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a big need for "expert whiner" or "excellent slob".

Barrie said...

I've got to take a lesson from you. I could come up with the absolute best idea in the world, but because is was MY idea, my first born rejects it out of hand. Wah!

adrienne said...

What a great story. So glad she went for the idea!
I'm already trying to figure out ways to make my kids think my best ideas are their own...

Christy said...

You're not going to reveal the book that had her entranced? I never pegged you for cruel, Mary.

I'm glad that Eldest is happy about her work. She should make sure to get a glowing letter from the librarian - good organizers are few and far between. That skill will take her far.

Mary Witzl said...

Robin -- The librarian might be baking it for all of us, but we've hardly been given a sniff of it, other than one batch of soda bread. Eldest has scarfed down brownies, banana bread, chocolate chip cookies -- and soda bread. She's figured out what makes my kid tick, that's for sure.

Barrie -- Believe me, that is what usually happens around here. The fact that this library thing worked is pretty much Guinness Book of World Records stuff. I wonder if I should send this in to them, come to think of it?

Adrienne -- I wish I could give you pointers on how to do this, but this was entirely a fluke. Prayer must help, though it hasn't necessarily worked before.

Christy -- Sorry! Carlos Ruiz Zafon's 'Shadow of the Wind'. She is absolutely mesmerized by this book -- it's wonderful to see.

Yes, she will definitely have to get a letter of recommendation testifying to her organizational skills. I'm just glad the librarian can't see her room.

Eryl Shields said...

Well done you for pulling this one off. sometimes you can get so trapped by nothing-to-do-ness that you can't get out of it without help. I'd love to work in a library, and I would definitely do it for brownies!

A Paperback Writer said...

Plus, that needed feeling may have prevented negative feelings that can creep in when a person is not needed -- and we all know that depression can begin when people of any age feel useless and worthless.
Good for her!
And good for you for risking it!

Kim Ayres said...

You surprise me, Mary. I thought you would have long ago learned the trick of convincing other people it was their idea all along.

"Do you remember how you were wonering if the library needed volunteers...?"

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I'd do it for brownies too. Hell, I'd do it for FREE! Especially if it meant that I'd get out of one of the classes I've been given this term...

APW -- I had nothing to lose, after all. We're still sparring, my Eldest and I -- as we probably will continue to do for the rest of our lives. But at least she did this and profited from it. And yes, she is discovering the joy of being useful.

Kim -- You'd be surprised how awful I am at this. Both my kids and my husband have razor-sharp antennae when it comes to my subtle suggestions for self-improving activities.

Barbara Martin said...

Wonderful post that made me laugh. Mary, you need to publish these so they go further afield.

Mary Witzl said...

Barbara -- Thank you! I've pretty much given up on finding a home for these pieces, but the fact that people do read them really cheers me up.