Monday, February 2, 2009

Demise of the Unknown Toy

Jack entertaining himself in the hotel closet.

“What’s burning?” Bob asks as we made dinner to the constant refrain of “Eat, eat,” from our nearly 2-year-old son Jack.

“We have to make it first, Jack. Now stop saying that,” I say, turning my attention to the oven, which was indeed giving off all the signs that dinner is going to be a bummer, but for the fact that our frozen Crunchers Quesadillas are still in the pan on top of the stove. It seems we aren’t dealing with a cooking mishap.

“Crap, I wonder if Jack stuck one of his toys in the oven,” I say.

All week, Jack had been opening all the drawers and cupboards as far as the safety latches would allow and dropping in his toy trains. I envisioned the tiny wooden train in the middle of the oven, its little rubber tires ignited.

“Quick, open windows,” I say.

Those tiny tires are giving off the most awful smelling smoke. I go to the oven to open the door and see if I can retrieve the offending toy … imagining that once the remaining bits of rubber burn off we’ll be back to dinner prep.

What I get is a face full of the blackest smoke I’ve ever seen. I feel as if I am breathing in pure poison.

Earlier in the week, I had just finished a book called “Traveling Mercies. Some Thoughts on Faith” by Anne Lamott. In it she says the best prayers are “Help me, Help me, Help Me” and “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You”

Unfortunately, that simple prayer escapes my mind as I feel the burning in my throat. “Crap, Crap, Crap,” I think. Blindly I start hitting the buttons on the oven, trying to turn the beast off.

I’m a bad mother, I think. If I was a good mom, this wouldn’t be happening. Good moms don’t let their kids stick things in the oven or get their heads stuck under the entertainment center or eat their Cheerios in front of “Jack’s Big Music Show” almost every morning.

“Open all the windows,” I say, hoping that getting the oven off is enough to reverse the situation, but instead the black smoke began to thicken, filling the kitchen.

I like to think I stay calm in emergencies, but in this instance there is nothing calm about me.

Grabbing the baby, I flee to the living room where the air is still relatively clean.

“Where’s the fire extinguisher?” Bob asks.

My brain wouldn’t work --- in the cupboard, behind something, behind something ---

“Here take him,” I say, handing off my child, who is not phased by the smoke. Jack starts laughing as I get on my knees and start crawling back into the kitchen…I’m suffocating…it burns.

“I can’t do it,” I shout, fleeing back to the living room, grabbing Jack back into my arms.

“Well, where is it?” Bob says.

I need to get my shoes, where are my shoes. We need to get out of here. It’s freezing outside. Where are my shoes … in the kitchen… our coats, where are our coats? Oh good, the dogs are already outside… oh and there is the cat, how do I get him and the baby?

“Where is the fire extinguisher?” He asks again.

“It is in the cupboard by the stove?” I scream at him, as I’m heading toward the door, the black smoke starting to invade the clean air. I’m going out here without a coat or shoes and so is my son. Bad mom.

“What cupboard by the stove?” he shouts.

“The only EXPLETIVE cupboard by the stove!” I shout back.

Looking back, I realize this wasn’t the most precise wording. I have learned that I’m not precise in my speaking language. I call the oven “stove”. I say things like, “It’s by the thing-a-majig.” And not to blame Jack for everything, but I swear it’s gotten worse since he was conceived. Sometimes it leads to some heated exchanges between Bob and I, ending with me saying, “You’re just going to have to fill in the blanks sometimes!”

While panic has gripped me, Bob is still searching for the fire extinguisher. I’m shouting something at him. I’m certain our neighbors are now contemplating whether they have a domestic disturbance on their hands…“Should we call the police?” they are probably thinking as our shouts pierce the still night.

He’s going to pass out in there, I think, peering in from our snow-covered back deck…what will I do with the baby then… set him down with no shoes in the snow? Bad mom. And now, where has the cat gone? Bad pet owner.

“Go to the neighbors and get a fire extinguisher,” he yells at me again.

“I’m not doing that,” I scream back, “We need to get out of here.”

He yells something like, “Well, do something… call 911, or something,” handing me a cell phone and disappearing into the night to try to borrow a fire extinguisher.

At this point, I’m enraged at my husband. Not rational, but it’s the emotion I feel even more than fear. It’s so strong it’s keeping me warm.

When 911 answers, I find I’m still yelling, “We have a fire in our oven and there’s all this smoke.”

“Is everyone out?” she asks.

“Yes, everyone but the cat,” I say, convinced our orange Tabby Oliver is a goner.

We head to the front yard to wait for the fire trucks. It’s a peaceful, but cold winter night. I look at my house and feel my stomach tense. We had lights on, but you can’t see them … all you see is darkness … darker than the night … an inky, moving life-force that seems to be eating our house from the inside, escaping from the open windows.

“Please, please, please,” I finally manage to pray. It’s the type of prayer I remember an old friend calling an arrow prayer. I shoot it over and over again to the heavens as I hug my son close to me.

Finally sirens break the silence, and Jack happily says, “Truck, truck.” as the emergency crews arrive. I begin to shake with fear and cold and neighbors begin to emerge from their homes.

At this point, I begin to cry. I think, “Oh no, all these people will see me here with no shoes, no coat on my son… and what will they think of me.”

I look down the sidewalk and I see our crazy neighbor (long story, but lets just say she’s mildly paranoid schizophrenic) coming toward me. I turn the other direction and I see my sane neighbor and I feel my self running toward her, begging her to let Jack and I come inside.

And then the fear begins to subside. We were safe and warm. Bob is dealing with the firefighters. It is going to be okay…

“I hope my cat will be okay,” I tell the neighbor, who is also a cat person. “I wanted to grab him, but then he was gone. It just all happened so fast.” She reassures me. Soon my husband comes in wearing someone else’s boots, another person’s sweatshirts and yet another person’s coat. My irrational rage is gone. Within about 30 minutes all the firefighters are gone.

I go back in the house, still clinging to Jack. A very strong smell hits you as soon as you open the door, but it looks the same, except for a dingy coating of black soot all over the kitchen and most of the downstairs. Black cobwebs hang from nearly every corner of the downstairs.

“I had no idea those were there,” I say, looking around, thankful that it’s all still there. There’s still a kitchen, not a gaping black hole. And the cat is fine.

And now, we’re dealing with the clean-up. It’s amazing the damage a small fire can do. Crews have been here for nearly a week, wiping down almost every item in our house, taking our clothes and Jack’s stuffed animals to be dry-cleaned in an attempt to eradicate any smell that remains in the house.

Once they’ve dusted every last object they say they will treat the whole house with Ozone, which is supposed to rid it of any remaining smell.

Turns out, Jack didn’t put a toy in the oven. It was in the broiler drawer. I say “It” because I have know idea what it was… it just looks like a large piece of lava rock now. If it wasn’t so smelly maybe I’d save it for his baby book.

It’s been a stressful week, but I’ve been trying to remember to say this prayer. “Help me, help me, help me.” And He has.


Anonymous said...

Well, at lest we got Jack for a weekend out of the deal. He's so funny, when he knew it was time to eat, actually I was still cooking, he was the first one at the table. It wasn't even set yet, saying eat, eat, eat! He's such a good boy. I listened to your voice mails from Sunday when you were trying to locate your son, sounded like you were getting desperate. Love Sandy

amanda said...

Walker used to do that same thing, Sandy. I would walk into the kitchen to START dinner, and he would be in his high chair waiting for his food.

I think those two together could make for some REALLY CRAZY stories!

Hope things are settling back in to normal for you guys...