When you play with fire…

Amber and I have been feeling quite smug, of late.

I’m not sure what it was. I think it was probably the 70% rule. We’ve been trying really hard to ensure that 70% or more of our interactions with our kids are positive.

But something has changed in the boys. They fight less. They express affection more. They’re quicker to apologize to each other and to us.

It’s been quite blissful, actually.

On Sunday, after returning from church, Amber and I decided to take a much-needed nap. In the past, this has been extremely hard to do. Just when we fall asleep, the fighting begins. But this time, we were confident our newly reformed boys would leave us be.

And they did.

For an entire hour, we heard nothing but the songs of one anothers’ breaths and harpsical music playing in the background of our dreams (okay, corny poetism, I know).

We should have guessed something was up.

Silence generally means something is going on.

We woke a little after 3pm, when Stephen, our home teacher, arrived at our house. Still groggy and stubbornly clinging to the thought of sleep, I sat in the recliner, eyes half-closed and awaiting his words of wisdom for us.

Then I heard it–the sound like the grinding of gears, followed by a soft hiss.

Yup, the kids turned on the outside hose.

That’s not a terrible thing to do, mind you. Except our kids love to play with the hose, making mud puddles to tromp in, tossing the mulch across the garden’s barrier, and destroying our lawn in the process. Not to mention the fact they often leave the water on for hours.

I jumped out of the recliner as righteous anger bubbled in my belly.

“Be nice,” Amber said.

I took a moment to calm myself before I opened the door. I was certain I’d find the backyard swimming in mud with my boys, in their Sunday best, tromping in murky water like pigs.

But oh no. I saw something much different.

I saw my two younger boys (3 and 6) standing in front of the fire pit, dousing a massive fire.

Yup, that’s why my boys were so quiet. They were too busy roasting logs to fight.

And I was too stunned to be angry.

And, to be honest, I was dang proud.

Seriously! Have you ever started a fire without accelerants or fire starters? I have only, just recently, learned how to do it without using an entire box of matches. And here my six-year-old had done it.


But, of course, I couldn’t say that! So I told him he should never start a fire without supervision.

After dousing the fire, I went inside and told Amber what had happened. Ethan (the six year old) came in shortly after. Having had time to contemplate my parental approach, I summoned him. Holding his hands, I stared into his gray-blue eyes. His face was soft, as if preparing to break down into tears.

“Ethan,” I said. “You know that was a dangerous thing, right?”

He nodded.

“Do you know why?” I asked.

“Cuz it could have caught the grass on fire.” (As an aside, the grass did catch on fire. That’s why they started the hose).

“Right,” I said. “And if the grass catches fire, the plants can too. And then the house. And since mom and dad were sleeping, we might not have known to get out of the house. And then we could have been trapped in a burning house.”

A flicker of something passed through his face. Terror maybe? Fear? A realization that, oh my goodness, this could have been really bad.

I could tell he was on the verge of tears. Yes, my boy, what you did was very bad. Or at least, it was a very bad idea.


“But,” I said. “I am very proud of you.”

He blinked and cocked his head.

“I can’t believe you started a fire by yourself.” I grinned. “That’s amazing! How’d you do it?”

He smiled, then told me his method. (No kindling, just lots of leaves and twigs).

“Wow,” I said. “That’s really impressive. I didn’t think you could even strike a match, let alone light a bonfire. How many matches did it take you?”

“Umm.” He shrugged. “About eleven.”


I high-fived him and he went on his way.

As I sat in the recliner again, listening to Stephen give his message, I kept asking myself–did I do the right thing?

Should I have scolded him?

Should I be angry?

Should I make him feel bad?

Should I punish him?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers to parenting. But, the way I see it, they get enough negativity and too little praise.

Will he again make a fire without supervision? Likely not. When he realized he could have killed his sleeping parents, his terror was real. And besides, I think next time, he’ll want to show me how he can start a fire.

So I don’t know if I made the right decision. But I do know this–I don’t regret not getting angry. I don’t regret showing him I love him. I don’t regret feeling proud of my little boy.

And, I suspect, I’ll never regret keeping my cool. Heaven knows I’ve regretted the opposite.




16 thoughts on “When you play with fire…

  1. When I was younger, my friends and I had a tree fort. We used to steal matches from one of the parents who smoked and burn stuff in a little pit we’d made under a tree. There were never any problems — the neighborhood had a lot of bonfires and we’d sort of learned fire safety by osmosis — but one boy got caught swiping a BUNCH of matchbooks and got grounded for three months, lol. Given the other shenanigans we got into, it seems excessive.

  2. *grins*

    Silence is a very “loud” warning! And naps are dangerous!

    I recently took a nap with my youngest for a grand total of 20 minutes. My older two had raided the easter eggs during that time and my son was up all night running around his room shouting, “Wheeeeeee”. I can’t imagine the sugar buzz they had going on.

    • Ha! I haven’t had it THAT bad πŸ™‚

      Our kids generally do pretty good. The most intervention we need is usually to stop the fighting.

      But, at least, sugar highs won’t kill anyone πŸ˜‰

  3. My young boys tried to melt aluminum cans and cast an ingot, by themselves, in Florida underbrush. The fireman told them it was not possible to melt aluminum in a fire. He was wrong, and the boys knew better and tried again. It would have been useful for them to have an adult they trusted to help them and teach some safety rules. My take home message was that to LEAD kids, I have to get in front, and I often underestimate where their minds have already taken them. I offer high praise for the way you handled the fire and the discussion. One of my boys has boys of his own now. He offers adventure times, where the boys can open up their wildest dreams and try ideas with help. I wish I had been as connected to my children as some parents are now.

    • I love that idea–adventure times. This has been something that’s on my mind lately. Too often we assume children are incapable of such and such. Just a few weeks ago, Ethan asked if he could start the fire. I told him no because, I assumed, he was incapable of even striking a match. Oh how wrong I was πŸ™‚

    • The discussion might have gone differently if the home teachers hadn’t been watching πŸ˜‰ hahaha. Turned out great on lots of levels. πŸ™‚ Love you Dustin!

  4. I am glad neither son got hurt in their fire exploration. I’m glad they also knew the hose is right there, and they knew when to use it.
    Your keeping calm, warning him of the dangers he didn’t think of- was valuable. But the best part was the praise, and the “how d’ya do it?”
    Dustin, you know your sons live to please you- so that was rewarding for him to shine by describing how he started it.
    Good job Dustin!!!

    • Sooooo true. I think it’s easy to forget that my approval means something to them. I tend to think, “wait, why would they care what I think? I don’t even care what I think.”

      But they care, more than so many other things.

  5. What a sweet story! I caught my son setting fires with a magnifying glass. He was fascinated with how the sunlight shone through and came out as a pin mark, and how quickly things started smoking. He learned this during a drought.

  6. It’s funny when we are impressed by poor behavior. When William was just two years old he would find ways to climb to James’s top bunk without using a ladder. On the one hand, it was horribly dangerous, and needed to be stopped. On the other, there was something incredible about watching a two year old scale his way to the bunk like that. We would just stand there in amazement, totally dumbfounded.

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