My First Book Fair. …or a Screaming Toddler, a Police Officer and the Fire Department

There are six weeks left in the school year.

Since, it is my last year here at Saint James, I thought it would be fun to share my six favorite stories from my time here, one a week for the next six weeks. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say my favorite stories because the story I’m sharing today is not one that I enjoyed while it was happening or one that I even like sharing today, even after all this time. I guess these will be the six anecdotes that I think make the best stories.

Let’s jump in.

The year was 2012. I had just finished my very first STJ book fair, and let me tell you. I was beat down. I had heard that the book fair was a big deal here, but I was not prepared for how big it was.

The previous librarian had run the thing with volunteers, but I was new to the school. I had only been in town for about two and a half months, and I didn’t really know anyone. It’s hard to recruit volunteers if you don’t know anyone, at least it was for me.

So, I just did it all myself. My wife and I (and Harper, who is in 4th grade now, but was a toddler at the time and is the focal point of this story) came into the school the weekend before the fair started and set it all up. I manned the register myself, from 7 in the morning to 5:30 in the evening all week, while also having my usual weekly library classes come in and doing my usual story times. I knew the fair was popular here, but man, were those early morning and after school lines long. By the end of the week I was exhausted. I had gotten a bit of a cold, so I wasn’t feeling that great.

It was a Saturday morning and Ashley and I were trying to hurry and pack the book fair up, so we could just be done with the thing and salvage what was left of our weekend.

We were just about finished with the packing up, and I decided that I would count the fair cash drawer down one final time while Ashley finished cleaning up.

Let me tell you something about myself. I’m not great with numbers. I don’t mean math. I can do math and I’m pretty good at it, but I can not remember numbers for longer than a moment. You can tell me your phone number, and if I do not write it down, it’s gone in an instant. Same with dates. I have to associate the number with a word or an idea to remember it. This makes counting change in a cash register challenging. I cannot do it without extreme focus and absolute concentration. I find myself having to start over a lot if I am distracted even a little.

That’s what I was doing when baby Harper toddled into my office.

“25, 30 35, 40 ….” He picked up my keys off of my desk. “45, 50…”

“Hey!” I called out to Ashley who was in the main part of the library packing stuff up. “Can you get those keys from him? 55, 60, 65 70.”

She didn’t hear me.

I kept on counting, and Harper took my keys, wondered into the library work room and slammed this door., locking himself and the keys inside.

I don’t quite remember how long it took for us to realize he was locked in there. It may have been when the door slammed, because I knew he had the keys, or it could have been when he started crying. Because he did cry. A lot. He came to the door, realized he was stuck and stood there crying.

My first thought was to find a different set of keys. All of my coworkers had keys to this door, but it was Saturday and there was no one else on campus. I called some people, but I couldn’t get anyone to answer. It was time to move on to the next idea.

Break the glass. That’s where my mind went, but with Harper standing right there on the other side of the glass, it didn’t seem like a smart idea. He could be hurt. He was already scared and crying his head off.

I had no other ideas.

Then something crazy happened. The police showed up.

Let me back up a bit. I have a wonky school key. It opens a lot of the doors here, no problem, but for some reason it will not work consistently on the front door. Because of that, I always come in through the first grade pod. It works like a charm on that door.

That weekend, the alarm was set, and there is not an alarm keypad in the first grade pod. I set off the motion detector coming in, and the alarm started going off. I ran to type in the code on the keypad, and it stopped. I thought that was the end of that and didn’t think anything else of it.

Several hours later, ( I’m still not sure why it took hours for them to show up, but I’m glad it did) the police showed up responding to the alarm. I explained to them who I was, why I was there, and how I set the alarm off, and then showed them my ID.

They said thanks and they were about to leave when I was like, “By the way, I’m a really great dad, and I locked my baby in my workroom. Do you think you could help with that? “

The officer, who was a female, went to the door and tried to talk to Harper to help calm him down. Something about this lady’s voice though, set him off and he went from crying to all out screaming.

The officer asked if I had anything in the workroom that could hurt him, and I couldn’t think of anything other than a pair of scissors. That was enough, though. She decided we needed the fire department.

She made a phone call, and the fire department arrived within a few minutes.

I expected them to have a glass cutter or some other cool contraption that would get us into the room without hurting Harper. Instead, the fireman pulled out this huge key ring with a lot of keys on it. SO many keys. He started trying them, and before long, one of them worked!

“We try to keep keys to all of the local schools on hand, in case of emergencies.”

“Emergencies like this?” I asked. He laughed. “Yeah. I guess. For something like this.”

Harper ran out and we scooped him up.

He was unharmed. He had just gotten into a stamp pad. (For the “Property of Saint James Elementary School Library” stamp) and was covered in ink.

We handed him a book fair pen to calm him down.

We were happy, relieved and grateful.

Then I had to start all over counting down the cash register.

Like I said, I don’t like telling this story very much. I was mortified when my principal showed up a bit later. The police had called him, and he was checking to make sure everything was ok.

I’m sure he was thinking “Who is this guy that we hired? Are things like this going to be happening all the time?” He didn’t vocalize those thoughts, if he did have them, though, and was very gracious.

Needless to say, I never had another book fair quite like that first one.

To this day, I have never locked that work room door again, for any reason. It stays unlocked.

Published by Benji

I am an elementary school librarian in Montgomery, AL.

One thought on “My First Book Fair. …or a Screaming Toddler, a Police Officer and the Fire Department

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