The last time I entered the library was June 24. I remember specifically because as the librarian was checking out the 18 children’s books I’d hastily plucked off the shelves while trying to keep two small children from committing any crimes related to county property, she greeted me with “Merry Half-Christmas Eve!!”
At the time I smiled and nodded, but inside I sneered, cursing this sweet woman so full of good cheer for mentally rushing me through summer. It’s JUNE, woman! I silently scoffed. When I got home I posted a snarky status update on Facebook about her, saying something like “outwardly I smiled; inwardly I decked her.” Ha-ha-ha, friends and family got a good chuckle out of the image of me punching a librarian in the kisser.
Turns out karma is a very real thing.
Nine weeks and two online renewals later, the summer was over and the books were gathering dust in the corner of my living room. Wednesday morning, with both boys happily playing at the next-door neighbor’s house, I retrieved all 18 books from various hiding spots around the house, threw them into a reusable grocery bag and headed to the car. I had a couple errands to run and the library was first on my list. No late fine for me! I was two whole days early. (Not counting the six weeks since their original due date.)
Except my car battery was dead. Clickclickclickclickclick went the ignition. Clickclickclickclickclick I tried it again. And again. And probably about seven more times, because I was waiting for the battery to magically recharge so I could go on about my day as planned and return this gigantic bag of books.
My husband replaced the battery Thursday night, which meant Friday — the actual due date — would have to be Library Day. Luckily I still had the books all packed together in the bag, which made me feel very organized and together. Life quickly taught me otherwise.
At the library, which doubles as the town’s municipal building, I parked in the closest empty space and left the car running with the A/C on and the boys inside while I jumped out to drop the books in the outdoor book drop. Except it was locked. I yanked on the handle again, nada. Then I noticed a sign taped to the door that said “Book Drop Inside.”
The hassle of getting everyone out of (and back into) car seats just to trek inside for a 7-second errand was something I’d really hoped to avoid. So I glanced back at the car, then sprinted to the front door, opened it and peered inside. Maybe the book drop is right inside the door, I thought, scanning the hallway. Nothing.
I ran back toward the car and pondered my options. That’s when a nice older woman walked by me on her way out; she noticed the bag heavy with books I had slung over my shoulder and said, “The book drop is inside the library, down the hall.” She saw my hesitation but didn’t understand the root of it. “It’s just,” I stammered, “My kids are still in my car and I can’t…”
“Oh I’ll take them in!” she said brightly, and I was so grateful I wished I could bake her a loaf of banana bread, the kind with those little mini chocolate chips and just a sprinkling of crushed walnuts that make the whole thing taste like love. She took my full bag and brought it back empty while I stood on the sidewalk next to my car and thought about eating banana bread.
Two minutes later as I pulled back onto the road I was still smiling at my good fortune. That’s when I saw the flashing lights in my rear-view mirror.
“Do you know why I pulled you over, ma’am?”
“No, actually, I don’t.”
“Your registration is expired.”
“What? I don’t think so. This year’s sticker must have fallen off.”
“That’s what I assumed too. So I ran your plates.”
Turns out he was right. Plates were expired. Which meant the inspection was expired. Which meant the emissions test was expired. Oy. After pawing through 4,000 wadded napkins jammed into my glove box to retrieve a current (YES! SOMETHING WAS CURRENT!) insurance card, I waited 10 excruciating minutes to receive three tickets and answer the same “Can we go to the playground now?” question 70 times. We could see the playground from the curb where we sat, and my children could not understand why Mommy was not driving the additional three blocks to bring us there.
When we did eventually get there, I called my husband to tell him about the tickets. In the middle of the conversation, Kostyn ran over to tell me he had to pee. Like, right now. I scanned the area for restrooms, trees, anything nearby. There was nothing ideal, so I led him over to a shady corner (we were the only ones at this particular playground) and he pulled down his shorts and proceeded to pee all over his feet and mine.
“I gotta go honey, Kostyn just peed all over me.” This day was really starting to suck.
I pulled out the few baby wipes I had in my purse and did my best to clean us both up. My instinct was to cut our losses and head home, but Kostyn insisted he still wanted to play. So I took off my flip-flops and settled onto a bench, thinking Yeah, let’s salvage this morning! That’s when Evan came hopping over. “Mama, I’m pooty.”
Forty minutes and one diaper change later I was home, happy that the morning was behind us and I had at least gotten all those library books returned on time. Lord knows I didn’t need any more fines today. That’s when the phone rang.
“Mrs. Passante, this is Angela calling from the library. It seems you returned a book to us this morning, called ‘When the Moon Is High,’ that actually belongs to the Hunterdon County Library System in New Jersey.”
“Yes ma’am. Do you have a Hunterdon County Library Card?”
“Uh, no,” I said. “But my sister lives there, and she recently gave me a whole bunch of her old books. I’ll bet she bought it at one of their book sales.”
“I suppose that could be true, but this book does not look like it was purchased at a book sale. The only price on it is the original list price. It still has the library system’s bar codes on the spine.”
“OK. Well, I’ll check with my sister.”
“Ma’am, I think this book belongs to the Hunterdon County Library.” In my mind, the librarian on the other end of the phone was now wearing a Santa hat.
“Um, OK, I’ll check with the library?”
“That would be great.”
“OK. Oh, wait a minute. I knew I had 18 books due today, and I know I counted 18 books in my bag. Does this mean there’s still one book out?”
“Hmm, let’s pull up your account and see,” she said, putting on an air of helpfulness. “Yes, according to your account, you returned 17 books this morning. You still have ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’s Many Adventures’ checked out.”
“Greaaaaaaat,” I groaned. I hadn’t seen that book in at least seven weeks.
“Says here it’s due today, and …. ohhhh, sorry, I was going to renew it for you but there are no more renewals available for this book.”
Karma, baby. Ho. Ho. Ho.