Please pardon the interruption…

I am trying to understand why our smoke detector sounds like a sex kitten.  No, we didn’t have a fire.  We did, however, have one of those in-hindsight-it’s-funny incidents when all NINE smoke detectors went off screeching and beeping loudly until we managed to disable them.  In the middle of all the attention-getting noise, the running around and climbing on things to reach the equipment, the keeping J focused and calm while we figured this out, a Marilyn-Monroe-like voice whispered seductively: “Fire!!!  Fire!!!  Fire!!!”  The only thing missing was the pink strapless gown and all the male back-up dancers.

We fried fish.  We had turned off the stove.  There was NO SMOKE anywhere in the house.  J had gone downstairs to watch TV and TGG was trying to sleep because it was a day of constant interruptions and he had the 10:45 P.M. shift.  And no sooner had my husband and I settled in to enjoy our fish…

I’ve had military training.  Believe me, it kicks in rather quickly.  My kids are well aware of what’s next, and everyone gathered for a headcount.  Since there was no fire…or smoke…or even warmth in the whole house, we opened doors and windows, turned on fans and worked our way around the house trying to turn off the smoke detectors.  J, squinting while he covered his ears, but impressively calm, stood in the dining room waiting for the traumatic experience to be over.

We’ve had fire before.  A few years back, the apartment next to ours caught fire and J and I were alone at home.  This was…oh..ten years ago?  He was easy to carry then, and I dashed out the door without once thinking about anything else.  TGG was at school, my husband was at work and J had come home early because he was upset over other kids in class doing the “autistic dolphin screech.”  That’s what we call the high-pitched squeal that one of his classmates made…like Daryl Hannah trying to say her name in Splash; once he started -much like the smoke detector- it became a chain reaction of dolphin-screeching that hurt J’s ears.  We’d been home for about twenty minutes (long enough for my child to disrobe and get comfortable) when someone ran by yelling -in a most non-Marilyn-Monroe-like way- FIRE!  FIRE!  FIRE!  The appearance of large, bright, rather sudden flames through the neighbors’ bedroom window as I looked out of mine proved that action was necessary.

While, on that occasion, we stayed behind and dealt with smoke and the stench of charred wood, the neighbors moved away.  As it turned out, the fire had started PRECISELY in the corner where the rent money due mere days later had been stored.  Go figure!  The way the tenants emoted in front of their burning unit (which was curiously devoid of all valuables, pets and humans at the time this happened) and announced that the very corner where their cash rent money was stored was where the fire started, we always refer to this as The Fire Started By the Self-Immolating Rent Money.  We were grateful it happened during the day, and that the only thing we lost was our ability to breathe clean air for a couple of weeks.

Last night we were prepared to spring into action even though we knew this was no real emergency.  Last night it was a tremendously irritating noise, and -once we knew we had nothing to worry about except tinnitus- we cursed, groaned and grunted our way through the process of finding all the units.  By the time we were done, dinner was cold, TGG was wide awake, the cats were ready for a chamomile tisane and J, now curious about the thick disk that speaks like a sexy lady, went back downstairs to hit the “TEST” button randomly, making us leap into action in case we had missed a sign of doom…

Once the smell of fried fish had dissipated, we went back to closing doors and windows, turning off fans and replacing the smoke detectors in the basement and street levels of our home.  J, after his bath, retired to the family room to watch TV and, as we walked up the stairs to finish cleaning the kitchen, we noticed him lurking under the ceiling-mounted smoke detector with a mischievous smile.  He REALLY liked the reaction he got from pressing that TEST button…we told him it’s not a toy and his parents are now certain of the soundness of their hearts’ health so no need to scare the crap out of them AGAIN.

I decided to re-mount the smoke detectors in the upper level in the morning.  No, this is not one of those “uh-oh, don’t do it!  Don’t do it!” moments in a horror movie…nothing bad happened.  But J was sad.

While my husband drove TGG to work, I heard J sobbing in his room and I went to see what was happening.  He was sitting in bed, his eyes swampy and his nose runny.  He was holding his face in his hands and crying.  That he was wearing both hats, a red turtleneck and his brother’s too-small-for-J pajama pants is beside the point, but I made a mental note to get TGG a new pair of pajamas.  (They both have a red plaid pair…but the only person who ever remembers that J’s is the BIG plaid pattern and TGG’s is the TINY plaid pattern is me.  So J looked like getting-angry-Hulk as he sat on his bed last night…poor guy.)

I asked J what was up, and he said PLEASE with such feeling that I assumed he was uncomfortable with those pants.  (See…I KNEW I’d mentioned it for a reason!)  So I tried to help him change out of them, but J pushed my hands away and kept repeating PLEASE while motioning towards the hallway with his hands.  I asked if he wanted me to turn off the hallway light, and he simply got up and marched out to where the smoke detectors were placed when we’d removed them earlier.  PLEASE.  The request was heartfelt, and I dragged TGG’s desk chair into J’s room and, with J’s close supervision, replaced his smoke detector.  I was then told THANK YOU and BYE.  No more tears; no more suffering; no sadness…just a great deal of what I realized was relief and a too-tight pair of flannel jammy pants.

This morning, as J turned off the ceiling light and walked out of his room to leave for school, he stopped under the smoke detector and made sure the little green light was on…and he smiled.

So, another lesson learned: J WILL keep calm in a chaotic situation, even if the noise involved hurts his ears, AND he knows safety equipment.  I don’t know if he found the sexy fire! fire! fire! announcement unsettling, but he knows that those round things on the ceiling make people move fast, and he knows to come to where we can assist him in getting out of the house.  We are grateful for this…

Now if I could just get my ears to stop ringing!



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