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.

15 Responses to “fire is good, fire is our friend”

  1. b_banks Says:

    For me it was grasshoppers; we used to tape firecrackers to them, light the wick and watch them blow up. Good times man! There is no doubt, boys like to light shit on fire………

  2. texasgal Says:

    My dad was smart and just dug us a tiny fire pit in the backyard. We spent 1 entire summer using toothpicks to make forts and then burning them down.

  3. chtrich Says:

    Finding the balance in parenting is so hard to do. 😉

  4. KanyonKris Says:

    Parental dilemmas – so fun. Did I sign up for this? Who put me in charge? of children? There must be some mistake.

  5. KanyonKris Says:

    If you’ve got a few hours to kill, get me started on stories about fire and explosives. The fact that I’m alive is proof there is a God. OK, I wasn’t THAT reckless, but still.

  6. bikemike Says:

    i burned a barn down with a friend (he wasn’t in it at the time).
    the man that owned the barn said he’d wanted to tear it down for years (our parents didn’t tell us this little tidbit).
    what they did tell us was, the firemen are going to come and talk to us after they extinguished the burning inferno (they didn’t).
    parents are cruel.
    girls need to let boys burn stuff when they’re young or there’ll be heck to pay emotionally later. i mean, look at the divorce rate in this country. i don’t have a pie chart to back me up but i’m pretty sure a lot of it can be traced back to not being able to burn crap is high on the list.

    God bless the Fourth of July and aviation fuel!

  7. BotchedExperiment Says:

    Just tell him not to use the house as a wind-break for starting gas-fueled fires…’cause ummmm, I’ve heard that’s a bad idea. And move the gas can away from the fire. AWAY from the fire, like 50 feet.

  8. fish Says:

    Man I loved the boy scout fluid when I was a youngster. I also came from a fire-philic troop. Each outing was remembered by how big the bonfire was. I also took it as a personal mission to figure out a way to eradicate an entire ant colony using fire.

  9. Sleepy Says:

    What if he does it with other adults? If he can, have him call me. Last week a neighbor and I were using firecrackers like dynamite to blow up ant hills. Tons of fun! Always looking for the next thing to set fire to.

  10. Rick S. Says:

    Wasn’t Ian the one who had his hair catch on fire while blowing out his b-day cake? I remember smelling burnt hair and watching his bangs get shorter and shorter.

    We used to fill tennis balls full of gasoline and light them on fire and play street hockey. Those were good times.

  11. Lori Says:

    I was always the neighbor girl that was crying. I still get a little weird when Hubby goes all crazy with burning brush on our property…..

  12. Grizzly Adam Says:

    Why is watching stuff burn so awesome? On year the mountain above my house, around Dry Canyon went up in flames. The whole neighborhood was out on lawn chairs watching it burn. When a big patch of scrub oak went up in a 100 ft. pillar of flame, we all cheered.

  13. Jonnie Says:

    Roller skates with fuel filled water balloons neatly tucked inside were my teenage vices. But of course we made up for it by stealing fire extinguishers and spraying down unsuspecting joggers from our cars as we drove by. Those were the days……


  14. michele Says:

    I grew up in farm country, back in the day when we burned our trash…back in the day when Aquanet and antiperspirant aerosol cans where occasionally emptied.

    Now the rules were that no aerosol cans went into the trash to be burned. So of course, we would sneak them out, add them to the trash pile, light it on fire, move back a safe distance and wait for the can blow up and take off like a small, hot missile.

    Some girls like to burn things too… just maybe not to the extremes of boys.

  15. dug Says:

    michele, excellent point. i should have pointed out that ian was burning bugs and lighting fires and using hairspray as a propellant WITH 3 friends who happened to be, you guessed it, girls.

    plus, where else would the boys get the hairspray?

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