Laurea occupies a role in Kina’s life that straddles accommodation and enforcement. Sitcoms teach us that in any parenting situation in which two adults can be played off each other, there will be a good cop and a bad cop, but in these times, I’m disinclined to identify either of us as any kind of cop—so I’d offer instead that in every parenting dyad, there is a nice librarian and the stern librarian (because librarians are saints, and I’d do that job in a minute if I didn’t live in this money pit of a city.)
Readers who know Kina’s parents may be mildly surprised to learn that Laurea is often the nice librarian, while I stake out the territory of stern librarian. It is Laurea to whom Kina goes for special treats and extra coddling; from me, she gets the rules. Laurea is usually the first to pick her up off the ground during a tantrum, while I am better known for standing silently over her as she screams on the sidewalk. Mommy nurtures, Daddy nudges. This divergence has surprised us both as it’s played out, since we both expected me to be a gigantic pushover with the offspring; it’s in my nature. Friends often joke about the intensity of purpose Laurea brings to her relationships, but her unfathomable kindness with Kina is a reminder that parenthood digs deep for the parts of your personality that you’ve been saving for a rainy day.
It’s not all cut and dried, though; Kina has been known to extract a bag or ten of gummy bears from me on a stroll through the grocery, and Laurea’s patience has limits. The nice librarian has all the same rules as the stern one, and when you cross her, the contrast is more notable. “You have judgement,” Kina told Laurea the other day, as Laurea put her foot down about the one thing she will not tolerate—a mess. Unwavering, Laurea insisted that Kina take care of her things and this apartment (a key component of our social contract), leading ultimately to a chastened but reluctant four-year-old picking up whatever it was that was out of place.
Nothing wrong with judgement, really; we have to show discernment in order to choose the better way. It’s the judgement that we bring to this work that tells us who we are—and which Kina will someday herself choose to integrate or dismiss. I do not care if Kina turns out to be a carbon copy of either Laurea or me, but I want her to understand the value and work of judgement, so that she knows how to tend her own belief system. It matters to me that she holds an opinion about what is and isn’t going to fly with her, and that she can defend that position and insist on it when it matters. It was judgement that Laurea and I bonded over nineteen years ago, and it’s judgement that we’re demonstrating to our daughter.
What kind of librarian do I want Kina to grow up to be? Of course, the nice librarian makes people want to read books, to participate in the civic discourse, to stay after school. It’s the stern librarian that shapes you, though—the one who tells you to put your books back, to respect others, to value the good books and question the mediocre ones, and to honor sacred space. You always remember the stern librarian, and you never, ever cross her. Remember that next time you leave a mess. Thanks, Mommy.