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High Drama At Story Hour

My neighborhood playgroup arranged to meet
at a Barnes and Noble for story hour yesterday; apparently the guy
is supposed to be really good and we thought it’d be
something different to do as a group. What with spring colds going
around and bad weather brewing, everyone bowed out and Maddie, Cora
and I were the last ones standing. Since Maddie loves books so much
though (and I’ll confess, it’s been a LONG time since
I’ve had the luxury of browsing a bookstore other than
Amazon) we decided to head over on our own. Maddie was disappointed
her new friends weren’t coming, but excited about story time.

Let me tell you something: my friends are lucky they stayed home.
Because the stories aren’t the only things that came out
during this story hour.

We arrived a few minutes early and found a
space in the loose circle on the floor. I had to practically sit on
Maddie, who was jumping up, grabbing a book, bringing it back to
read, then jumping up again as she spied another potential
blockbuster. Cora, meanwhile, was helpfully clearing all the bottom
bookshelves for a bit of spring cleaning, something she practices
every spare moment at home. The tots around us began to get
restless and I sensed it was time for Mr. Jeff to appear.

Except that the person whose head popped around the corner was
female, and decidedly NOT the famous Mr. Jeff.

Apparently Mr. Jeff was on vacation, so this poor employee was
filling in for the week. She had her work cut out for her; Mr. Jeff
clearly had some diehard fans in the audience, as evidenced by the
little boy who simply said, “Not Mr. Jeff?” over and
over in a quavering voice. The “Not Mr. Jeff” lady (who
was really quite good) pushed up her sleeves grimly and said
half-jokingly, “Little man, I’m going to win you over
by the end of this thing. I swear it.”

Things were going pretty well – she was hitting her groove in
the first book and all the kids were drawing still, paying close
attention – when something happened to upstage the reader and
pretty much guarantee she’d never forget this story hour.
From across the circle I heard a kind of barking sound, as if a
pump were being primed a few times, followed by an explosive
gushing that every mother can immediately identify:

Projectile vomiting.

Yes, some poor toddler puked all over her mommy just as the reader
was hitting her stride. There was a moment when everybody froze
– the reader, the mommy, and most of all, the little girl.
And then she (the girl, that is) began wailing.

All the other children began drawing near, unable to resist the
twin sirens of another kid crying AND the chance to see some puke.
Maddie whipped out Silky and stood up, unwilling to leave my
proximity but anxious about the crying girl. “Why is she
crying?” “She threw up honey.” “Why?”
“Her tummy hurts.” “Why?”

Meanwhile, a ripple of conflicting feelings ran through the
mommies: on the one hand, we all had deep sympathy for the
mortified (and drenched) mother, and wished we could either help
her or make her feel less bad about the situation. On the other
hand, you could see the fear on everyone’s faces of catching
whatever the little girl had just, um, tossed out. If you looked
hard enough, you could spy the thought bubbles above the women
bookmarking this mother, which read, “I wonder how long I
have to sit here before she’s not offended if I move

The poor mother kept repeating, “I’m sorry, she’s
never thrown up before,” while trying to clean the two of
them up. For some reason, the best she could find to clean with was
some Kleenex in her bag – wipes were nowhere in evidence, and
no mothers near her were cracking open their diaper bag.

It was one of those suspended moments when everything around you
seems frozen except for the sad little scene being played out, and
finally I reached into my diaper bag and silently slid my wipes
container across the circle at her. The mother allowed a small sob
to slip out as she opened them and wordlessly tried to wipe her
daughter off. I dug deeper into my bag and came up with
Maddie’s emergency t-shirt and held it up as an offering, a
question on my face.

“No, thank you, we’re going straight home I guess. And
it’s ok,” she said, turning to the mom next to her,
“if you want to move to the other side of the circle I
understand.” Relieved, the mom apologetically stood up and
pushed her stroller over near me.

How did the reader hold up? Remarkably well, which made sense after
she confessed she had a daughter of her own. When it became clear
the mother was ill-equipped to clean up a mess of that magnitude,
especially as she tried to comfort her daughter, the storyteller
went off to get the store manager, who came over and, with grim
efficiency, snapped on a pair of surgical gloves before getting
down to business.

And I swear, I heard a “Cool!” from the Mr. Jeff fan as
those gloves were snapped on.

Of course, no book could compete with the real live clean-up going
on, so we simply watched for a few minutes until it became old
news, then went back to story time. A chair was placed over the
“red zone” as the storyteller dubbed it, and life went

It was only after the mother had headed for the door that I
realized she still had my wipes. No big deal, of course, except
that it was the wipes case I’d had since Maddie was born and
had been so proud I hadn’t lost yet. I thought about running
after her for it, then realized two things:

1) That plastic wipes case had been messily groped by a pair of
hands that were up to the elbows in germy vomit; and

2) Being sentimentally attached to a plastic case that helps you
clean up poop is kind of sad.

So I let it go.

We stayed for a bit afterwards, browsing and buying, but the vomit
was clearly in the front of Maddie’s mind as it’s the
first thing she told Daddy and Gamma about when she recounted her
day. Will Maddie want to go back next week? Don’t know. But I
do know this:

Spontaneous projectile vomiting is a tough act to follow. Mr. Jeff
will have his work cut out for him when he gets back from


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