I remember when we moved from my childhood home into a new one when I was in high school. We went from an old school electric stove that I felt comfortable operating and cooking simple things like macaroni and cheese, to using burners that had actual fire coming out of them. And despite being a sophomore in high school, I was still totally freaked out.
Over time I got more comfortable, though I am still a total weenie when the burners don’t immediately light and they click for too long. I can just see myself blowing the house up.
So I was sort of torn when we moved into our current apartment and I discovered the electric stove. It feels so much safer, no gas leaks, no open flames, but it cooks like crap. And it turns out, it’s really not much safer after all because I very nearly set our apartment on fire with it.
So, the cat food usually lives in the oven because that’s the only place the cats haven’t figured out how to get into to eat it, but I moved it out onto the counter near the oven last week for reasons that are largely unimportant in life, but the consequence of which is critical to the story. I never gave it a second thought.
For the past several months, I have been exclusively pumping, (which is another post for another time because I don’t have enough energy to go through all the feelings associated with that situation here in the detail I someday want to,) and that means I wake up for at least an hour in the middle of the night, every night. I tend to be very lazy with cleaning up in the middle of the night and hence there are paper towels everywhere. Even on the stove, which was not concerning to me because paper towels are not likely to combust without a heat source and obviously I would move them before turning on the burners.
Only, apparently that’s not true.
One night last week, we had gotten home from eating dinner and I had realized the cats were out of food. I was going to go feed them, but got distracted and initiated the baby’s bedtime routine upstairs instead. Finally, after Eli was bathed and pajamaed, I went downstairs to prepare his bottle while my husband finished reading him a story. I fed the cats quickly, replaced their food and got comfortable on the couch to feed the baby.
Moments after I started feeding the baby, the air conditioner kicked on and I noticed that it smelled faintly of burning. This isn’t terribly unusual because our air system is connected to our neighbors, so we often smell their dinner and their burnt mistakes. The smell persisted and I casually asked my husband to check the kitchen the next time he got up. Several minutes later, he called my name and I could see he was holding a paper towel that was on fire. The burning smell was in fact coming from our kitchen.
It seems that when I replaced the cat food, I had inadvertently turned the electric burner on high. In doing so I had ignited the paper towel I had recklessly placed on the stove. We had a small fire in our kitchen.
Immediately I realized how bad this could’ve been. If I had fed the cats as I had planned, we would’ve been upstairs when the paper towel caught fire. We wouldn’t have smelled it in the early stages and since our smoke detector is upstairs, there’s no way to know how bad things would’ve gotten before we even found out. Would the fire have spread? Would it have gotten to the stairs? All questions I’ll somewhat thankfully never know the answer to.
I have images of being trapped upstairs as our apartment burns. I have images of trying to climb out of the nursery window with a baby. Of my family being injured or worse, all because of my carelessness. Because I was too lazy to toss those paper towels into the trash can located 4 feet away. Because I didn’t check that the burner was off.
The responsibility that has come with becoming a mother feels tremendous some days and reflecting back on what could’ve been is overwhelmingly terrifying. We have so much more to lose now.
Given what could’ve happened, I feel beyond grateful that things turned out the way they did. I realize that we are so incredibly lucky and I’m more able than ever to appreciate all that we have and why I have to work as hard as I can to keep it all safe.