Monday, August 1, 2011

Beach Tale: From the “Life’s a Beach” Files, a true story...

          “I can take care of myself.” My 13-year-old son Dalton (name changed to protect the guilty) pleaded his case yet again. 
          While his track record of “taking care of himself” for an hour after school the past year was not stellar, nothing had required a trip to the emergency room and no claims had been made against our homeowner’s insurance.  And, unbeknownst to him, I had spies all over the neighborhood keeping an eye on things--and a finger on the 911 button.  But this would be a completely different test of his autonomy.       
          We’d just PCSd (that’s a Navy acronym for a Permanent Change of Station move) to our dream home by the sea, and my closest “spy” was more than 300 miles away.  With only a nodding acquaintance with my new neighbors and my husband deployed to the Persian Gulf, I hadn’t had a conversation with an adult in over two weeks.  The invitation to a Navy spouse reception where I could meet people was tempting, but it was across town, and after dark.
          “I’ll be fine,” he begged.
          “I’ll hire a babysitter,” I said.  I found two names in the community newsletter, but not only were they a year younger than my son, they were also of the female persuasion.  If that wasn’t a recipe for trouble, I didn’t know what was.
          “He’ll be fine,” I repeated the mantra to myself when I called to accept the invitation.
          “He’ll be fine,” I wrote in an email to my husband. 
          “He’ll be fine,” I reminded myself as I backed my car down the driveway and headed off to the get-together. 
          The event was everything my socially deprived self needed, and more.  No sooner had I loaded my plate with gourmet delights ranging from chicken chiliquiles casserole to homemade southern potato salad, than my cell phone buzzed in my pocket.  The only person who had my new number was Dalton, and the only reason he was supposed to call was if there was an emergency.  The mini-seafood quiches churned in my stomach as I excused myself. 
          “Mom?  The dogs are throwing up all over the house and I don’t know what to do...”
          I sighed.  Emergency is in the eye of the beholder.  “Just clean it up and I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
          “I’m not touching it.” The tone of voice made it clear that no amount of cajoling or bribery would get him to change his mind.  It’s been my experience that the willingness to perform those types of tasks is a Double-X chromosome trait.     
          “Well, do something.”  I thought about the new white carpet in our new home.  “I’m on my way.”
          As I sped along the highway, our conversation niggled at my worry button.  Had that been a note of hysteria in his voice?  I dug my phone out of my pocket and called him back.  “How’re you doing?”
          “Did you get everything cleaned up?”
          “No.  I turned trashcans over it so I don’t have to look at it.”
          If all of life’s problems could be solved so easily.  “Any idea what made the dogs so sick?”
          “Probably because they licked up some of the fire extinguisher foam.”
          “Fire extinguisher foam?”
          “Yeah.  I had to put out a fire.”
          “What fire?”  My foot pressed the accelerator to the floorboard.  The whine of the engine almost drowned out the sound of my heart hammering in my chest.  Almost.  
          “The fire in the oven,” Dalton explained as if it were an everyday event.  “One of the chicken nuggets fell off the pan.  There were flames everywhere.  But the fire is out now, so don’t worry.”
          I arrived home thirty minutes later, thankful to find my worst-case scenario images had been unfounded.  No smoke tendrils curled from a charred skeleton of my beach house.  No firefighters carrying my son’s lifeless body over their shoulder rushed through the front door.  No blown out windows gave testimony to a natural gas explosion.  In fact, with light beaming through the sheer curtains I’d had installed yesterday and the purple petunias spilling from the whiskey barrel planters, the scene reminded me of a Hallmark card.    
          Reality--and a blast of a dry chemical smell--met me at the door.  Upended trashcans led like stepping-stones from the front door to the back.  A fine, yellowish powder blackened every surface in the house; like a dusting of snow, only this stuff wouldn’t melt when the temperature rose.  The residue crunched under my sandals as I tiptoed across the tiled floor to assess the damage to my new oven. 
          In all my thirty years of having nuggets or French fries fall off the cooking sheet, I had never had one erupt into flames.  Usually they baked into charcoal and laid like black lava rocks until I wiped them up. 
          Light bulb moment--my son had only cooked with an electric oven.  Our new home had gas.  He’d extinguished the flame that cooks the food.       
          The costs of the speeding ticket, the after-hours phone consultation with the vet (the puppies would be okay), the carpet cleaning equipment rental and a repairman to extract the extinguisher powder from the gas jets came in just under $600.  Did I yell?  Yeah, a little bit.  I was tired and we had to work until four a.m. to get all of the flame retardant wiped up so the puppies wouldn’t lick any more and get sick.  The clean up did not entail a quick feather duster over the end tables, but required a damp cloth to countertops, tables, baseboards, chair rungs, chandeliers and the lips on the kitchen cupboards, followed mopping and vacuuming the floor and furniture and lampshades.  I swear he must have unloaded the entire canister of fire foam and it had floated and settled on every surface imaginable.  It was worse than spring cleaning. 

