I was smiling as I drove home from the pediatrician’s office and the grocery store. It had been a wonderful day. The sun was shining. My son’s chest injury from a fall did not turn out to be serious. All my errands had been completed. And I even had time to run through a few lines of Faure on my cello before dinner. After dinner, I looked forward to another evening of laughter and love. But first a relaxing cup of green tea in the family room. Ahhhh.
And then, in a flash it happened. As I meditated I happened to open my eyes and spy a flicker of light in the garden bushes. Three neighborhood boys, friends of my nine-year-old son, darted away one by one from the flicker which had quickly revealed itself to be smoking, growing fire. Not waiting to see if my son was in the mix, I ran to get the phone and call 911. I then ran to get my daughter, dog, and my beloved cello.
At this point, I expected that people would emerge, wondering about the commotion and the smoke. But none did … at least not at first. Where was everyone? The dispatcher kept me on the phone asking me to keep the line open until the firetrucks arrived. When they did arrive, they quickly doused the flames.
Let’s face it, there’s a certain entropic balance to everything in the universe, a see-saw mixture of yin and yang. When you’re feeling really good, when everything looks like absolute bliss, you have to know there’s trouble brewing. Upon questioning by one of the firemen, my son admitted to starting the fire. At that moment, it did not matter to me that he was only curious, that he took full responsibility, and that he confessed everything and regretted it all. My little boy was not just a participant, he was the instigator! My embarrassment did not end there. In fact, it had only started.
Minutes later a neighbor shot out of the house towards me railing and pitching and let me know I’d need to pay for the smoke that was wafting in her window (her house is upwind from ours, but never mind that). She let the police know too, and continued on as if I could not hear her. It was surreal. Before this, the most recent interaction I had with this woman was making her home-made bread and taking it over to her. The last interaction my husband had was helping her husband in a job search. And now she’s ready to sue and tell everyone in earshot what an awful mother she thought I was.
I told my husband when he arrived home, my face full of tear smudged mascara, that if we could please just move, anywhere. But he reminded me: There are people like this everywhere, people both wonderful and not so much. We also take our traits and propensities with us, for good or ill. And most significantly, we’d have to take our children with us. Somewhere in that last remark was a joke that he’d made. But given my emotional state at the time, whatever it was went right over my head.
‘Tis true I have an adventuresome son. He came with his own temperament, which oscillates between unbelievably helpful, sweet, and affectionate, to too daring for anyone’s safety including his own. In this and other ways, he is a collection of contradictions. He knows how much each piece of candy in the candy store costs, and yet he can’t solve math problems with dimes and quarters; he hates to read yet he is a gifted speaker; and he starts a blaze and for this he gets to visit the town’s fire captain (and fulfill a requirement for a Cub Scout achievement). And after all this, what do you think he said he wanted to be when he nodded off to sleep? A Firefighter.