The Fear of Fire

We were standing at the desk at the post office. I hate taking the kids to the post office, but sometimes life with the fire schedule requires it. I was sending quite a few things and it was taking awhile for my transaction to go through. I felt a tug on my pants.

Mommy, are there smoke detectors in here?

I looked down into BigBrother’s big brown eyes. It was a serious question, not a joke. I looked around. I didn’t actually see one. I looked back down at him, his big brown eyes hadn’t moved from my face. Figuring that they were, I thought I would involve the lady behind the desk to help ease his fears.

Excuse me, ma’am, my son wants to know if there are smoke detectors in here.

Her answer wasn’t what I had hoped. She kind of looked around as though she had never thought of it before. “Well, I would assume so, but I honestly don’t know.

I looked back at BigBrother. His eyes had left my face and were nervously looking around the ceiling of the old building. I prayed for our post office worker to finish quickly.

— __ — __ —

The boys were playing on the deck while I finished cooking dinner. The window was open on the screen door so I could make sure they were still there and not beating each other with sticks. They were actually playing as quietly as they can play, crashing some cars into random Spiderman figurines.

The timer sounded on the oven as I was putting away some dishes across the kitchen.


I assured him that it was fine, that I was right here, and that I had dinner under control. I mean, sure, I’ve caught wooden spoons on fire and have burned soup, but I’m pretty adept in the kitchen. He eyed me cautiously but went back to playing with his brother.

— __ — __ —

We were eating our lunch together. The boys were eating sandwiches and cheese sticks and orange slices while I waited for some leftovers to heat up in the microwave.

How long did you turn the microwave on for?

Just two minutes.


If you left it on too long, it would catch on fire and we’d have to go out the downstairs door, not the back door because the fire would get us.

I took the conversation as a re-teaching moment about getting low and feeling for heat and the various exits we have from our home. But he kept on.

Well, what about our stuff, our toys.

People are more important than things. Mommy and Daddy would get you two out first. People are not replaceable.

People are the most important things.


But what about your pictures?

Well, I’d be sad but we could get new pictures. We would make sure you were safe though.

He seemed satisfied, but my heart was heavy.

— __ — __ —

I don’t know where these questions are coming from as of late. I don’t quite know if they’re just age appropriate fire safety bits and pieces spilling out or if they are a off-shoot from growing up in a fire family. We say the word fire more than most families on a daily basis. We read books about firefighters. We talk about the fire station and how FireDad is working on his shift day. They ask to put on their firefighter costumes. They play with fire trucks. It’s all fire, all the time. And while I want my sons to have a healthy dose of fear when it comes to fire, his worry hits me hard. He is so much like me that it hurts sometimes.

LittleBrother is two years younger and doesn’t quite have the same understanding that fire can ruin things and hurt people. BigBrother’s world was kind of shaken when two of our favorite firefighters were injured last year. Firefighters can get hurt. That has evolved into the realization that fire can happen anywhere, whether you’re at home or at school or at the post office.

I do my best to reassure him that we will take care of him, but his fears linger.

But if you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, his answer nowadays is soundly, “A firefighter.” No more “and a space ranger” tacked onto the end. Firefighter. His answer is firm and quick. I realize that will change 87 times by the time he hits an age where the question actually matters. But if you ask FireDad if he always wanted to be a firefighter, the answer is yes.

I try not to think about it. I wish someone was sitting at the table reassuring me that my family would always be safe.


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5 Replies to “The Fear of Fire”

  1. I’d guess they’re both age-appropriate, to-be-expected questions and an outgrowth of his upbringing. My son asked some of those same questions, though not as often or in as much detail.

    It really sounds like you’re handling it as well as this kind of thing can possibly be handled. It’s tough when they’re afraid. I was just writing about a similar situation — we had an attempted abduction in the neighborhood, and I keep stressing that knowing about it is good; you should be LESS afraid because now we’ve talked about it; now you’re prepared. And I truly believe that. But it still breaks your heart to see them scared. It just plain sucks.

    Hugs to you guys.

  2. That sucks. I hate it when my kiddos are afraid of something. After a visit to my in-laws, during which my MIL explained kidnapping in detail, my girl has been obsessed with locking all the doors and windows so that “no one can sneak in and steal her”. As much as you try and talk to them to assuage their fears, I don’t think it can be done. I relate it back to my fear of flying, I KNOW it’s safe, but I still feel fear about it. Kids kind of seem like that. You can logic them until you’re blue in the face but they still feel that fear until they work through it in their head. : (

    It’s so sweet that BB still wants to be a firefighter though, he will be well prepared for it when he’s old enough. : )

  3. Sarah, that’s actually a really good idea (relating it to a fear of your own). I’ll remember that. Thanks.

    Incidentally, I feel your pain about another adult in the family putting ideas in their heads. My mom thought it would be a good idea to describe the plot of Stephen King’s The Stand to my son. (She’s usually much more sensible. Who knows what went through her head?) That was several months ago, and I’m still hearing about it from my son.

  4. Jenna, I agree with the above commenters that Big Brother is at the age where kids just naturally seem to develop *some* serious fear of one sort or another. With our younger son, it was fear of earthquakes. Where we live in CA kids are drilled in school from Kindergarten on about “duck and cover”. One time when he was about 7 or 8, he was in the shower during a mild local quake and the tubes of shampoo fell off a ledge and hit him before I could get there to provide reassurance of his safety. After that, he lived with (though only rarely articulated) a serious fear about what might happen during “the big one”. He was in junior high when we actually experienced a “big one”. He and I were at the library; books fell, shelves toppled, power went out. Driving home (in considerable haste to reach our own beloved home-alone Big Brother!) we found no radio stations broadcasting, saw power lines down, and cars pinned under fallen railroad-crossing guard gates. All scary, to say the least. Later, however, he was very relieved. “Mom, I feel so lucky. I just lived through my biggest fear, and lots of people probably don’t ever have the chance to do that for their whole life!”

    May you and your beautiful family never have a direct personal opportunity to live through Big Brother’s biggest fear, but here’s hoping he finds (and he will) ways to accommodate that possibility through some “lesser” experience!

    Reassuring hugs from here!!

  5. It’s never easy for a mama to listen to her baby worry. I think it’s part of the ages & stages, though, because “What ifs” and fire scenarios are common at my house right now. My 4-year-old frequently brings up our fire escape plan in which we all meet at Neighbhor Bob’s house. Then she’ll ask, “But what if Neighbor Bob’s house is on fire?” And so on and so on until our entire neighborhood is a fiery inferno of terror. It gets frustrating, but I know talking about it so often helps her deal with the worry.

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