Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mama Bear

I think that everybody has a moment when they first feel the need to leap to action for the safety of their child. I'm not talking about doing research for safety issues, or deciding on the healthiest way to feed your baby, or leaving baby home instead of bringing him into a dangerous (or just less than ideal) situation. I'm not even talking about taking baby away from somebody who is making him uncomfortable for some reason. I'm talking honest to goodness sudden danger that makes a parent spring into action. My moment happened while we were in Wisconsin. Spoiler: it turned out that there wasn't actually any danger. But, we thought that there was, which is what really matters, I think.

Here's the scene:

My parents' house is full of people for Chanukah. Me and S and LL. My brother and SIL, M and A, and their three kids, who will now have official blog nicknames: Bee (boy, age 8), Sam (girl, age 5) and LiLi (girl, age 6 months). My parents. My grandfather (age 86). Several additional older relatives. The menorah is lit for the last night of Chanukah. Food is cooking on the stove. After several days of S and me both complaining that the house is too cold, and wondering whether my parents' furnace is working properly, the house is now pleasantly warm from the cooking, and from all of the additional people in the house. Outside, it is 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a fresh layer of ice. The kids are happily opening presents.

Then: BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! The carbon monoxide (plus other things) detector goes off. Very loudly. The digital display just says "gas", and the numerical reading which normally reads 0 suddenly reads an alarming 221. Honestly, I don't even know what the units are. But when the number is supposed to be 0, a reading of 221 in just about any metric is alarming. Especially when the oven is on and there are several candles burning. Even more so when we were just commenting about a possibly faulty furnace. We know that it's not just a bad battery because the detector plugs into a wall outlet, and the electricity is working fine.

S and I grabbed LL's coat and bundled him up as quickly as we could, then did the same with LiLi, freeing up A to tend to Bee and Sam, who were freaking out a bit from the noise and urgency. My mom turned off the oven and stove, then ran to call the fire department. My grandfather blew out the Chanukah candles (not knowing what kind of gas the detector was referring to made open flames seem like a bad idea). Less helpful: my father and my brother stood in a corner arguing about what gas the alarm might be referring to, and how often one should replace smoke detectors. Even less helpful than that: one of my uncles, who is a perfectly capable able-bodied middle-aged man, went and got himself a snack, then returned to the couch to watch the rest of us scrambling to get the kids (and ourselves) out the door without leaving ourselves open to frostbite. (Remember: 15 degrees outside.)

We slipped and slid down the driveway and up the street towards a neighbor's house (the fire truck passed us on the way) where we waited for the all-clear. Everything turned out okay -- the firemen went through the whole house with their instruments and ultimately declared it perfectly safe (faulty carbon monoxide detector, apparently). And it was kind of nice to visit with the neighbors. I used to babysit for these neighbors, and their youngest daughter was home last week for winter break from college, where she is a senior majoring in international relations. Yes, the same little girl who, as a two-year-old, made me read Berenstein Bears books to her over and over and over and over has now explained to me her plans for graduate school, after which she hopes to work in South American diplomacy. I feel incredibly old. But I digress.

Our little gas scare was the first time that I really felt like LL was in any serious danger, and my overwhelming need to get him out of the house as quickly and safely as possible was pretty over-powering. As was my annoyance at the many relatives who put on their own coats, then just stood around getting in the way instead of doing anything helpful. (Really? You can't help Bee find his boots? You can't help Sam get her hat on? You can't help open some doors to air out the house? You can't help me figure out how to shut off the furnace before we leave?)

Other than the threat of the house blowing up or my entire family dying in a haze of poisonous gas, Chanukah was a lot of fun. My mom and I made a treasure hunt with little poem clues for Bee and Sam to follow, with their presents waiting at the end of the trail. ("Sam likes unicorns and LL likes bears. / For your next clue look at the bottom of the stairs.") Though some of my more creative poems were vetoed by my parents. Something about age appropriateness and the need for Bee and Sam to respect their parents. ("Bee and Sam love to sing songs. / Go look where your Dad used to hide his bongs.") And everyone respected my request to only get LL toys for 6+ months that encourage free play and don't need batteries -- things like alphabet blocks and shape sorters and pushable toy cars. (Though the toy that was the biggest hit with everyone was for LiLi: this jar of bugs, which looks and sounds odd, but all the kids loved it. In particular, LL and LiLi both very much enjoyed chewing on the spider.) Also, Bee started Hebrew school a few months ago, so he got to read the prayers when we lit the menorah, which was cool to watch. All in all, a fun holiday!


  1. That must have been terrifying. I'm glad it turned out to be a false alarm.

    Harry received that same jar of bugs from my office, along with a solid assortment of other toys. And he too enjoys chewing on the spider. Yummy, yummy spider legs.

  2. that is a fantastic toy!

    I am glad it all worked out ok, gosh the whole cold/snow thing just boggles my mind. Having to get all bundled up outside seems like such a hassle to me, then through in emergency situation. Wow

  3. Wow, that's scary.....

    glad it turned out to be nothing. Nothing like a Mama Bear coming out to protect her baby!!! Must have been a brand new feeling for you...


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