I do not know why I kept on taking Jamie to the library. We made many trips when he was young, and they never went well. Like Charlie Brown running up to kick the football, thinking to himself "This is the time that I will finally get to kick it!", I kept on thinking to myself "This is the time we will finally have a nice father-son bonding session over some lovely picture books, and it will not end in frustration and/or humiliation". But I was always wrong. Jamie always pulled that metaphorical football away.
The first time I ever took him, he was a toddler, in his pushchair. I was sure he would love it there, because he loved books and bedtime stories, and surely the sight of shelves full of books would bring a smile to his face? I wheeled him through the sliding doors, and turned the pushchair around to see the look on his face as he saw all the books. When I saw his face, it was not the look I was expecting - he did not look happy. In fact, he looked a little nauseous. Oh dear. He started to retch, and I quickly reached out just as he threw up, and I caught it perfectly in my cupped hands. I do not know if you have ever found yourself in a public library with both hands full of warm baby sick, and four librarians staring at you in a concerned manner, but let me tell you it is not a pleasant experience. I had no idea what to do, but as the vomit began to seep through my fingers, I know that I had to do it quickly.
Over the next few years, despite the unpromising start, we continued to go back again and again. Each time it was a disaster, but for different reasons. Sometimes Jamie would run around the library giggling or screaming, sometimes he would jump on other children and demand cuddles. One time we foolishly attempted a parent-toddler story-time session, and Jamie kept snatching the book from the poor old lady who was trying to read Commotion in the Ocean to a small crowd of bemused toddlers and irritated parents. One time we did not even make it into the library because on the way Jamie unscrewed the lid from his water bottle and poured the contents down the front of my trousers.
But it was the last time I took him that really sticks in my mind. I say "the last time" and that is exactly what I mean. We can never go back.
Jamie and I arrived at the library in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon. Holding Jamie's hand as I strode confidently through the doors, I smiled at the librarian behind the counter. I did not recognize her, but I assumed she remembered us; I think most people probably remember us. My intention was to pick up a few picture-books for Jamie and a couple of novels for Meg, but I thought it would be nice to show Jamie round the books and perhaps read a few stories to him first. I have no idea why I thought it would be a pleasant way to pass the time - clearly I had forgotten the previous dozen-or-so visits.
Nevertheless I was as optimistic as ever as I led Jamie towards the children's book section, where I tried to draw his attention to the picture books.
"Ooh look Jamie, it's There's An Ouch in My Pouch - we like that one don't we?
No Jamie, don't go over there, those books are for older children, you wouldn't like those.
What's that you've picked up?"
It was a Kestrel For a Knave and I was momentarily distracted by the memory of reading it myself at school and noticing that it seemed to be the same edition. That was the point at which Jamie decided to launch it across the library; it fluttered over my head and landed a few metres behind me with a soft thud. I span round quickly to pick it up, but that was a mistake; I should have restrained Jamie first, because while I was picking it up I heard another fluttering sound followed by a soft thud, as The Voyage of the Dawn Treader landed nearby. I turned back to face Jamie, and narrowly avoided being hit in the face by Stig of the Dump. In the time it took me to reach him he also managed to launch a collection of Aesop's Fables and a Rainbow Fairies novel (altogether an eclectic choice I think you will agree). Flutter, Flutter. Thud! Thud!
He chuckled as I told him off and made him pick up all the books. Even though I was a little cross, I had to admire the fact that he had thrown the older children's books and not the picture books - it was as though he had instinctively known that the small paperbacks were going to be more aerodynamic than the big books for preschoolers.
After another couple of failed attempts to interest Jamie in the picture books, I abandoned the idea and decided instead to focus on getting something for Meg.
I lead Jamie by the hand over towards the "G" section of adult fiction, looking for a Phillipa Gregory novel that Meg might not have read. As soon as we got near the shelves though, Jamie started trying to grab the books, so I had to restrain him by holding onto both hands. However, he then started trying to knock the books off the shelves with his feet, and I was finding it very difficult to stop him. I should have given up and taken him home at that point, but I was determined to get Meg something to read, so I came up with a solution - I put him on my back. Jamie loves a piggy-back, so I was sure he would co-operate, and if he was behind me, he would not be able to reach the books, right? Well, yes and no. Because I stood far enough back from the books, Jamie could not reach them; however, I forgot about the shelf of books behind us. Jamie did not forget. My heart sank as I heard the sound of Catch 22 flying across the room and landing in Philosophy and Psychology. I took half a step forward so that he could not reach the books behind him, and I hoped he still could not reach the books in front of him. I saw his hands reach out, and sure enough, he could not quite reach the books - however, he could reach the shelf itself. What happened next seemed to happen in slow motion. I saw him grab the shelf with both hands, and I felt him tense up as he put his not inconsiderable strength into his grip. For a split second I though he was going to pull the whole shelf down, but then I felt his body twist, as he used his knees to throw me off balance. My own knees buckled, and with Jamie's weight on my back I went down hard to the floor. Lying in a heap, I groaned. It felt as though several of my limbs were not spread out at unnatural angles, and my body was crumpled and squashed in a way that made me worry for my internal organs. What worried me most though, was the thought that Jamie must also have been hurt when we fell. Had I landed on him? Surely that would break a rib or two, or worse? What if he had banged his head when he fell? He was still on my back so I could not see him, but he had suddenly gone very quiet. After what was probably only a split second, I felt him move again. He was okay! I realised I could not be angry with him for knocking me down - for a second I had thought he might be hurt, and then I had discovered he was okay, and I was just so relieved that I felt no anger, just love. I felt him moving again.
Then I heard a familiar fluttering sound, followed by a distant soft thud, and a low chuckling in my ear.