Where a dad of two great kids (one on the autism spectrum) muses about life.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I Believe in Guardian Angels
Well, the last week or so has been pretty good for Buddy Boy (and for us). We've all settled back into our somewhat regular routines, and our days have been fairly uneventful. So I guess I'm ready to relate what happened almost three weeks ago now. I'm not a guy that gets rattled (shaken up) very easily. Just a month ago I pretty much laughed off an incident when Buddy Boy got ahold of Liz's car keys and started up the car in the garage. But this incident I'm going to describe really upset me, and I'm only now getting my sense of equilibrium back.
I awoke at about 5:15 AM (my usual time). As soon as I exited our bedroom to go to the bathroom down the hall I smelled burnt popcorn. I immediately got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and proceeded downstairs. I saw (and smelled) the following things in rapid succession (not necessarily in this order):
As I passed the family room I heard and saw the TV was on. Buddy Boy was nowhere to be seen.
I followed my nose to the kitchen. I saw Buddy Boy sitting at the kitchen table eating burnt popcorn out of a bowl that we use for popcorn, which is stored in a cabinet above the refrigerator. He appeared unharmed, and safe.
The top of the hot air popcorn maker was half melted, and it was still half filled with burnt popcorn, which spilled over the counter and floor.
There were several pieces of burnt 8.5" x 11" pieces of paper on the floor, as well as a big black burnt spot on the kitchen tiles (about 3 feet around). The air smelled not only of the burnt popcorn, but also of smoke. Our smoke alarm had not gone off.
There was black soot that covered a lot of the stuff in the kitchen (Liz later informed me that she cleaned off soot from things in the dining room and living room, too.
I saw a small mound of melted blue wax from a melted birthday candle on the floor.
The oven door was open, and a baking pan was sitting on the door of the oven. The pan was filled with a half baked yellowish mass.
After quickly ascertaining that there was no acute danger, I ran to Buddy Boy and hugged him. And I trembled. I was scared.
I have always had a healthy respect for (and perhaps a little fear of) fire, ever since the time when I was about thirteen, when my then 3 year old brother almost burned down our house with a candle when I was babysitting him and two other siblings. I managed to extinguish that fire with a fire extinguisher with the only damage being a buckled tile floor, a burnt chest of drawers, and a singed set of curtains. It was real close to a disaster. I have always kept several fire extinguishers around the house, have smoke detectors on every floor, and have an escape ladder stored in my closet upstairs. Our house was built in 1880, and though we have lived in it since 1998, I have yet to light a fire in the fireplace.
After quickly ascertaining that Buddy Boy was OK, I decided that this scene was too terrible for Liz to see as is, and that I would try to quickly clean up as much as possible, as fast as possible. I didn't want Liz to feel the same panic I was feeling.
Buddy Boy asked me if it was the middle of the night, and if he should go back to bed. I just had him sit down.
I grabbed the garbage bag out of its container and I started shoveling things into it. The popcorn and the burnt papers were the first things in. Then I got a scrub brush to try and get the big burn mark off the tile floor. I got the majority of it off before Liz walked in. I filled her in on what I knew, and after a little while she took over while I was able to escape to work.
Buddy Boy has become "sneaky" as of late. We keep a "baby monitor" in his room (as well as in Sweet Pea's). Our house walls are solid, and these monitors allow us to hear them if they cry out in the middle of the night (they also allow us to hear single songs on a CD played over and over all night long, too). Buddy Boy knows we have the monitor in there, and he knows we know if he shuts it off (which he has tried to do a couple of times). He has learned to be very quiet in tiptoeing out of his room and carefully opening and shutting his bedroom door. We have caught him a couple of times after sneaking out of his room. He's never done anything other than watch TV or go to sleep in another room. Nothing even close to this incident.
We've also been battling some sleep issues with Buddy Boy. We thought Melatonin was working, but had had a few nights where he had a lot of trouble falling (and keeping) asleep. Eventually he had always gotten to sleep, though.
Over the next couple of days, Liz and I pieced together the approximate sequence of events.
Buddy Boy has always been quite adept at operating the TV and cable remotes. When he was two, he couldn't talk, but he had the basic functions of the remote (on/off, volume, channels) mastered. He now is faster than any of the rest of us at operating the three remotes necessary to control the TV, cable box, and the VCR. He can scroll thru the menus and find whatever he wants. We put a password on for the pay per view stuff, as he once ordered up a cartoon movie without asking.
Buddy Boy evidently must have come out of his room fairly shortly after we had gone to bed. He had watched three full length animated movies (as we ascertained from the cable menu). That alone must have taken him almost 6 hours. That's when he evidently got hungry, and moved to the kitchen.
Buddy Boy related that he used flour, butter, and water to make himself a "cake". Though proud of his industriousness, he could have burned himself badly handling hot stuff from the oven.
Having failed to make himself something that tasted good, he proceeded to the popcorn. Again, having overfilled the popcorn maker and left it on too long, another hazard (this time fire) was averted.
At some point Buddy Boy decided to play with the birthday candles. He got them out of their storage place in a high cabinet, and also got some matches out of the same cabinet. We think he lit the matches from the stove, then lit the candles (we later found the remains of at least three candles, one of them in the living room-he said he wanted to take fire to the fireplace).
I consider it just short of a miracle that no one was hurt (not to mention that the house was still intact). I have thanked G-d many times since that day for protecting our son and the rest of our family. I have also been mad at myself for not being more careful prior to this.
The hardest thing I've done since this is install a metal hook/eye lock on Buddy Boy's bedroom door. Liz and I talked about it for a couple of days before doing it, but didn't see any other way of assuring protection for all involved. Our burgler alarm would alert us if an outside door was breached, but if we activate the inside motion alarms, none of us would be able to walk around without setting it off. I feel terrible as a father, locking my kid in his room at night. I think of the wooden box and padded room that were used for discipline in a school that Buddy Boy was in for a while last year, and wonder if I am just as bad. For his part, Buddy Boy has taken the lock on his room in stride. If this becomes a long term issue, I'll probably talk to the alarm company and get his door wired into the system somehow. But for now we have the lock. I tell myself that if Buddy Boy really needed to get out of his room in an emergency that he is stronger than that lock. And that the act of him breaking the lock would create enough noise that we would hear. But perhaps I am just placating myself. All I know is that neither Liz nor myself got a good nights sleep for the two days until we installed the lock (and for a few days after that, too, until we trusted it).
We've talked several times with Buddy Boy about several issues (lying, trust, SAFETY) but aren't sure what is sinking in (especially as this incident was less than two weeks after the starting the car incident).
But as I started out saying, the last week or so has been good. Buddy Boy has had several good days leading up to his IEP (I always hate the psychological disadvantage of going into an IEP with recent "bad" days having occurred-they seem to become disproportionally important to the "team"). And the sleep issues seem to be a bit better, having changed to a prescription med.
I don't know if Buddy Boy will think less of me for having installed the lock, but I do know I need to keep him safe.
Me- Joe, husband of a great wife, and dad to two great kids, who were both adopted at birth.
Liz- My ever understanding wife, who manages to wear many hats (mom, advocate, therapist, teacher) for our kids.
Buddy Boy- Born in 2000. Funny, intelligent, inventive, and autistic. Loves machines.
Sweet Pea- Born in 2002. Typical little sister. Competitive, outgoing, and smart. Loves anything pink.