fire is good, fire is our friend
June 30, 2008
Ian, if you’re reading, stop right now. Seriously, just go away and play Runescape or something. Ride your bike.
Gone? Okay, good.
Yesterday, a few neighbors stopped Kim and me while we were going for a walk, and told us Ian (my 13 year old boy) and friends were playing with fire at a friend’s house, in the driveway. And Yesterday morning, someone told me that their daughter had spotted Ian, um, burning bugs. Not sure what kind of bugs, or if they were icky or cute.
All I can think of when this happens is how I grew up. Second to last, eight kids, so by the time I was 13, my parents were on auto-pilot, and since I was generally a well-behaved kid who got in virtually NO trouble, they left me alone to my devices. Which, ahem, now and again involved playing with fire. And maybe sometimes burning bugs.
Okay, I used to take empty plastic gallon ice-cream containers, fill them halfway up with gasoline (back when a gallon of gas cost like a buck), and light them on fire. It’s not like they blew up, the gas would just burn until the container melted, then the burning gas would run all over the basketball court in our backyard until it, well, burned up. And once I collected a bunch of beetles in a big dixie cup, filled it with the same gas, and lit that. Same result, except the beetles, they died.
At scout camp in Northern Minnesota, we arrived one year to our special camp, and discovered that a previous troop had constructed a fence out of downed trees and twine, to cordon off a big patch of poison ivy. They even hung a sign from one of the fence posts: “Constructed by the Totally Geeky, Ass Kissing Troop from Iowa.” Or something like that. We weren’t in camp an hour before we had burned every piece of twine holding the fence together, and thrown the sign in the cook fire.
Once in my neighborhood, me and the boys each got a tennis ball, punched a hole in it, waited till dark, filled the balls with gas, lit them, and kicked them down the street. Awesome.
I’m just saying.
So when I catch up with Ian later last night, I’m torn–Do I yell at him, tell him he can never use fire again, or slap him on the back, and give him a hug?
I try to compromise, I tell him, “dude, in the FRONT yard? How dumb are you?” And I follow it up with “Don’t play with fire in the street, don’t burn bugs, don’t torture animals, don’t make neighbor girls cry.”
But Ian is a very logical boy. “Dad, I’ve got the fire safety merit badge. Nobody is getting hurt. And it was ONE bug, and it was dead.” He’s like Maverick in Top Gun, “We were only below the hard deck for a few seconds, there was no danger, so I took my shot.” And I’m like the colonel, secretly I admire his balls, and wish I could light shit on fire too.
What I want is for Ian to get the wink, without me winking. “I understand, boys light stuff on fire. Don’t burn anything down, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, have fun, but don’t make me have this conversation with you ever again.”
Of course, I don’t say that, I say “don’t do that anymore.” And he doesn’t get the wink. He thinks I’m a jerk. And maybe he’s not supposed to, maybe getting the wink comes later.
What I want to say is, I understand. But don’t get ME in trouble. With your mom, with the neighbors, with the cops. But have fun. But not too much. Enjoy. Discretely. I dunno. I could build him a fire pit in the back yard. With a fence and everything, for him to burn down.