My oldest was born in Tennessee, but Syracuse is where I “became a mom.” Until my daughter was fifteen months old, we lived in temporary domestic locations or outside the US, so it wasn’t until we landed in CNY for the long term that I had the opportunity or inclination to seek out other mothers and come to terms with my new reality as a WAHM. Boy, was it hard. Without colleagues to connect with over work, or neighbors to chat with on a regular basis (we lived at first on a busy main road), I felt completely lost in this new city, with my active little kid, and no clear concept of what to do with her during the day.
So, being the frugal and kinda nerdy lady that I am, I decided we’d take up residence at the local library. Luckily for me, the Manlius branch was in walking distance of home. We hit up the kids’ section, the play gym, and of course, Miss Karen’s story time. I have to admit, I wasn’t a believer at first–Miss Karen seemed so…I don’t know…happy…it was almost kinda strange. Who in her right mind would be so darn thrilled to be surrounded by small children all day? I was going nuts cooped up at home with my little one, darling though she may have been.
And this woman was just cheerfully turning page after page, singing songs and nursery rhymes with gusto, filling the room with this amazing warm hearth-glow/heart-glow that, sure enough, drew me in too. Thanks to all the love she pours into that room, and offers to all who enter, whether young or young at heart, I’m not sure if we kept going back more for my daughter or for me.
I eventually connected with a few other mothers, and we had regular play-dates for a while at the library so
our kids could socialize we could hang out and talk to other adults for once. In addition to making new friends, becoming story time regulars helped me affirm who I wanted to be as a mom. Yes, I’ll happily embrace hours of reading (though not Goodnight Moon more than twice a day, dear God). Yes, I’ll rejoice in puppet play, Mother Goose, and pretend tickling (as long as the little buggers swear to self-entertain afterwards). And yes, I will acknowledge and connect with the adult humans inside the other sleep-deprived, messy bun-sporting shells of my peer mothers as we pupate into our fullest selves.
To this end, enter the grace and insight of Karen Porcello. “Miss Karen” knows over a thousand children. And she knows about raising kids, having both done it herself, and worked as a teacher in Syracuse and at the Fayetteville and Manlius libraries for decades. So it is no surprise that she is a font of wisdom when it comes to assuming the mantle of motherhood. I sat down with her after story time one day to ask for her perspectives on parenting. Here is some of her encouragement for parents in the trenches:
“Looking for perfection, that’s not a healthy goal. None of us are perfect. Looking for the wonder in the brokenness is what’s healthy.”
“You’re doing a whole lot better job than you think you are. Give yourself a break. Give yourself as much love as you give your children. You deserve as much love as you give your children.”
“Make sure that every day, that you tell your child you love them, and that every day, you hug them, physically, and that you ask them for that, also. And that sounds so obvious, but it’s not. Instead of a bath [one night], go have snuggle time. Just be with your kids.”
Finally, in our interview, Karen quoted the late Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” where he rumbles, “There is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in.” The love that fills Miss Karen’s story time let a lot of light into my crack-ridden early parenthood in Syracuse. It illuminated an uneasy time for me and helped me see the beauty in my new role as a mom, and in this CNY community. So cheers to you, mamas and papas. I raise my glass of sparkling home-brewed kombucha to you. Thanks for being broken with me, and thanks for letting me be broken with you. I’m so glad to see the SMB blog back in action, and I look forward to hearing and learning much more from my fellow local parents as we relaunch this community hub. Peace out!