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Signs You Need a Break

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
01/03/23  11:59 AM PST

Crying in the Library and Other Signs You Need a Break

One Wednesday in late winter, I returned a book to the library. Driving home, I felt pretty good about myself, knowing the book had a hold on it and the next person would be happy to know they could get it that much sooner. Then I got a call. It was one of the librarians. She wanted to know if the book had been “like that” when I got it.

“Like what?” I asked.

“The pages in the middle, they’re wrinkled.” She meant the wrinkly pages in the middle.

“I’m pretty sure it was ‘like that’ when I got it,” I said.

“Really? Because this book is brand new and it appears you are the only person who has checked it out.” The accusation was out in the open now.

I muttered something about “I’m so, sorry” and “I’m really careful with my books.”

In a tone part cop, part third grade teacher, she said she’d talk to her manager and also the processing department and call me back. I squirmed and wracked my brain. Had I unknowingly set this book down in some sort of liquid? Am I that much of a monster?

Ten minutes later I got the call. “I checked and it has been months since we have received a new shipment of books with any damage. Our policy is to charge the customer the cost of the book plus a five dollar fee,” she explained in a voice that broached no argument.

This would have been the appropriate time to say “okay,” and hang up. I did not. Instead, my chest tightened and to my total horror, I started crying. Ugly crying. The kind where I had to grab a paper towel and blow my nose. I apologized. I said I didn’t know how that had happened. The shame in disappointing this librarian was intense and sharp as a burn. I sobbed, “I write books. I loved books! I have never had a late fee! Of course I will pay and I’ll donate extra to the library!” And then I hung up and slunk home and cried some more in the driveway.

Obviously, this was not about the book.

My son Charlie has cerebral palsy. I have spent his entire life trying not to mess up. Every single decision on his behalf and action towards, or in regards, to him has felt weighty with significance. I am not good at getting things wrong. Even the little things.

This was a particularly weighty season of life. His tenth birthday was coming up and it had me thinking about bigger picture – what the next ten or twenty or fifty years would look like. We’d just met with a financial advisor about building him a room that better meets his needs. Spring break was coming and I worried if it was safe to travel in this ongoing pandemic while simultaneously trying to track down a beach wheelchair. Oh, and his therapeutic riding program let us know that they had misplaced his medical release forms and I would need to re-do them.

Most of the time, I think I’m doing fairly well until something small like a damaged book sends me toppling of the edge. It takes a call from the local library to reveal how hard I am white-knuckling life.

So this is my prescription to us both, dear care-giver: step back from the season you’re in and take a look at where you have been stretched thin, ask for help, and grant yourself some grace. Self-care isn’t just a nap and a hot cup of coffee you didn’t have to make (although that would be nice). It’s a mind-shift that encourages us to be gentle with ourselves. We are not always going to get it right when it comes to the ones we hold dear who have disabilities or when it comes to ourselves. And that’s okay. Just keep padding along with as much care as you can spare for your own imperfect self.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Author of the middle-grade novels:

















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