Today I was in the room Nora and Gabie share, changing Nora’s diaper before her nap, when I smelled a strange odor (I mean something other than the contents of the diaper I was changing). It struck me as a vaguely familiar smell but I couldn’t quite place it. My first thought was: “I wonder what Gabie has been playing with in here.” He’s quite the chemist lately, mixing batches of “Super Cleaner” out of lotion, water, soap, scraps of construction paper thrown in for color, etc.
But I couldn’t quite identify the odor and it was very faint, so I mentally shelved it, assuming I’d figure it out later. I was just about to put Nora down in her crib and leave the room when I remembered what the smell made me think of: ironing clothes. This was an odd connection because (true confession) I rarely iron clothes. Maybe once a month I do a bit of emergency spot work, but that’s it. God sent me to earth during the age of the wrinkle-free garment for a reason. But the really strange thing is that I had just ironed something this morning. Ken was running late for work and he was in charge of a big training meeting today, so I had pity on him and volunteered to clear the ironing board of its perpetual 20 pound layer of draped clothing and iron his shirt. Anyway, I’m not sure if I would have recognized the smell in Gabie’s room if it weren’t for the fresh association in my head.
I sniffed my way around the room and then checked all the electrical outlets and that’s when I discovered that Gabie had plugged in a little lamp, buried it under the quilt on his bed, and LEFT IT ON. The quilt fabric was scorching hot and a new package of diapers that had been sitting at the foot of Gabie’s bed had begun to melt. When I lifted the quilt to expose the lamp, a puff of smoke rose into the air.
I unplugged the lamp and dealt with the melted diapers and quilt and then I sat down with Nora in my arms and let my heart stop pounding. I didn’t want to think about what would have happened if I had left Nora in her crib, walked out, and closed the door. No, actually I did want to think about it. In fact I’ve been stirring the scenario around in my brain ever since. Smoldering quilt. Wooden bed. Smoke-filled room. Sleeping baby. . .
Then this evening, Ken was on the roof dismantling the old swamp cooler. McKay was climbing up the ladder to join him and I was a few feet away with Nora and Gabie. Suddenly, the ladder tipped over and McKay was hanging there, holding onto the edge of the roof, his legs dangling in the air. It could have been a comic moment from a Keystone Cops film if it weren’t for the fact that it was my 9-year old son holding on for dear life. I dashed over and put the ladder under him and helped him down. He was definitely upset. But it speaks for his resilient character that he insisted on going back up once he had calmed down for a minute. I held the ladder, of course.
So now it’s 11 pm and everyone is asleep but me. I’ve checked on all the kids and they are still breathing. Sometimes at night I am hit with an overwhelming sense of relief when I can finally say that we’ve all made it through another day, safe and sound.
There’s a print by Käthe Kollwitz—a very dramatic image of death sweeping down from the sky to seize the throats of two terrified children. My favorite part of the scene? The little girl darting off to the left. I wonder how much of life is made up of narrow escapes. Some that we probably don’t even realize. And some that make us grateful for the small miracles that keep us here.