Posted by Casey
If you’ve seen Disney’s Tangled, you may remember the Chinese lanterns filling the sky with warm light.
Those lanterns are truly beautiful…in theory…with adult supervision…and safety measures in place.
See, this is inspiring, right?
Of course it is.
And a similar vision inspired our kid.
Sometime in the last month, our boy watched a “how to make your own Chinese lantern” video. This morning, he decided to put that knowledge into practice.
Without telling us.
I woke this morning to the unmistakable smell of burning plastic. Considering his propensity for experimenting, my first thought was,
What the heck did he put in the toaster?
I threw on my fluffy white robe and stumbled down the stairs.
“WHAT is that SMELL?”
Leaning against his doorframe with arms folded, I knew I exuded confidence in my momming abilities. Unfortunately, the fluffy makes-me-look-like-a-bunny-rabbit robe cancelled out my scowling face.
He immediately lied.
“Uh…I think that’s my toast.”
No, son, I’m sorry. Toast does not smell like Daddy did the day he replaced an outlet and found out our home’s previous owner had not marked the circuit breakers accurately. Shocking.
Our daughter appeared in the hall.
“Hi. I wiped the frame of the bathroom door, the spare bedroom door, my door and now I’m going to wipe the laundry room door.”
Due to some negative behavior this week, she earned a few extra chores and I told her last night that she needed to have them done before Daddy arrived home so she could have dessert.
Getting up in the morning to get them done is a strategy she’s used before, but giving me a detailed rundown of the few items she’s done is a clear signal that something weird is going on.
I thanked her and then stood in the kitchen, trying to figure out the quickest way to get the truth without the benefit of coffee to organize my thoughts.
The lighter on top of the fridge caught my eye.
“Hey. Did you see your brother with a lighter this morning?”
She paused. Froze like the proverbial deer in headlights.
She shrugged. “Yes.”
I returned to his doorway. “What were you doing with the lighter? You have one chance to tell me the truth because I do not have the energy for this right now.”
He: “I was trying to make a Chinese lantern on the back porch. And SHE was laughing.”
She: “NOOOOOO! I was sitting at the table eating my breakfast! I wasn’t outside.”
After allowing them to spout about thirty seconds of conflicting stories, I said, “I’m going to look at the back porch. (To her): If I see your footprints in the dew, you are going to be in deep trouble because you knew he was playing with fire and didn’t come get us. (To him): If her footprints aren’t out there, YOU are in trouble for lying for saying she’s involved. You guys have from now until I get to the door to tell the truth.”
They both insisted they were telling the truth. No confessions.
Unfortunately, the dew didn’t cooperate. No dice on the footprints. The girl, however, couldn’t help herself. She hovered in the doorway, checking. I looked around and couldn’t figure out where the plastic smell originated.
“So, I can’t find the burned plastic…” I was talking more to myself than to her, but she answered.
“Oh, it’s right here,” she grinned, flipping the Welcome mat over. Sure enough, it was covered in melted grocery bags.
Then it hit me. The blinds were closed on the back door, and she said she’d been eating breakfast. At the table. If true, there’s no way she could have seen him burning the bag.
“So. You were here.”
Her eyes widened with feigned innocence. “I wasn’t outside!”
Mama Radar kicked in. There’s the tell.
If only she’d use her semantics superpower for good.
“You weren’t outside. But you were standing in the doorway with the door open. That’s why the whole house stinks. If the door had been closed, the smoke would have stayed outside.”
“But I wasn’t outside,” she repeated.
“Right,” I said, “but you know the issue isn’t about whether you were outside or not. The issue is that you stood there and watched him playing with fire. What are you supposed to do if he does something dangerous?”
“Come get you.”
“Did you come get us?”
“No, but I told him I was going to tell on him.”
“Right…but when I came downstairs, did you tell me?”
More pausing. “Well, no…because I didn’t want to get in trouble.”
This means that she was definitely involved, egging him on if not actually touching the lighter.
“Have we told you several times in the last two weeks that you need to come tell us if he’s doing something dangerous?”
“Was this dangerous?”
“Did you know it was dangerous?”
“Ok. From here on out, if you don’t come get us IMMEDIATELY when he’s doing something dangerous, you will get the EXACT same consequence he does.”
She was not happy about this. We talked about it further and she finally admitted that she didn’t come get us because she wanted to see what would happen, then realized that since she stood and watched (and laughed, which she knows is his cue to continue), she would also be in trouble.
This afternoon after school, they both had to write a two-page single-spaced paper on the dangers of playing with fire, when fires are appropriate/safe (with adult supervision) and what one should do when tempted to play with fire (or watch). We showed them pictures of people and pets who’d been burned and watched a video of a veteran who’d been burned during a training exercise.
Hopefully we’ve seen the last of playing with fire. We explained to they boy that if he’d simply asked (and waited instead of following his impulse) we could have looked up the proper way to make a Chinese floating lantern and then created some as a family this evening.
I explained to the boy that Hubby would have created a plan including:
- How to actually build the lantern
- How to use it SAFELY
- Backup plan in case things got out of control
and he admitted he didn’t have any of those three in place. We assured him that we don’t have a problem with his creativity, just the impulsive behavior and lack of safety.
Maybe later this weekend we’ll make some lanterns.
Good thing I told the grocer I wanted plastic instead of paper…if he’d been working with a paper bag, he might have burned the house down.
In all this, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson.
Just because it’s above his line of sight doesn’t mean he won’t find it. No more lighters on the fridge. In fact, I’m just going to move them all to the garage.
And on the bright side, I recently listened to (Daily Show host) Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.
He actually burned a house down, and he still turned out okay.
I’ll just lean on that hope for the next 7.5 years…
If you have a chance, get the book on audio (Audible.com or your local library); read by the author, it’s an absolutely gripping memoir of his childhood during Apartheid. Hearing it straight from Trevor (yes, we’re now on a first-name basis, since I’ve listened to it three times) is perfect. In five words: funny, sad, triumphant, don’t miss.