Where there’s smoke…

“What are you DOING?” I screeched at her. “Do you not see the SMOKE?”

My first clue that I’d lost control of the situation was my teenager sitting on the couch, blithely chatting on Facebook while the room filled with billowing smoke.

“Well, yeah,” she replied. “I see it. But you’re fixing it, right? I mean, I can’t fix it.”

“OH MY GOSH,” I said calmly, my eyes not bulging out even a little. “I’m not asking you to help fix it. I’m trying to save your life. The house is full of smoke! Get. Out. GET OUT! GETOUTgetoutGETOUT!”

I chased her from the house, flapping my hen-like wings and clucking all the way to the front door. Zen and the Art of Child Maintenance; I am a master.

My second clue that I’d lost control of the situation was my five-year-old army crawling all over the kitchen.

“Check this out, Mom,” Cael said, wonder and awe in his voice. “It’s just like they taught us at school in fire safety class! You really can crawl under the smoke and still breathe.” He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly to demonstrate. “Ah! Fresh air down here!”

“Cael! There is SMOKE IN OUR HOUSE. Get. OUT!”

He got out, but only out of the kitchen. He crawled into the hallway where he dallied under the smoke canopy, too enamored with his breathing experiment to be in any real rush.


On this week’s conversational agenda for my family? This topic: WHEN YOU SEE SMOKE, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE. You needn’t wait to see the white of the fire’s eyes to MOVE, KIDS.

Five minutes before battling kitchen smoke and my children in equal measure, I was sitting on my front steps watching my little kids paint our house, our tree trunks, our sidewalks and each other with watercolor paints. You know all those leftover boxes of Prang and Crayola watercolors that come home from school all mixed together so that every color resembles a mud river? Except you’re sure that there’s usable paint under the jumbled mess of colors and so you can’t toss those messy trays because that’s like saying that you don’t even care that your great-grandchildren have to clean up your environmental mess someday? Yeah. Me, too. Well, here’s the solution: send all of the paint trays, some jumbo-sized wall painting brushes, and a bucket of water outside with two or more children, and those cupboard-cluttering paints will be gone in no time. It’s the best use-the-paint tip ever if, like me, you’ve totally given up on curb appeal and your neighbors already know you’re a disaster. (My neighbor hands me red wine over the fence whenever she thinks I look overwhelmed, which really only reinforces my negative behavior, so my kids are pretty much allowed to paint whatever they want.)


I was in the midst of negotiating with the kids on the use of our dog as a painting canvas – “OK, you can paint the fur on his back if you promise not to paint his eyeballs or his butthole because a) I don’t have money to pay the vet for bionic dog eyes and b) there are enough things in our house that smell like dog butt without adding paint brushes to the list…” – when my ten-year-old Aden-girl rushed from the house, shoved her face within centimeters of mine, and yelled, “CAI SHOULD NOT HAVE TOLD ME TO MICROWAVE PIZZA ROLLS FOR 25 MINUTES!” And then she turned, pointed furiously at 5-year-old Cai and yelled for emphasis, “YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE TOLD ME THAT, CAI!”

Cai was too busy painting his naked belly and, on alternate strokes, the inside of his nose to pay a bit of attention to his irrational sister.

I found her harder to ignore, though, so, with admonishments to my children to stay on the sidewalk (“We know, Mom. You say that all the time.“), I put away the Kindle book I wasn’t reading, and I went inside to check the damage.

I found smoke.

Miles and thousands of miles of smoke and the accompanying smell of an electrical fire.

And a teenager sitting on the couch. And a preschooler practicing his belly crawl.

FYI, Ikea plastic plates that are fried in pizza roll grease on high in the microwave produce carcinogenic (I imagine) clouds of smoke but no actual fire.

Also FYI, telling children to “RUN AWAY FROM THE CANCER SMOKE” isn’t as effective a motivator as real, honest-to-God flames. Apparently, I need to work on my delivery. Or buy a torch to light in case of emergencies.

Also also FYI, this is why a) we don’t take cooking tips from 5-year-olds, and b) we always ASK MOM BEFORE we cook anything. RIGHT, KIDS?

And finally, thank you for your Facebook tips for getting this noxious smell out of my house. I plan to try your suggestions soon since my vanilla candle and cider spice sacrifice was a pathetic failure.


The End.



Greg used to work with a guy who’s the father of four, um, creative boys.

Sometimes, the guy’s wife would call him at work with updates, like the time she found their 7-year-old twins using bungee cords to climb on and off the roof. Or the time she forgot to put the house into full lockdown at naptime so their toddler, the social butterfly, snuck out to visit the neighbors.

Every story was a combination of the horrific and hilarious. Horrorious! And we who had fewer than four children giggled into our napkins and tried not to smirk when the guy walked by.

I’m just saying I can see you laughing behind your napkin.

I can see you.

