Monday, October 17, 2011

let's talk about why I don't play with fire.

When I was five years old, my parents sent me to Safety Town. Safety Town was a week-long class for kids just about to start kindergarten, and it taught you about general safety rules. We learned about traffic lights, stop signs, household chemicals, and fires. In theory, it was a great idea… but Safety Town very nearly ruined my childhood.

The segments on traffic were great, don’t get me wrong. We each got a little car to pedal around, and we took turns being pedestrians. We learned to stay on the right side of the road and what green, red, and yellow lights meant. Looking back, it seems a little odd that they were teaching five-year-olds about traffic signals, but it’s different in South Dakota. I was driving tractors and farm pickups by the time I was eight, so it was like pre-driver’s ed for the farm kids.

This is me, learning how not to mow down bystanders.
It seems that I have already been pulled over.
No, it wasn’t the warning tales of gruesome traffic accidents that got to me, nor was it the household chemicals. We went through every bottle that could be under the sink or in the medicine cabinet and talked about the horrible things it could do to you. We all got a sheet of stickers with a green sad face with his eyes x-ed out, and we were supposed to place this on all items that were potentially harmful to warn us all to stay away from them. (I may have tried to put one of these on my little sister, but don’t quote me on that.) Needless to say, like any little kid given explicit instructions to put stickers on Mom and Dad’s stuff, I had a heyday.

It was the section on fire safety that scared the living daylights out of me. The instructors sat us down and went over stop, drop, and roll and why we shouldn’t play with matches. No big deal. It was the video that got to me. They showed a little video about a girl who looked a lot like Lucy of Peanuts fame. Little Lucy was given the same “don’t play with matches” instructions as we were, but Lucy laughed it off. She loved to play with matches, and she loved sticking things in electrical outlets. Lucy would scare her friends, chasing after them with lit matches. Everyone told Lucy to stop, but Lucy kept on lighting things on fire. One day, Lucy was home alone (which really makes you wonder about her parents – if you had a pyromaniac grade-schooler, would you leave them at home by themselves?). She was playing with matches, like she usually does. This time, though, Lucy got a little too close to the Christmas tree. The tree went up in flames, and so did the rest of Lucy’s house. Lucy herself caught on fire, but she had the presence of mind to remember to stop, drop, and roll. The last we saw of Lucy, she was in full-body traction in a hospital bed, presumably with third-degree burns over most of her body. She cried and cried and promised never to play with matches again.

I was horrified. I had just seen a cautionary tale of a little girl being burned alive. Even though I had no interested in playing with matches, I was absolutely certain this would happen to me. I pressured my parents to make sure all the smoke detectors were in working order. I put one of those stickers with the firefighter on it in my bedroom window so they’d know where to rescue me. I was convinced that the house was in danger of spontaneously combusting at any minute, and I didn’t want to be the one stuck inside.

I became so paranoid that I nearly stopped sleeping. At that time, I shared a bedroom on the main floor with my one-year-old sister. I would lie in my bunk bed and wait for my parents to go to bed. After they had gone upstairs to their room, I would creep up and silently make myself a little nest at the foot of their bed. My logic was that if they had to trip over me to get out of our burning house, there was no way they’d forget me.

This went on for a few nights before my parents decided enough was enough. They sat me down and told me that our house was NOT going to burn down, and even if it did, they’d never leave me behind. After much persuasion, I agreed to spend the night in my own bed. Sure enough, our house never burned down. But to this day, you’ll never catch me playing with matches.

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