I take Celeste and Gavin to the library once a month or so, and allow them to borrow up to two videos each and as many books as they’d like.
Of course, I make them responsible for what they borrow. The way I figure it, if they are old enough to keep track of their iPods and Nintendo DSes, they are old enough to keep track of a dozen library books.
This arrangement has worked out well given that we never lost a book. Then “Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot” came into our lives, and challenged Gavin to a wicked game of hide and seek.
We didn’t even know the game started until we were at the library checking out the latest round of books. The librarian told us that we couldn’t borrow the books until we paid the fine for the overdue Ricky.
I paid the fine, and renewed the book for three weeks so Gavin could search the house for the elusive Ricky. He started the minute we arrived home. He looked in his book bag. Nothing. He went upstairs to search his bedroom. Zip. He looked in the living room. Empty.
He looked in the basement, the office, the family room, the car. All for naught. Everywhere Gavin looked, Ricky Ricotta remained a step ahead.
“You know what this means, right, Gavin?” I asked.
“That it’s lost,” he said.
“That’s right. And what does that mean?”
He thought about it for a moment. “That I have to pay for it.”
“That’s right. You do,” I said.
“How much does it cost?”
“I don’t know. Maybe $5 or $10,” I said. “We’ll have to ask the librarian.”
“OK,” he mumbled and walked away.
“But you have three weeks, Gavin,” I said. “I renewed the book to give you time to look for it, so you don’t have to pay the fine until it’s due again. You have three weeks to find it.”
I can’t remember if Gavin responded or not, but Ricky Ricotta remained hidden for the next three weeks. The library emailed me a reminder a few days before Ricky’s due date, so I asked Gavin if he had any luck finding him. He didn’t.
“I have an idea, Daddy,” he said. “If it’s $5, how about we split it. I pay $2 and you pay $3.”
I couldn’t stifle my belly laugh. “That’s a good one, Gavin. Why would I pay anything, let alone more than you, when you’re the one responsible for the book?”
“Because you’re the daddy.”
Another belly laugh. “Nice try, Gavin, but it’s not going to work. You have to pay the full cost of the book.”
“OK,” he said.
Ricky’s due date came, so I told Gavin to collect his money to pay for the lost book. He dutifully went to his bedroom, took his piggybank down from this dresser, and emptied it on the floor.
Gavin counted more than $6 in change, which I traded for some singles, and we went to the library. He was silent on the five-minute drive, and solemn as we walked up to the librarian, his head bowed down to the ground and his hands stuffed in his pockets.
“Hello,” I said to the librarian. “He needs to pay for a book he lost.”
Gavin put his $6 on the desk without saying a word.
“Well, why don’t I check for you? Sometimes books are placed back on the shelf without being checked back in.” She looked up our account, wrote the title of the book on a piece of paper, and walked back to the juvenile fiction section.
“I can show her where it is,” Gavin said. “I know right where it’s supposed to be.”
“Let’s just wait here,” I said. “And if it’s there, you’ll be one lucky 8-year-old boy.”
“Yeah, but then what happens to the money?”
“It’s yours. You get to keep it, but let’s see if it’s there first.”
Gavin glowed with anticipation at the thought of keeping the $6, as though he had just won the lottery and was dreaming about how many sports cars he could buy.
A moment later, the librarian walked back to the desk with Ricky Ricotta firmly in her hand. “Always ask us to check,” she said. “It doesn’t happen a lot, but it’s always worth checking first.”
“Thank you,” I said. “We will.”
Gavin nearly skipped his way back to the car. “I have $6,” he said proudly.
“Yes, you do. What are you going to do with it?”
“I don’t know, maybe buy a DS game with it or something.”
“You’ll need more than $6 for a game,” I said.
“I know,” he answered. “I’ll just save for it.”
“You can do that, but you know what, Gavin? I’m really proud of you.”
“Because you took responsibility for losing the book.”
“But I didn’t lose the book.”
“That doesn’t matter. You were willing to accept that you lost it. You counted your money without complaining, and you came here with me to pay the fine without crying.”
“Well, I was nervous.”
“I could tell, but you didn’t let your nerves get the best of you. You did the right thing even though you were nervous about it.”
“So what did you learn?”
“Um, to take responsibility for things?”
“That’s right. What else?”
“Um, don’t lose library books.”
“Sure, even though you didn’t. Anything else?”
He thought about it a moment then shrugged.
“That Ricky Ricotta plays a mean game of hide and seek,” I said.