Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oh, how the mighty have fallen...

I am fortunate enough to live in a city with a pretty dang terrific public library system.

There is a fabulous main branch in a gorgeous old building near the universities, and a number of smaller branches all over the city. The collection is expansive and what one branch does not have, another does. If no branch has a book you want, the ILL department will get it for you, usually at no cost. Until recently, no fines were charged for kids’ materials, and the fines were something insane like 15 cents a day on adult books. Just this year the fines went up, and they began charging fines for children’s materials. I can’t blame them in the least – the budget woes are enough to make a library patron weep. So now fines are something like a quarter a day for overdue books, and they charge for all kids’ materials, which, since I live with Mr. Oh-was-I-supposed-to-return-that-book-sometime-this-year? (and I am not talking about H) means I frequently fork over large amounts of cash to my appreciative librarians. But it’s all for a good cause, which we use with astonishing frequency and almost always successful results. If I didn’t have this amazing library, I would buy way more books than I already do, which is saying something.

Our closest branch closed last spring for renovations. It seems renovations turned into gut the whole dang building and start from scratch, and it’s STILL closed. It’s scheduled to re-open this summer, but unless the plans include al fresco reading rooms, it doesn’t seem likely.

The next closest branch is a lovely library. It’s a smaller collection than I am used to, but it’s in a beautiful old building, and it has a huge, sunny children’s room with a nice train table and some arm chairs where my kids can play while I steal a few minutes in the grown up stacks to find something to read. The staff there has welcomed the closed branch’s clientele with warmth and enthusiasm, and while they won’t hang onto my holds for me until I can show up to get them regardless of the date I am SUPPOSED to pick them up (oh, Suzy my Favorite Librarian, how I miss you), they are happy to hold them a day or two longer if I call specifically.

But: here’s the catch. (There’s ALWAYS a catch.)

Theat next closest branch is in a not so nice part of town. A part of town that I am, quite frankly, not entirely comfortable driving through . A part of town in which I make absolutely sure I have locked my van doors. A part of town in which, were I unfortunate enough to have to live there, I would not be comfortable throwing my kids outside to play all the time the way I do now. It LOOKS fine. It usually IS fine. Except when it’s not. It was the epicenter of the gang activity in the 1990s, activity which has seen a renewal and increase in the past year or two. And this past weekend, an elderly woman, a local resident, was shot by a 15 year old boy, who was trying to shoot someone else who had shot one of HIS friends last year. He was firing an illegal (but of course) handgun off a railroad trestle into oncoming traffic and managed to hit this woman who was walking home from the library.

My (city-born and raised) husband has never been especially happy with my decision to go to this branch, and take the boys there. He lived here in the early ‘90s and remembers all too well the cesspit this neighborhood was.

My argument has always been, But we live IN a city. Things can happen ANYWHERE. And while there was a shooting just outside my house last Labor Day, on a beautiful sunny summer day when my boys were riding their bikes in our alley, you can somehow rationalize even that – after all, to not rationalize that event means selling a house and uprooting a family from a community and friends and schools…but this. This I can change. We don’t HAVE to go to this branch. Even though I feel fearful and hopelessly, glaringly middle class and, and, I admit it, WHITE, letting this scare me off.

We can travel a few more miles up the road to another branch, in a more upscale, fairly wealthy (and admittedly predominantly white) neighborhood. Where some horrible things have also happened in the past few years, but none quite so random. None that couldn’t be avoided by watching my kids closely and not walking down the street at 10pm and …I know I am rationalizing. But the thought of me ignoring my husband’s concerns, and ignoring the news reports of this innocent bystander dying at the hand of an idiotic teenager with access to illegal firearms, and endangering knowingly my children, who are my life, my heart…I can’t do it.

The only one agonizing over this is me.
Just so you know.
I’ll bet the library staff almost expects its white clientele to hightail it up the road to the next branch, and I think that is what’s bugging me.
I don’t want to be that person.
I don’t want to be that person, so one of my boys doesn’t grow up to be that person.
And yet it’s for my boys that I am becoming that person.
Once again parenthood has managed to turn my perception of myself on its head.

9 comments:

Caro said...

But if it were a bad neighborhood filled with white people and a white teen had done the shooting, you would still go to the new library I know. A bad neighborhood is a bad neighborhood regardless of the racial make-up of its citizens. It's not wrong to want to keep your children safe. That has nothing to do with color and everything to do with parenting.

Cat said...

I've read and am all caught up. On your skiing (so jealous! I've never been), St. Paddy's Day (wish I woulda gone), basketball (Go Gators! yes, I know they're not in it), HUGE booklist, and new laptop (congrats).

Whew.

As far as your local library decision, I've said it before, you are an amazing mother. Do what ya gotta do.

Kristin said...

I have kind of a similar situation with our library, but maybe not so extreme. With our whole neighborhood, actually. We bought this house right before our first child was born. It's in a "transitional" neighborhood; definitely on the way up, but still has pockets of problems.

We live about 6 blocks from our nearest branch library, and every week I debate whether I want to walk there or drive to the gorgeous downtown location. To get to the branch library I have to walk past a large porn store, various liquor stores, gas stations, etc., and down a major 6 lane street. We pass homeless men hanging out at the drop-in shelter church, and encounter all sorts of interesting people at the library itself.

