Monday, January 30, 2012

Fire


At the end of July, we had a small party. The young son of one of our guests noted our wood stove. I said he may not touch it, but perhaps with an adult's assistance.

"No, you never may touch it!" the boy's father exclaimed.

I was startled by the father's emphatic response. My own son was slung on my hip, and just beginning to pull himself to standing and would soon be crawling.

***

"Don't let him see me open the stove!" I shooed my husband and son from the kitchen one late summer day.


***

Since our son walked early, we delved into "No!" and "Hot!" early. Before any of us were ready. 

When using the oven, I gated my son into the room adjacent, so we could see each other. I barricaded the stove with dining room chairs, when the oven was off. Just so he would get the idea. I hoped. My husband hated the chair barrier. I had to agree, it appeared we had been ransacked. Toys, kitchen utensils, towels, hiking brochures, telephone books, all the things within my son's reach were scattered about the kitchen and dining room. A up-ended couple wooden chairs made the scene far too chaotic.

"What else could I do?" I asked my husband. "I have to be able to get something done!"

Our house is small, each room a railroad to the next, making gates around the wood stove and kitchen range impossible, or at least very unpleasant. 

No! No touch! Hot! 

"Be consistent," my whole care provider said. "Put something up so you create a safe distance. Give him a drawer with things he can play with. He'll live at your feet in the kitchen. It's the way you'll get something done."

It was miserable. So many repetitions of 'no'. My son would burst into tears at my fearsome exclamations of NO. Tears of frustration, aggravation gathered in the corners of my eyes. How will I get anything done? 

***

Before my son became mobile, the 'wood stove room' was the center of our home. We call our living room the 'wood stove room'. The name gives a sense for how important wood heat is to us, for creating really comfortable warmth, for saving money, for simplifying (in winter, we heat only two rooms of our six room house), for security (our power goes out frequently - no power, no well, no heat, no electric kitchen range). 

As a young child, we had no fireplace, but we went camping often. Camping meant camp fires. I was allowed to light and tend the fires. I don't recall any discipline around the issue, but I do recall loving the responsibility, the smoky aroma in my hair... Around age seven or eight, we moved to a house that had a fireplace. I was allowed to build and light fires. We had long matches. "Light from the back forward," was the only advice I remember my father offering. 

My son became mobile right about the time heating season began. While we couldn't gate off the wood stove itself, we could entirely gate off the wood stove room.

***

My husband gathered my son, as I began to open the oven. "Let's go and play over here, Beren. I'll take him out so he doesn't see you opening the oven." 

"Oh, stay, it's ok for him to see me open the oven," I said. My inconsistencies must make my husband grey.

I had realized two things:
1.) Buying and erecting baby gates is easier than communicating to a baby. Communicating to a baby was more important and longer lasting than baby gates.
2.) Fire is essential to human existence. I didn't want to take fire away from my son. Colonial kids with open hearths made it, right?

***

We spent one hectic evening in the wood stove room with a makeshift barrier of an end table, a stool, and several 30 gallon tree pots filled with kindling. Like the barrier of up-ended chairs, it was not attractive -not even close to the ecru homes featured on the packaging for baby gates. 

Beren threw kindling around the room. 

"Ahh, ahh. MMm, MMM," he pointed to the wood stove.

Hot! my husband and I took turns exclaiming. After an hour or less, we retreated to the adjacent room, our bedroom, which is also contains a desk, crib, and toy box. It's not easy living in two rooms.

***

Each time Beren points at the wood stove from behind the gate, an adult exclaims Hot! Even so, he joins us in the wood stove room. When I build a fire, he hands me pieces of wood that he pulls from the end table. It's a random selection - a bow drill set and a figure four trap made in Tom Brown's Tracker School, cedar blocks, and a miniature replica of the statue of Jesus that stands above Rio de Janeiro.  


***

Today, months into wood season, Beren pointed at a portable heater in my whole care provider's office. "MMM," he said and began to approach the nifty object with vents and buttons and knobs.

"Hot. No." I said, sanely but firmly, I might add. 

He stopped. Pondered. And moved on.

"Good," my doctor said.

I'll admit, I felt very, very proud of my family.

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