“It’s 4:13. It’s been exactly 24 hours since I set the microwave on fire!” My son proudly makes this announcement as he’s packing to leave for the holiday.
The previous day, when I drove up to the house, my youngest was sitting on the front steps. “What are you doing?” I ask.
“I was getting a headache in the house, so I had to come out here.” A man of few words, that one. It is unseasonably warm at 60° outside, so I thought he was just spending some time enjoying the weather.
My face must have been an indication of my lack of understanding. “C tried to set the house on fire, and it smells, so I had to come outside.” He gets up and starts walking toward the car.
“What happened?” I ask.
“He was heating pizza in the microwave, and the foil started a fire.”
“He put foil in the microwave??”
I see him hedge just a bit. “You’ll have to ask him. He put a pan on it to put it out.”
Now I am totally confused. A pan? Foil in the microwave? He is old enough to know better than to do that. I gather my stuff from the car and go in the house where I am greeted by the sharp odor of smoke and my oldest child. “Did he tell you the story?” His expression is cautiously smug.
“He told me his version. Now I want to hear yours.”
“Well, I was heating some pizza so I could eat before work.” He pauses. I recognize this tactic—giving me one piece of information at a time and making me work for the story. He thinks I’m going to feel sorry for him. He underestimates me.
“And…” I prompt in a tone that indicates my post-work lack of patience.
“I opened up the foil and put the whole thing in the microwave, and I put a paper towel across the top. The foil caught the paper towel on fire. So I picked up that pan,” he points to the 8×8 square baking pan that I had used the previous night for the overflow chicken parm, the few pieces that wouldn’t fit in the bigger pan. “I put that over it to put it out.”
I must say, as shocked as I am that he put foil in the microwave, I am impressed with his quick thinking. “So…” I choose my words and tone carefully. “Did you learn anything from this experience?”
“Don’t put foil in the microwave…?” he raises his eyebrows and smiles at me as he states the obvious. But I can see there is more. Even though he might not be able to articulate it in that moment, he knows that in his ability to respond quickly, he averted disaster.
As adults, we sometimes do things that are not very smart when we are not thinking. We are busy, and our minds are cluttered with the stress and goings on of everyday life. We should expect the same from our children. Putting leftover pizza in the microwave (foil and all) was an honest lapse in judgment—one that anyone could have made. The important thing is that he learned from it—he learned, first hand, that foil and microwaves don’t make a good combination. He learned that if there is a small emergency, he can handle it. And he learned that he can think quickly and solve problems under pressure. In this situation, real life experience provided better lessons than I could teach my son. And these lessons—they are priceless.