Tempers weren't flaring, but tensions did seem to be rising as the parents struggled to do what they were trying to do while making sure the needs of their girls were met.
Perhaps it was my procrastination speaking, or maybe it was the desperate screams of my ovaries as they're shriveling up in my aging innards, but I thought, "Oh, I'd totally give that baby her bottle and they could do their thing."
Of course, not every baby is cool being whisked into the arms of a random stranger, so I'm not sure that would even work. At any rate, I sketched out ideas for my column as the kids squirmed as kids will while I sensed the parents resigning themselves to the fact that they were not going to accomplish much that morning.
Been there, done that.
So (and this is the kind of thing I like to imagine myself doing, but typically only manage to do so in my mind) I approached their table and offered to read with their preschooler. They looked at me like I was crazy. Did it matter that we're not the same race? Really, I think it was more the shock of a random person coming up and offering to spend time with their child.
"My son is in a program here for another hour. He's older and I never get to read stories to him anymore." I explained.
I still got kind of a quizzical look.
"We'll just sit right over there, so you can see us."
I'm not sure the mom so much agreed as simply looked at her girl and then I looked at the girl and said, "Do you want me to read books with you?"
She nodded and I said, "Let's go to the corner." She brought her books over and we plopped down on the floor, effectively destroying every Stranger Danger lesson she's ever had. (I didn't think about this until later. In retrospect, I'm not even sure if I had their full consent. I was just like- let's do this.)
At any rate, just a few feet away from her family, we read an alphabet book about Illinois, talking about Abe Lincoln and our state bird, the cardinal, and other fun facts. She told me that she's five and headed to kindergarten in the fall. When we got to the letter W, she surprised me by reading the sentences all by herself. When we opened the next alphabet book, this one with a music theme, we took turns reading and naming the instruments we saw.
Alas, her baby sister had reached her limit and broke into a full cry. They needed to leave before we even made it past K.
We hastily packed up the books and I returned her to her parents. The mom tried to clarify what I was doing as a lone adult* in the children's section, but in a friendly way. "How old is your son? What is he doing?"
"A computer club that meets here on Saturdays. He's a teenager. I never get to do this kind of thing anymore." I have to admit it was a lot of fun. Once I put out of my mind the awful, obnoxious tantrums my boys had as 3-year-olds, I have to say that 3-5, the preschool years, was my favorite time with them. Kids that age are cute and curious, they have good language skills, keen observations, and vivid imaginations that flow with uncensored ideas.
I told her mom what a good reader the girl was and that I was sure she would do well in kindergarten--but also cautioned her to make sure the girl's teachers challenge her and don't just ignore her because she's quiet type who can already read. I didn't think to ask if she's headed to a magnet school or anything.
In fact, I didn't even think to introduce myself! Maybe we'll run into each other again in a few weeks. In the meantime, perhaps I should sign on as a volunteer reading budding at our local library this summer.
*I was in the children's section looking up books for my article.