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22 responses to “Where there’s smoke…”

  1. Oh. My. Goodness. This could seriously be my house!!! Thankfully the two youngest don’t seem to have the fire gene yet. I must tell you, there are special angels assigned to homes like this. God has our backs :).
    Remember one time I had to leave the middle kids watching the youngest. When I came home, my older son wanted to show me the video they had made. He squirted gasoline in a design on the gravel drive. (Children–DO NOT DO THIS!!) Then they lit it. I was asking him where the 2 yr old was at this time. He said “Oh, we were making sure he was away and ok.” Bit later, I watched the video without him presetting it…. The unedited version was, shall we say a bit more alarming? Fire circling the feet of the child filming who was ALSO HOLDING THE 2 YEAR OLD!!! Lots of feet stomping, yelling “Get it out!!! Get it out!!”. You get my drift :). So thanks for making me feel not so alone in this world 🙂 And if I was to try to hide behind a napkin, it would need to be the size of a table cloth!!!

  2. Beth,
    I just very recently found your blog and love it. I relate to your posts on numerous levels. I am also an MK who spent the better part of my developmental years in West Papua, I also have babies in heaven and I am an adoptive mom through International adoption. So I have reading back in your archives as well as your recent posts. I just want to say thank you for your words, your honesty and your great humor.

  3. I’m not even hiding behind a napkin because I’m just laughing out loud. I’m also calling your neighbor for more red wine for you.
    Thanks for this.

  4. Oh my goodness–if laughter is the best medicine, then subscribing to your blog has been the healthiest thing I’ve done all year! This is hilarious, and I’m not snickering behind my napkin, because I can see something like this happening in our home in a few years. It’s challenging enough to keep track of my 3 boys, but I shudder to think what things will be like when we have 4 or even 5 kids (and what if they’re ALL boys??)! As far as I’m concerned, what happened in your home is completely understandable and could have happened in any home with lots of kids, but no one else could have told it with the humor that you did!
    Thanks for a great laugh!

  5. Hilarious!! We recently had a very harmless incident which set off our smoke detectors. One of my 3yo is very sensitive to loud noises (how someone who is sensitive to noise can survive in this house, I’ll never know…) and she completely freaked out. When I was telling my husband about the event later, he asked how she handled it. I told her that she flipped out, but I was much more comfortable with her reaction than those of my other four kids who could not be bothered to even glance up from their coloring books, dolls and video games. We have since had a few fire safety talks, but I’m pretty certain that should our house ever actually catch fire, I’ll be the screaming, crazy lady carrying five kids (who are all perfectly capable of walking/running on their own) out of the inferno.

    Also, your p.s. reminded me of my sweet, lovely 20 yr old niece. Everytime I talk to her she says, “Oh, tell me a funny story about the kids getting into trouble. They always do the funniest things!” And each time I smile and say, “May you be blessed with five kids.”

  6. I love that Cael payed attention enough to know to crawl under the smoke…but not enough attention to know to crawl OUT OF THE HOUSE under the smoke.

  7. On the bright side this might be just what you needed to finish off the tomato plant.

  8. Oh Beth! I’ll send you some Febreze in the post – that’s my answer to everything stinky. And it might comfort you to know that I once set fire to my own kitchen without the assistance of children. Wokful of oil + phone call from then-boyfriend-now-husband = flames a mile high. Fortunately I had two friends round for dinner (which they never got to eat due to the inferno) – one put the fire out and the other had me to stay at her flat whilst the smoke dispersed. Plenty of fresh air will do the trick. Slightly wetting myself laughing at the PS!! xo

  9. Oh dear! And You might just check with a restoration company about the nature of your smoke… If it really was a lot? I recently had a friend leave a chicken to boil and it boiled dry and burned badly and they literally had to move out of their house for over a month to have the smoke cleaned out. Apparently protein smoke is actually really bad for you. Um, just FYI as if you don’t have better things to do with your time…

  10. Wow. I just *love* how life keeps coming full circle. Who was the 14 year old who managed to fill a cabin with smoke in the highlands of New Guinea one night so long ago? And used the Nuremberg Defense (“I was only following orders”) for doing so? At least that kid of yesteryear *did* (1) calmly announce the emergency and (2) immediately solicit help to solve the problem. Thereafter “Jodie in MN” nailed it; “windows, fans, candles, and time.” (Although Jodie likely didn’t first have to start to Honda generator to run the fans…)

  11. Oh my goodness, I was belly laughing on my bed reading this. So was my husband when I shared it with him. Thanks for making my house seem peaceful. I’m very grateful. 🙂

  12. Windows, fans, candles, and time. That’s the only way to get it out. At least at my house. Not that I have any experience. I never set a tupperware on the stove then turned on the wrong burner. Nope, didn’t do it. I also have no idea what it’s like to scream at your children to get out while they look at you like you’re crazy. It wasn’t me who hauled one sleeping child, who can apparently sleep through multiple smoke alarms, out and lay her on the sidewalk directly in the sun. Exit carcinogenic smoke, enter melanoma. Oh, and it may or may not have been our 10th anniversary dinner I was trying to cook.

  13. This reminds me of when my dad got our first microwave in the late 80’s and cooked a baked potato for 30 minutes…..with a very similar result…..
    I guess knowing how to actually use the tools you have is a good idea?

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