In A. A. Milne style, this is the post in which we have a fire and I find out what the sweetest thing to say is in an emergency. I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t to ask, “What happened?!?” 😉
Ladder truck 39 putting away the big fans
Today, I multitasked….unsuccessfully.
While setting up for a tea party, I turned the (electric) stove on with the kettle freshly filled. Then, wanting to use the quick minutes waiting for the water to boil productively, I opened the silverware drawer looking for a sauce cup cover (read: tiny cover) I hadn’t been able to find but just *knew* it was in there…and the tea ball. Thinking it might be under the utensil organizer, I took that out and set it next to me (on the stove for lack of counter space) and promptly found my cover!
The baby had fallen quite asleep in the wrap and I thought it to be the perfect time to quick lay him down before tea time. While in the bedroom, Gabe came in to offer me fake tea and chat. We chatted for a bit, and then were suddenly interrupted by the newly installed smoke alarm beeping loudly. My first thought was total irritation that the steam from the tea kettle would set it off and how on earth was I going to turn that infernal beeping off before the baby woke up! He was sleeping for crying out loud!
I walked under the smoke detector and peeked through the doorway to see how much steam was really going off and my whole body froze, instantly switching into emergency mode. There was fire. Real fire. The plastic utensil organizer had caught fire when I’d inadvertently turned on the wrong burner and flames were leaping toward the cabinets. Focused, I walked in and tried to pick it up to take it outside to finish burning, but the bottom was gone and I didn’t want pieces of burning plastic falling onto the floor as I carried it burning and deteriorating outside. I set it down on the center of the stove, not realizing that the move was crucial. The hood ended up catching the heat and much of the smoke from the fire, as well as the tips of it’s flames. Had it been left on the burner, the flames would have touched the cabinets instead. But I digress.
I thought to smother it. Grabbing a handful of rags, I covered the fire completely only to have the flames burst out the side as if to remind me of my place. Thinking I might gain a few seconds if the rags were wet, I soaked them and tried again, only to see the flames leap even higher.
In an instant, I mentally gave everything in my house to what this fire could become and zeroed in on the boys. Walking back, I told Gabe to go to the porch immediately. I was so proud of him. He had no clue what was going on, and he ran straight to the porch with no questions and without stopping. Picking up the whole hammock, I carried the baby out and called Rock. Watching through the kitchen window, I saw the fire continue, fueled by plastic forks and silicon baby spoons.
Fumbling for my phone, I called 911 and they patched me through right away for the address. I asked excitedly what I could put on it to control it. She said to do nothing and wait. So we waited, and the fire grew plastic spoon by plastic spoon. Peering into the smoking living room, I pondered what I might need to save from the house if I needed to. The only things I could think that were important enough to walk back through that door were with me on the porch, so I grabbed my purse and baby bag in the doorway and walked away.
We waited in the car, listening to the sirens approach. Out of these enormous engines piled men oozing strength and level-headedness. I knew it just needed a fire extinguisher quick and had a hard time watching them calmly walk to the correct hatch to get it. But what the panicked resident forgets is that, while I’ve been busy watching fire in my kitchen and feel like I know what they need to do, they are walking into an unknown with their life possibly at stake with each call. If the fire burns an extra minute while they assess, the additional damage done is worth their life.
So, my piddly little kitchen fire got a quick squirt from a massive fire extinguisher and, instantly, the emergency was over. My house (with newly openable windows thanks to a responsible landlord who just weeks before installed smoke detectors through the fire department and paid to have the painted-shut windows cut open) was aired out with industrial strength generator-operated fans. And then, they asked what had happened. So I told them my story and got a kind smile and a knowing nod from one who said, “So, you were multitasking, huh?”
Two neighbors had collected on the edge of the property when they saw the trucks stop and swarm with firemen. An older gentleman with several grown children and a grandmother of many slowly came toward me. I braced myself for what I knew they’d ask…something like “hey, what happened?” or, “What did you do?” and I would have to confirm my idiocy to them too.
But they didn’t.
The older gentleman just looked at me kindly and asked if we would like to come regroup at his house while the firemen took care of things. When I said I’d stay because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or how long it would take, he simply assured me that if there was anything I needed, we knew where he lived and he’d help any way he could. They both offered some words of encouragement that everything was going to be okay, and left.
Later on, while I threw away all my silverware and scrubbed melted plastic and oily smoke off the stove-top and cabinets (magic erasers are truly magic by the way), I began to ponder their reaction.
As a parent, you learn that when your child has an emergency (the blocks won’t stack, they stubbed their toe, wrestling matches go awry, etc), the last thing in the world that is helpful is to show up and demand, “What happened?!”. When you walk in on a screaming child and find no blood, the response is so different when you scoop them up in a hug and soothingly tell them it’s going to be alright over and over until the cries die down. And only then can you make progress with, “What happened?”
Ending the crying or strong emotion instantly is not what it’s all about, even though that’s the natural human reaction sometimes. No, instead I will take a cue from my neighbors who have both raised their own brood and gave me the benefit, and from the firemen (yes, they were all men or they’d be firefighters) who are trained to be calm in the face of insanity.
Today, I was the recipient of their thoughtfulness.
Today, I experienced how it is for my children when I can offer that kind of calm support.
And so I hope to remember to swallow my “What happened” for a few important moments the next time I am presented with a difficult situation like this, and rather make my goal to offer comfort, support or solutions, even if it means never finding out what actually happened…because that’s really a question that serves me and my own sense of curiosity. It’d sure be nice to know, but most of the time the comforting can come first.
Tomorrow, I think I might bake a few batches of muffins for some special people to say Thank you.
We did finally get to have that tea party.
Feeling quite grateful today.