"The walls of our home have long borne the marks of living with small children. Like most little ones, our two were always touching, tinkering, and sometimes destroying. But the potential damage from one of our little tornadoes' "hands-on" experiences was far more than the cost of a container of spackle or touch-up paint. It could easily have caused harm beyond any repair.
Our son, who was three at the time, had been the mechanical type from the get-go. We did know better than to leave the key to the gas fireplace within the reach of his chubby little mitts. And we were (usually) faithful about removing it from the slot. But one exhausted evening, I turned off our cozy fire thinking to myself that I'd just put the key away the next morning.
While scrambling to leave the house in time for preschool early the following day, I did get the slightest whiff of gas when I stood near the stove. I assumed the baby had been engaging in her favorite activity of spinning the knobs, which are protected by childproof guards that our then 18-month-old had already figured out how to circumvent. Preoccupied with book-bag stuffing and juice cup pouring, I tightened each of the knobs into the "off" position, and we headed out the door.
When we returned four hours later, I opened the door to an unmistakable gas odor. I turned off our security system and immediately turned on the exhaust fan on the stove-hood. I opened the back door, then called my husband to ask his opinion about the source as I was preparing to get the kids out of the house. We decided I should drive the kids to my parents' house, and then call the gas company.
The woman answering the hotline was so serious, I finally realized how dire a situation my laziness had created. She instructed me not to turn on any switches (oops!), and not to open any doors (too late!). My safety-conscious mother reminded me that my uncle had owned a house where a tragedy had occurred under similar circumstances. The renters had come home and flipped on a light switch, creating a spark that caused an explosion from a gas leak. A woman and a small child were killed. As I sat in my car waiting for the gas company to arrive, I couldn't help conjuring terrible images of our home, with three of us in it, disappearing in a blast.
I could smell the overwhelming gas scent even outside as the worker and I approached the front door to investigate. I knew it was bad when we walked in the house and his meter started going crazy. He kept reminding me as we searched the house for the cause of the smell not to touch anything that could generate the slightest flicker.
I got such a nasty look when we got downstairs to the gas fireplace, where the gas man discovered the key in place and turned on full blast. I instantly knew our son had been at work, but that the whole incident was really my fault. I had never really thought through what to do (or not to do) in this type of situation. While visions of mushroom clouds danced in my head, I accepted my much-deserved talking-to from the worker about how our whole house could have blown up in an instant.
Five hours of airing out the house got rid of the stench, but the lesson has stayed with us. I suppose it's only natural to think a disaster won't ever happen to your own family. But the comfort of such wishful thinking is not worth the risk of catastrophe. We were so lucky. Now those keys are stored on a high shelf, away from the hearth and curious fingers, at least until our little tinkerers are old enough to leave them alone."
Submitted by Springfield Moms Series Editor Amy McFadden.