My husband hates that I take the kids there, but I feel very strongly that it's our neighborhood, and we need to be out in it. We chose to live here because we wanted our kids to be raised in an urban environment and be exposed to people who were different from them, in race, economic status, age, etc. I still believe that, but I agree with you--putting it into practice with actual children as opposed to your imaginary children is more difficult than I would have thought.

I don't think you are a bad person for switching libraries. Random violence is scary and you need to keep your family safe. I would reconsider my decision if there had been a shooting outside my library too.

Dawn said...

It seems that based on your post and your comments that this type of thing is happening all over the states. It's unbearable.

I also don't want to be that person, that white person...and like Kristin (above) I want to BE in my neighborhood but when a swat team and six policemen are aiming a gun at a woman who is holding her gun in the air while my toddler and I prepare to leave our house at 3:00 in the afternoon...(that just happened three days ago)I've gotta do what I've gotta do. It seems that it's no longer safe to walk to the library in a lot of neighborhoods that have those before mentioned pockets of bad. It's so sad. I hope whatever decision you come to is one that every member of your household can live with. But if I were you I'd probably explain to the kids why we are going to the other branch and hope that with all of the other examples of acceptance and diversity you present to them that they eventually get it. I'm sure they will.

oakleyses said...

ugg boots, ray ban sunglasses, louis vuitton, polo ralph lauren, tory burch outlet, gucci handbags, tiffany and co, air max, nike free, burberry pas cher, michael kors pas cher, louis vuitton outlet, longchamp outlet, oakley sunglasses, oakley sunglasses wholesale, oakley sunglasses, louis vuitton outlet, louboutin pas cher, sac longchamp pas cher, louis vuitton, nike air max, longchamp pas cher, christian louboutin, christian louboutin shoes, jordan shoes, polo outlet, chanel handbags, ray ban sunglasses, christian louboutin uk, prada handbags, uggs on sale, longchamp outlet, replica watches, tiffany jewelry, christian louboutin outlet, cheap oakley sunglasses, louis vuitton outlet, nike free run, ugg boots, jordan pas cher, oakley sunglasses, replica watches, kate spade outlet, nike outlet, nike air max, longchamp outlet, nike roshe, polo ralph lauren outlet online, ray ban sunglasses

oakleyses said...

true religion outlet, polo lacoste, nike air max uk, michael kors outlet online, guess pas cher, true religion jeans, michael kors outlet, kate spade, replica handbags, michael kors outlet online, new balance, michael kors outlet, nike air max uk, nike air force, michael kors, sac vanessa bruno, vans pas cher, burberry outlet, michael kors outlet, mulberry uk, ray ban uk, nike tn, nike roshe run uk, burberry handbags, abercrombie and fitch uk, converse pas cher, lululemon canada, true religion outlet, michael kors outlet online, ray ban pas cher, coach outlet store online, sac hermes, michael kors outlet online, true religion outlet, michael kors, hollister pas cher, nike blazer pas cher, uggs outlet, hogan outlet, coach outlet, timberland pas cher, ralph lauren uk, coach purses, hollister uk, north face uk, oakley pas cher, nike free uk, uggs outlet, nike air max

oakleyses said...

nike air max, insanity workout, vans outlet, vans, hollister, ghd hair, hollister, bottega veneta, mac cosmetics, new balance shoes, ralph lauren, mcm handbags, oakley, mont blanc pens, nike roshe run, p90x workout, nfl jerseys, babyliss, instyler, toms shoes, wedding dresses, gucci, louboutin, hollister clothing, abercrombie and fitch, north face outlet, soccer jerseys, jimmy choo outlet, lululemon, lancel, celine handbags, herve leger, chi flat iron, asics running shoes, longchamp uk, hermes belt, baseball bats, ferragamo shoes, nike trainers uk, soccer shoes, valentino shoes, timberland boots, reebok outlet, converse, nike air max, ray ban, converse outlet, north face outlet, beats by dre, nike huaraches

oakleyses said...

nike air max, insanity workout, vans outlet, vans, hollister, ghd hair, hollister, bottega veneta, mac cosmetics, new balance shoes, ralph lauren, mcm handbags, oakley, mont blanc pens, nike roshe run, p90x workout, nfl jerseys, babyliss, instyler, toms shoes, wedding dresses, gucci, louboutin, hollister clothing, abercrombie and fitch, north face outlet, soccer jerseys, jimmy choo outlet, lululemon, lancel, celine handbags, herve leger, chi flat iron, asics running shoes, longchamp uk, hermes belt, baseball bats, ferragamo shoes, nike trainers uk, soccer shoes, valentino shoes, timberland boots, reebok outlet, converse, nike air max, ray ban, converse outlet, north face outlet, beats by dre, nike huaraches

oakleyses said...

canada goose, links of london, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, canada goose jackets, louis vuitton, pandora jewelry, marc jacobs, hollister, ugg pas cher, thomas sabo, pandora jewelry, louis vuitton, juicy couture outlet, moncler, canada goose outlet, swarovski crystal, supra shoes, canada goose, wedding dresses, moncler outlet, swarovski, canada goose outlet, louis vuitton, canada goose, moncler outlet, moncler, montre pas cher, louis vuitton, pandora charms, canada goose uk, pandora uk, moncler, moncler, louis vuitton, ugg uk, moncler uk, karen millen uk, coach outlet, doudoune moncler, ugg, canada goose outlet, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, juicy couture outlet, replica watches