It may have been the projectile vomiting that gave her away. Or perhaps the glassy eyes, flushed cheeks or green goop that constantly seemed to run from her son’s nose. Regardless, she was the bane of our existence. We called her Typhoid Mary.
By “we,” I mean a gaggle of mothers, all of us shepherding our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed preschoolers into positive socialization, mastery of manipulatives and early reading. And by “shepherding,” I mean we were mainly Type A overachievers, many not yet seasoned by the trials and tribulations of multiple children.
Needless to say, we could be a bit . . . hmmm . . . overprotective.
In all fairness, Typhoid Mary gave us reason to be. She was supposed to be in our ranks, a fellow righteous protector of our children. Instead, I believe she singlehandedly was responsible for our offspring missing school days that ultimately clocked into the triple digits. I believe one mother still blames TM for her child flubbing his kindergarten entrance exam because he missed the feelings unit in preschool (To be honest, I’m thinking it wouldn’t have mattered. Little Johnny was never very introspective to begin with.). Anyway, TM seemed to have a knack for oblivion when it came to the snot running down her child’s nose or the hacking cough he had from December through March.
If you’re nodding sagely already, then you are either a parent or a teacher. And you can spot a Typhoid Mary a mile away, I’m sure.
For us neophytes, it took awhile.
My first clue came when we ran into TM and her son (we’ll call him Rory) in the school hallway at drop-off. I was rushing out the door with my baby in his carrier when she stopped me to ask about the upcoming holiday bazaar. As I dug through my bag to find the volunteer schedule, little Rory was coochy cooing my baby, fingers all over his little chin, hands and mouth. Aw, I thought. Isn’t that cute? We chatted for a minute or two and as I turned to leave, I heard Rory say, “Mommy, I think I’m going to throw up again.”
Cue the Jaws music. Again?
“Is Rory sick?” I asked.
“Oh no,” said TM. “He stopped throwing up around midnight last night. He’s fine now.”
“Sushi for dinner?” I asked hopefully, thinking food poisoning isn’t contagious.
But alas, no sushi. Only meatloaf, spinach and baked potato—no, don’t go there. No one wants the visual.
Needless to say, little Rory was sent home about an hour after he got to school. I got to hear the glee in my preschooler’s voice as he described in detail what I can only surmise was projectile vomiting. “I didn’t know it could go that FAR, Mom. It was on the WINDOW. Dripping.”
And it follows that my baby was sick the entire holiday break, followed by his brother, myself and their father. I believe we watched an entire marathon of “Make Me Laugh” and lost about 15 pounds collectively.
As the year progressed, we all caught on. After weathering strep throat, RSV, pinkeye, croup and some odd rash no one ever quite identified, the mothers’ mafia was beside themselves.
In March, as I pulled into the parking lot one morning, I saw my friend Trish. I knocked on her van window to say hello. Before I knew it, the sliding door opened and I was dragged inside by another class mother. Inside the van were three other mothers, all crammed into the backseat. “Hurry—she’ll see you,” they yelled. I half expected to be blindfolded and driven to an undisclosed location but someone’s need to get to a morning Pilates class saved me. While I won’t go into detail on their conversation, I believe it stopped just shy of putting a hit out on TM.
Allow me to explain. Mothers of Catholic school kids let a lot go. Trust me. We’re a forgiving lot. But when you get our ire up, you’re sunk. And ruining holidays, family vacations and the wee bit of free time we get when our preschoolers are at school are among the unforgivable sins. One mother admitted to slipping vitamin drops in little Rory’s juice at snack time a week before spring break (and laxative powder into TM’s coffee—I’m not kidding). Another dropped her daughter off late each AM so she could do a visual check of Rory’s health and determine if her daughter was staying. And a third, at the spring concert (but not feeling so well), I’m pretty sure deliberately coughed in TM’s face.
And Rory? Well, he missed a lot of play dates and parties because of his mother’s bad behavior, not his. We all love our exercise classes, morning coffee or a bit of shopping. And hey, some of us even have to work for a living while our child is at school. But most of us are considerate enough to keep our kids home when they’re spewing germs from every orifice. It’s one of the unwritten rules of the sisterhood.
So today, as I am home with a sick child and trying to catch up on work, writing and all things life, I think of Typhoid Mary. I’ve kept my hacking son away from schoolmates for a couple of days now so I don’t have to worry about laxative-laced coffee at the next parent meeting. I think the trade-off is worth it. You don’t mess with the sisterhood.