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By Nina Youkelson
Sam was 3 years old, and was having a hard time adjusting to nursery school. So was his mother. She stayed with him every day, eyeing the other parents with suspicion. They would never understand Sam's essential being the way she did. They would never be able to forgive Sam his recalcitrant fits and crying jags whenever she even mentioned leaving him at school.
So she stayed with him.
It was okay with me. I had seen hundreds of mothers hovering over their 3-year-olds who were having a hard time adjusting to the big world outside their families.
One day, a bunch of kids came to me thrilled to tell me that Sam and his mom were in the bathroom and they were both crying. I realized that for some time I had heard a thin, subliminal wail like an ambulance siren mixed in with the ordinary happy cacophony of a day at nursery school.
The kids eagerly led me to the bathroom, where I beheld not only Sam crying but his mother as well. On Sam's index finger was a large red wooden bead. The bead was about two inches long, almost as big as the finger. Only the tip of Sam's finger was visible, and it was swollen and red, like the bead.
Sam's mother, through her tears, told me that Sam had put the bead on his finger and couldn't get it off. She couldn't get it off either, she said, even though she had used liquid soap and vegetable oil, all that was available at the school. They were in the bathroom because someone had suggested cold water, but Sam refused to put his beaded finger under the faucet. "What shall we do?" Sam's mother tearfully asked me.
I knew that a 28-year-old Sam was not going to sport the red bead on his finger as he walked down the aisle on his wedding day. So, holding up my own index finger in a gesture of confident wisdom, I said, "I'll call the Fire Department!"
I made my way past the many kids crowding into the bathroom, and marched to the phone. I dialed the Fire Department's number, and to my astonishment and delight, a human being answered. "Fire Department," he said.
"I don't know if you guys do this," I said, "but I am the director of a nursery school, and one of our kids has a big wooden bead stuck on his finger and we can't get it off no matter what we do and he's crying and so is his mother. Do you remove beads from fingers?"
There was a silence for a few seconds, then: "Where are you?" he asked. I told him and he said, "We'll be right there."
Two minutes later, two fire engines, sirens wailing, pulled up. The children who were in the yard were delirious with joy to see the trucks, and when six firemen walked into the school in full regalia, boots clanking, black coats swinging, fire hats on their heads, the kids scrambled to follow them.
One of these huge wonderful creatures asked me loudly, "Where's the little boy with the bead on his finger?"
I led them to the bathroom, where Sam and his mom were still crying. Only one fireman could fit in the bathroom, a small space now packed with kids clustered around Sam and his mother.
"I have just the thing," he said, removing from his enormous pocket a little plastic pillow filled with a colorless liquid. Pulling off a corner of the pillow, he poured the liquid into the bead and, within seconds, slipped the bead off Sam's finger.
Sam stopped crying. His mom couldn't stop saying "Thank you!" The beautiful omnipotent fireman and his buddies then clanked their way out of the school, got back in their trucks, turned on the sirens, and, waving to all the kids waving at them, drove down the street and disappeared around the corner.