Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Playing with Fire

A sudden realisation came to me the other evening, that I am no longer the mother of small children. As I was getting supper ready I called to the children to help. "One of you go and light the fire and the others come and lay the table, please," I yelled.

A few years ago the idea of actually telling my child to help himself to matches and apply them to paper and pine cones would have horrified me. Matches resided on high shelves in those days. Maybe once my son was nearly six we allowed him light the candle for supper, as we cautiously hovered over him.

Now in winter it is one of the older children's chores to build and light the fire in the evening. They served an apprenticeship of watching Dad build the fire and being allowed to put the match to the finished work of art. Now they are learning for themselves how to stack the wood for it to catch, but often I find them stuffing in a second batch of newspaper, when the first lot burned itself out without affecting the logs in the slightest.

The secret is in the pine cones. Once in a while we take a sack and wander up to the top of the farm, seeking out dry cones. We then stagger back heavy laden with enough free, non-toxic, fire-lighters to keep us going for a few weeks.

This year the older two have also become interested in learning how to cook supper, so they were initiated into the art of lighting the stove gas burners and using oven gloves to pick up hot pans. I carefully showed them how to do it all safely, told them in advance that if ever they burned themselves to go straight to the cold tap and hold the burn under the water for a long, long time.

Sometimes I wonder whether I've got too laid back though. A few days ago Youngest, who isn't quite five, wandered through from the sitting room with the box of matches, asking for help as she couldn't quite get the match to light. She'd insisted to her brother and sister that it was her turn to light the fire and wouldn't let them help her. A four year old attempting to light the fire, unsupervised by an adult?! Please don't tell the social services in Europe or they'll be there at the airport to meet us when we go home to visit!

I went back with her and lit the match holding it in the middle, so that I could pass it safely to her. She touched it to the newspaper in a couple of places and was quite pleased with herself for accomplishing another of the grown-up tasks that her brother and sister now do routinely.

Now I know how it was that my husband, who is the youngest of six, has so many hair-raising tales of the things he got up to as a child. Once a mother has been broken in by the first couple of children, the younger ones are free to experience life with far less cotton wool tucked around them!

Whether its weariness, or the realisation that children are far tougher than you initially thought, when you returned from hospital with your first precious bundle, or just that your expectations of normality are set by the oldest child, I've come to realise that in our family at least the youngest child gets to try new things at a far earlier age than the oldest ever did.


  1. So true. I have experienced this both as sibling and as a mother.

  2. i have always been very careful about giving my children matches, after two cousins of mine set their living room on fire on christmas day... they just wanted to see the pretty lights again and, being 4 and 5, thought they were being perfectly reasonable not to wake up the parents. And the Christmas tree fell and Christmas was ruined...

  3. My mom had four of us, and my youngest sister is also the most persistent, which did not help. She got away with a lot.

  4. So many wonderful posts since I last visited Kit! I can relate to what you write about your "young" children...time goes too quickly. Now I am grappling with a future daughter that is a bride to be and all that entails and very hormonal almost 15 year old high school freshman. Your photos of the family, food, the farm and flowers are lovely as ever...sorry about your beloved dog. That is so hard...he had a good life and a gentle passing over the rainbow bridge. xxxooo

  5. Kit, I can so relate. I am quite happy to let Dakota iron, light candles etc. She is ten and pretty sensible so once I have explained the dangers and what to be careful of I leave her to it. I have always been quite happy to let her climb trees as well, to a height that turns my neighbours green, especially as their children copy her. However, when she does handstands that flip over into crabs, or anything else that puts her neck at risk I go cold, much to my neighbours' amusement. I guess we all have our 'things' that we fear unreasonably, but in general, if we are guided by our childrens' interests, abilities and curiosity, we should be able to encourage them to explore their surroundings with confidence and care.

  6. stacking the wood and lighting the fire is wonderful fun. I still enjoy it but remember being taught how to do this when I was young. The memory of being given the responsibility is still with me - I remember the desire to live up to it and pride in being trusted.


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