          Did I tease him about his lack of judgment?  Yeah, a little bit, because in hindsight the whole thing seemed hilarious.  His response to that was, “Fine, next time I’ll let the house burn down.”  I thought he was joking...                 
          Fast forward to a rare snowy afternoon.  School had been cancelled so the boys spent the morning waging a huge snowball fight.  After hours of playing, they tumbled into my house.  They had lips the color of Glacier Freeze Gatorade and icicles hanging from their hair and eyebrows. A roaring fire, hot chocolate and fresh form the oven chocolate chip cookies was the prescribed cure. As soon as I felt confident the thawing had begun, I left them to their video games and retreated to my room to curl up under a blanket and read.       
          While upstairs, I heard their raucous laughter and smiled.  Nothing warms my heart more than the sound of kids having fun.  I thought I detected the faint smell of smoke, but it wasn’t unusual for a downdraft of wind to blow some of the smoke back into the room.  I kept reading.  Their voices became louder and the smoky smell became stronger.  “Everything okay down there?” I called over the banister. 
          A chorus of “Yeah”s assured me all was well.
          The voices grew to shrieks.  The aroma turned more acrid.  When the smoke detector chirped its warning, I rushed downstairs.  “What’s wrong?” 
          Six angelic faces looked at me and said, “Nothing.”
          Everything looked okay. 
          I went to the laundry room to put in another load, and I found a stack of soggy rags, burnt almost beyond recognition.  Upon closer inspection, I recognized six of my white, company-only kitchen towels. 
          I held Mom-Court there on the spot.  Five witnesses turned incriminating evidence against Dalton.  The story came out that the boys, still chilled from being outside, had shoved seven more logs onto the fire, which then crackled, popped, and rolled out onto the hearth.  The tongs and poker were not designed to shove heavy, blazing logs back into an over-packed fireplace.  Logs had dropped, sparks had flown, and soon they had a campfire smoldering in the middle of the family room. His best friend--who went on to be the valedictorian of his class and attend a prestigious college--had suggested using a fire extinguisher before the whole house burned down.  Dalton replied, “No way.  My mom gets all pissy when you use one.”  As he soon learned, I also “get all pissy” when he doesn’t use one.  Fortunately, the insurance covered the cost of replacing the Persian rug.
          One thing’s for sure, life at the beach is never boring when a 13-year-old boy is around. 


Catie Rhodes said...

Okay. That's some scary stuff. Funny, but scary. Sure you don't want to switch to writing horror? LOL

Patricia said...

I would not believe these stories if I someone told them to me, thinking they were meant just to make me laugh! Yes, they definitely are funny although at the time I'm sure you were freaking out. This post made my day! You should write a book about living with your son and how you survived. Wow!

Jo - To a Pretty Life said...

Oh my! This is what I have to look forward to in eleven years...Boys scare me! My 2 year old is already a daredevil.

Julie Glover said...

Thanks for sharing this one! Ah, the joy of raising boys. Frankly, I contend that all boys are slighty pyro; the idea of burning stuff is kind of cool to them. We thus limit our sons to burning things in the fire pit outside. After reading your story, however, I'm thinking of installing a fire extinguisher in every room of the house! LOL.

Jayne Ormerod said...

Jo (and anyone else raising a young daredevel) go ahead and stock up on Miss Clairol now, because they will give you many a gray hair as they try to escape the bonds of gravity! :)

Thanks to all who stopped by today. I am happy to report that my son has made it to the ripe old age of 24, but I still worry. A lot!

Debora Dale said...

Never trust the owner of a Y chromosome to tell a story from start to finish - they always seem to start in the middle then hop backward as if it's no big deal. Maybe it's their way of trying to keep us calm. Maybe.

What a funny story though. Terrifying but funny. I'm happy to hear it all turned out okay in the end - even if getting to 'the end' was a nightmare.

Christine Ashworth said...

This was awesome. Awesome!