On a recent summer day, it came to my attention that my children were bored. This alert was not a subtle one; these are not subtle kids. The two syllables of "I'm bored" came out in the droning, whining tone of one of those French police sirens: "I'mmm bored … I'mmm bored."
Because the temperature was creeping up toward 100 degrees, I packed up my two daughters and took them to the coolest place I could think of: the public library. Once there, I filled out enough paperwork to either get them their very first library cards or to buy a whole other child.
The proud girls were handed their new cards to sign on the back, and then each stared at the shiny rectangle of plastic as if wondering how to turn it on and download something. I told them that with those cards they could take any book in that building home with them.
And that they could now drive a motor vehicle within the city limits. "Really?" they said, wide-eyed and expectant. No, that's fiction.
Is there anything we can give our children that is more exciting, more educational, more free than a library card? It is Alice's rabbit hole, Dorothy's yellow brick road, a winged Pegasus. That little piece of plastic can teach them how and where to satiate their curiosity, the responsibility of keeping up with the card and borrowed books, and that if they sound the alarm "I'm bored" within earshot of me, that they will be forced to better themselves.
Through the colorful forest of trees, we went into the children's section of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, that gleaming glass and steel lodge of literature. The girls perused titles, pulled out some books to get a sense of them, put some back and found a few to take home. My youngest, Genevieve, leaned toward oversize picture books with their tales of tigers, bugs, little boys and girls, and fables from far away. Nine-year-old Somerset focused on her folded-up summer reading list from Richland Elementary School.
During summer breaks when I was a child, my mother would stop by the main library when it was at the corner of McLean and Peabody to pick up a stack of books recommended for a boy my age. It was like a 100-degree Christmas for me. I would make my way through the pile, and she would then return them for another. I don't remember my first library card, but it must have been like being given a license to the world.
Watching my daughters and their growing excitement was especially heartening in today's world of the Internet, Google and the immediacy of knowledge — some good, some bad.
As they walked among the rows of books, their heads crooked slightly to read the spines, it was like the slowest web browser imaginable. Yet it was a great way for me to learn of their interests and to see where their curiosity, if unleashed in a room full of history, science and stories, might take them.
Will there be other milestones as exciting? Sure. They will both one day receive a driver's license, be accepted into college and get married. Those will be days of triumph and of excitement, days when boredom will be as forgotten as that overdue library book underneath Genevieve's bed.
This story originally appeared on The Commercial Appeal.