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Friday, May 30, 2014

Burning Down the House, Well Almost...

It was you!...
One of the issues that my wife and I are finding very challenging in raising our children, in recent months (maybe years), is instilling in them a sense of responsibility for their actions. 

Whether its failing to flush the toilet (which is one of my pet peeves!), or leaving a glass of water or open bag of chips on the living room coffee table or making a category 5 hurricane mess in their room (usually my son), they're like, "It wasn't me!" and point the finger at each other like Donald Sutherland in the last scene of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  (Dating myself, again, I know)

Maybe, it's the culture we live in; nobody wants to take responsibility!  We exist in a society where politicians are busier blaming the opposing party than trying to solve societal problems, where more babies are born out of wedlock than ever before, where couples are getting divorced instead to trying to work through their problems, even when children are involved (In fact, some even going into marriages thinking that if it doesn't work out, they can get divorced!), and where kids are watching their divorced or never-married parents live, as if they are teenagers themselves; dating and partying as they did in high school and college.  It's like we're living in The Hangover generation.

In any case, to get off the soap box and continue with the task of dating myself, in the Talking Heads' 1983 hit, "Burning Down the House," singer/song writer David Byrne said he basically threw a mishmash of phrases that fit the music together and came away with the lyrics for the song.

Well, I felt like I was searching for the true meaning behind those irrelevant lyrics on Sunday, as I tried to figure out from my "I-don't-know" "It-wasn't-me" finger-pointing children, how our kitchen garbage can burst into flames and almost burned our house down! 

It was like pulling teeth, which ironically our oldest daughter is still recovering from having her four wisdom teeth pulled last Friday!

So, this is what happened; it was a beautiful afternoon in South Florida, the sun was shining, birds were singing and squirrels were running up and down our backyard avocado tree.  You couldn't have asked for better weather on a Memorial Day Weekend, marking the unofficial start of summer. 

The Mrs. and I were using the lazy afternoon to paint our detached garage, which used to be my dark green man's cave when we first got married, before it became the salmon-colored kids' playroom and now we are transforming it into an elegant blue-grey family living and hang-out area. 

All of a sudden, as we were finishing up the final details, our firstborn, who had been relegated to couch and bed rest all weekend after having the surgical procedure and looking like Alvin of Alvin and the Chipmonks, rushed into the room yelling, "Come quickly!  There is smoke coming from the garbage."

I turned into Wile E. Coyote with an Acme rocket under his butt and ran down our patio deck, jumped up the steps leading to the back door, and, as I entered the kitchen, immediately saw the large flames shooting over the granite counter top and out of the lower garbage can cabinet, which was ajar.

My daughter and wife ran past me, as I yelled at them to get out of the house and call 9-1-1. 

Not having much time to think but just react, I noticed a flower vase next to the sink, quickly filled it with water and started pouring it on the flames, which were overwhelming at first.

While my family ran out the front door, I felt the chemicals of the burning plastic and intense heat penetrate my lungs, as I gasped for air, and the fire on my skin, even as I tried to keep my distance.

It was a frantic several minutes.  I knew that if I didn't quench it quickly, it would spread through our wooden cabinets and possibly grow out of control.  So, I kept filling the vase and pouring water. (No, we don't have a fire extinguisher!)

Fortunately, after about five or six vases full of water, I was able to extinguish it.  I continued throwing water in and around the cabinet to make sure that all the hot spots were out as well.  It was a mess.

I then went outside to join my family and again asked my kids what they had thrown in the garbage (figuring the little ones were making popcorn in the microwave or something they weren't supposed to and something went awry).  They each went into a public denial with the conviction of Lance Armstrong, even after years of circulating rumors of illegal doping, as the fire fighters, inspectors and police arrived.

According to our 13-year-old daughter, she was in the bathroom when she smelled the smoke, went to the kitchen and noticed it was coming from the garbage.  Our 9-year-old daughter said she was in our bedroom watching TV and our 6-year-old son was in his room playing with his knights.  I knew someone knew what had happened but no one wanted to take responsibility.

I turned my attention to the police and firemen and led them inside the house and into our kitchen.  They made sure the fire was completely out, dismantled the burned plastic garbage can, pulled out the silverware drawer above it, which had collapsed, cleaned up the water all over the floor and told us there was no electrical damage and that it had to have been started by something thrown into the garbage can.  One of the men said, "I'll leave it to you to investigate."

Oh, great, I thought, I'll have to deal with the Hatfields and McCoys waiting outside to get to the bottom of this; not exactly the most forthcoming bunch!

After the emergency team left, nobody wanted to talk.  They stuck by their guns, despite my wife and I insisting that someone had to have thrown something in the garbage.  Like the unflushed toilet or the empty beer bottle on the living room table (oh wait, that was me!), no one did anything or knew what happened.  It was like they all turned into Colonel Schultz of Hogan's Heroes, who would say, "I know nothing.  I see nothing.  I hear nothing.  I was not even here..." 

When we went to dinner that night, I called a grace period and said no one was going to get in trouble or punished if they told us what had happened and we would forgive them on the spot.  We just wanted to know what happened.

It was then that my oldest daughter finally said that "the only thing" she did was to try to heat "one" chicken nugget in the microwave.  One chicken nugget?  Really?  Not even she believed what she  said.  Realizing her gaff, she quickly changed it to a hand towel that she was trying to heat to apply on her swelling. 

She said when she took the towel out, it had a hole in it so she discarded it but insisted she didn't know what happened, was in the bathroom when the fire started and therefore, obviously, refused to own up or show any remorse whatsoever.

It was like Adam and Eve when caught by God after eating from the Tree of Good and Evil but blamed each other and the serpent for their disobedience, instead of taking responsibility, repenting and asking for forgiveness.  I guess it's been part of human nature ever since! 

Needless to say, my wife and I got very upset.  Not because of what happened, or what could have happened, but because there was no sense of blame, no mea culpa!  Therefore, instead of kicking her out of the Garden of Eden (and that's not to say, our home is paradise; far from it!), we took her phone, which, at this point in her life, is probably as monumental!

However, several days later, after talking to a co-worker, who had a similar incident with a towel and her microwave which burned a huge hole on a patio chair, I realized there may have been truth in what my daughter claimed after all.

We thought she had just freaked out when the towel caught fire, threw it in the garbage can and was afraid to admit what she did.  But, maybe, she did see the hole in the towel, she threw it out (not noticing it was was still hot) and left the kitchen.  Several minutes later she smelled the smoke, saw it was coming from the garbage and ran outside to get us.

Obviously, as parents, we forgave.  Hopefully, the incident served a purpose in teaching our kids the dangers of fire and, with a little maturity, they will eventually also learn about humility and the importance of taking responsibility for their actions.

Actually, it's a lesson we could all learn to do a little better.  Thanks God for Confession!...

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