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S.E. Livingston: A cautionary tale of flaming candy

Some people find the Halloween season full of hidden dangers. Several years ago, our family was subjected to a holiday scare for which we were unprepared. I cannot stress enough the importance of putting your children's candy under the supervisio...

Some people find the Halloween season full of hidden dangers. Several years ago, our family was subjected to a holiday scare for which we were unprepared. I cannot stress enough the importance of putting your children's candy under the supervision of someone who is competent and cautious ... not necessarily a parent.

Five years ago at this time of year, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with our fifth child and trying to cope with the post-Halloween sugar frenzy. The Halloween roaming had been successful, and my children had come home with pillowcases full of sweets. The day after Halloween they were irritable, jittery and non-compliant. I was clumsy, mentally foggy and feeling sorry for myself. We were having a bad day.

I created some candle ambience in order to relieve some of the family stress. I lit candles, set them high upon my dresser and walked into the hallway. Distracted by the sound of crinkling plastic, I spied 3-year-old Danny sitting in a corner of his room digging into a bag of his brother's candy and eating as much as he could as quickly as he could. I confiscated that bag and set it high on my dresser, too.

A bit later we were downstairs working on an art project, trying to redirect the energy. It was redirected all right.

"Do you smell something burning?" I asked 7-year-old John.

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Starting up the stairs, I noticed a bright reflection of flames on my bedroom wall. At that moment the fire alarm (and panicked screams and cries) went off. When I got to the bedroom, I turned to see a merry fire burning on top of my antique oak dresser. The flames were eating a wooden picture frame and licking the books on the shelf three feet above. Black smoke filled the top half of the room and was seeping into the hallway. I ducked my head, ran in the room and grabbed the burning picture frame. I rushed it to the bathtub (while dropping flaming pieces on the carpeting), and then came back to beat the flaming dresser with a convenient library book. After stomping out the carpet fire, I heaved a sigh and turned to deal with cacophonic cries and yells of the children.

John, curious and ready to help, had followed me up the stairs when I first asked about the burning smell. He had been at my side while I beat out the fire, yelling at me, "You dropped some sparks here!" and "The fire is still going on your dresser!"

Stimulated by the excitement, he happily chatted about the rigors of firefighting.

Three-year-old Danny stood underneath the screaming fire alarm crying, yelling and shaking his fist at the ceiling. He was beside himself with panic -- unnerved, but fine.

Glancing around I couldn't find 9-year-old Ellen. As I ran past the window, I glanced and saw her standing outside the house in her shoes and no coat, shivering with fright. She had the phone and was dialing furiously.

I was unable to run down the stairs to stop her because 5-year-old Will was laying prostrate across the stair landing. He was racked with sobs and beating his fists into the carpet, "That was my candy bag on fire! Why is it always my stuff?" (Middle child syndrome.)

Yes, in my dulled state I had set a paper bag of candy next to an open flame. Who knew those candy wrappers were so flammable? Ironically, the candy wasn't. The bag turned to ash, the plastic wrappers melted, and the candy was a slightly soft mass stuck to the top of my dresser.

It took a half-hour to calm down Danny and Will. John played firefighter the rest of the morning. Ellen had not called 911. Instead, she had called her father and left this oblique message: "Daddy? ... We're all OK, but it looks like the fire burned your favorite picture. I think the house is done burning. Bye. Oh, this is Ellen."

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Love lots,
S.E.

P.S. Because my tagline says I write about education issues, I simply must state that, yes, prices are going up. Yes, it costs money to educate children. Yes, the children of Duluth need that education to build a strong future for all of us. Please vote "yes, yes, yes."

S.E. Livingston is a teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota. E-mail her at selivingston68@yahoo.com .

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