I was the child that loved the library. It was something about handing the librarian my library card. It amazed me when she would stamp the due date on the slip and insert it in the back pocket of the book. I couldn’t wait for my kids to experience that.
Southfield Public Library is beautiful. The children’s section has comfy chairs, a tree house reading area. It was a magical place. I’m sure they have made additional improvements since we moved. I can remember the joy Harrison experienced when he received his library card. I wanted Sydney to have that same experience.
When Sydney was six we all went to the library. I shared a social story with her so she knew what to expect. I made sure that we were the first ones in line at the door like it was a Black Friday sale. We walked up to the counter and I explained to the clerk that my daughter wanted a library card. She took all of my information and handed a library card for Sydney to sign. I gave Sydney a pen and told her to write her name. She did her best and handed the card to the clerk. We were all ready to go and look for books, when the clerk said “I can’t read this.” “If she can’t write her name she can’t have a library card.”
By now there are a few people behind us and I’m feeling anxious. I couldn’t believe what she said to me. I calmly asked her to repeat herself. I explained that Sydney has autism and epilepsy. She proceeded to say loudly “If I can’t read it, she doesn’t get a card.” Now just when I thought that things couldn’t get worse. A little girl behind us asked her mom, “Why can’t that girl write her name?” The mom replied “because she’s retarded”. So now I had to decide which battle I wanted to fight the clerk or the mother. The clerk’s comments pierced my soul. She told me she didn’t know what the big deal was and that I should just check out the books for her with my card.
I had to reflect for a moment and I remember thinking, is it wrong that I want her to have her own library card? Am I overreacting? Maybe I’m not thinking clearly because I’m exhausted. Then I started singing my own theme song in my head. “Y’all gonna make me loose my mind up in here up in here. Y’all gonna make me act a fool up in here up in here”.
When I looked at the faces of my children it was a reminder that they will model me. If I started screaming and acting out a scene from The Diary of a Mad Black Woman. My kids would think that’s how problems are solved. So in my calmest voice I began to speak. Please know that my next statement had nothing to do with race because the clerk harassing me was black. I asked her nicely for another card. She rolled her eyes and gave me one. This time I told Sydney to put a big X on the signature line. She did it and handed the card back to the clerk. Before she could speak I told her that if Harriet Tubman could sign her name with an X, so could Sydney Gabrielle Copher. My analogy probably wasn’t the best but I was struggling.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. All I could think of was that it was security and we were getting thrown out of the library. When I turned around a lady asked if the kids and I could come to her office. She apologized for what she witnessed. She kept saying how she was surprised at how calm I was. I just smiled at her because it was just another confirmation of how hard life would be for Sydney.
She invited us back the next day before the library opened so Harrison and Sydney could have the children’s section all to themselves. She was concerned that it would be too early for us to come. I told her not to worry. We’re like Motel 6, the lights are always on and we’re always open.😉
In the end Sydney had her own library card and I think that was the moment that I knew I had to be an autism advocate.
Update: Sydney was able to print her first and last name when she was in the second grade. Now she can sign her name in cursive.