The following story is true. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent ...
For four glorious hours, I will have perfect peace! No chattering children and no dirty diapers to deal with. No one at my elbow asking for another drink or if they can go outside on a cold, wet day. Today is all mine! I smile and wiggle my toes, then slip out of bed and into comfortable clothes.
While volunteering in a basement sale room may not be high up on other moms' list, it's a big deal for me. I happen to love books. I also love meeting other adults and having meaningful conversations - without being interrupted ten times to wipe runny noses or settle sibling squabbles.
When the phone rings, I grab it and hear Jana, my babysitter all out of breath. She's on the way to the emergency room with hubby, who has cut his arm with a chain saw. Can I find another babysitter? I don't tell her she was my last resort. Promising to pray for them, I hang up and head for the kitchen.
"That was Mrs. Jana," I explain. "She can't keep you today, so you'll be going with me to the Booke Nooke today."
"Oh, goodie!" Melissa grins around her cereal spoon. She loves books as much as her mom does. "Oh, doodie!" echoes eighteen-month-old Kevin from his high chair. My four-year-old cowboy Jason growls, "Let's get outta here, dudes!"
Volunteers at the Ashland Public Library are supposed to arrive early, but the door is locked. When I tap on the window, a worker looks up and mouths at me,
We don't open until 9:00, and I mouth right back, I'm the Booke Nooke volunteer.
Raising one eyebrow, she looks us over, turns on her heel and disappears into the head librarian’s office.
"Why can't we go in?" Jason grumps. It's wet and cold on the sidewalk.
Just then a silver-haired lady crosses the carpet, unlocks the door and states, "You're the volunteer? And these are ... your children."
I'm tempted to say, "No, m'am. I found them playing in the street and thought I'd bring them by to pull all the books off your shelves." Instead, I explain my babysitting dilemma and the urgent need to get downstairs before sale seekers arrive.
"We've gotta hurry," my daughter prods.
The librarian sniffs and hands me the key to the Booke Nooke. Even with riding the elevator, I will be hard pressed to get downstairs, unlock the sale room, get three children settled, open the cash drawer, arrange the latest donations on shelves and - catch my breath.
My daughter tries to help by stopping our first customer at the doorway. "We aren't ready yet. Can you wait in the hall?"
He smiles sympathetically when I apologize. The man should be wearing a best-first-customer badge. His patience is priceless as he interacts with the children and offers to arrange the newly-donated books for me. Turns out he is also a volunteer and has a lot more experience in the Booke Nooke than I do.
More people straggle in over the next hour while Mr. Kindheart - as I've dubbed him - greets them. He even introduces them to the children and brags on how well-behaved they are. I am one relieved Mama and pause to wink at my three cherubs.
Moments later, however, I hear a familiar sound. One I'd rather hear at home or in some remote corner of planet Earth. It is my younger son, who has crawled up onto a handy bookshelf, hiked his rear in the air and is grunting like a woman in labor. And just in case the adults aren't privy to this behavior, his big brother booms out, "Bubby's having a VOWEL movement!"
There are chuckles all around, and then various explanations for their grand exodus soon after. My daughter sums it up well when she waves one hand under her nose and giggles, "Shoo-weee!"
I leave a note on the desk and close the door behind us, then herd my three kiddos onto the elevator. While I'm disposing of a loaded diaper and replacing it with a fresh one, the other two have permission to step across the hall and visit the children's storybook section. When they beg to stay awhile, I relent.
Back downstairs, my sweet-smelling dumplin' son draws adoring glances from the next customers who show up. As they are leaving, I become anxious for the next volunteer to report. All things considered, we need to get back to familiar home turf.
A bit later, Kevin and I go upstairs to collect his siblings and report the missing volunteer Booke Nooker to the librarian. Thankfully, she tells me to lock up if we want to leave. I don't know about the kids, but this part of the we has been ready to leave since the infamous "vowel" experiment.
Back in the basement once more, I am counting up sales receipts when Jason approaches the desk and announces, "I gotta go." Don't let anybody tell you old folks are the only ones with frequent-bladder syndrome. This child can hang with the best of them! I ask if he can wait just five more minutes? He cannot. Melissa volunteers to escort her brother upstairs and down again.
Just as I finish locking the cash drawer, an alarm goes off. Why is it moms immediately suspect their children are involved in catastrophes? Call it instinct if you like, but it propels me up the stairs with Kevin hanging on for dear life.
My daughter is standing near the elevator. Beside her, the custodian desperately punches codes into the alarm box. Kevin slaps both hands over his ears and yells, "Stop dat noise!"
When the elevator door slides open, I see my four-year-old cowboy hunkering down in a corner like a scared rabbit. I pull him to me and kiss away his tears.
"He wanted to ride down by himself," Melissa tearfully offers. “I showed him the right button, but I guess he pressed the wrong one."
Indeed. I'd like to discuss this further, but the glares I'm getting from concerned adults could melt asphalt off the road outside. We slink downstairs to lock up the Booke Nooke and vacate the premises. Retrieving the cash drawer, I lock the door behind us and tell the children we're taking the stairs back up ... not the elevator!
The head librarian accepts the cash box and then hurries ahead to hold the door open for us. I don't think she's just being polite. I think we've stirred up enough ruckus to last her another lifetime.
Walking to the car, I notice my two older children hovering like parentheses around their little brother. He toddles between them, linking the three of them together like a trio of best friends. And they truly are. While our day didn't unfold the way I'd planned it, we all survived and learned a few lessons along the way.
First, you can prepare ahead of time, but you can't predict what life will dish out on any given day. Second, big sisters should never listen to little brothers who beg to ride elevators alone. And last but not least, we moms may wish for another set of arms, but we somehow manage without them. After all, multi-tasking is one of our many specialties - "vowel movements" included.
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