fighting fires

Ed note: In the interest of making this more of a blog post than a book, I’ve cut it down significantly from its original form. Apologies to anybody out there who really likes a whole lot of extra words.

September 2010 ~

I don’t know which of us is more nervous.

OK, that’s crap. Yes I do. My baby girl. By far.

The fire drill is this morning.

We’ve done it all right this time.

We waited until the day before – just enough time, not too much time – the constant balancing and gauging and then rebalancing – and well, I hope it’s just enough time and not too much time. And isn’t this the game we play?

We have the Social Story from last year. From the time that we didn’t have any warning and my girl nearly crawled out of her skin.

We have the story about the nice firefighters and how they aren’t usually at school, but once they were because they were testing the fire alarm. About how they keep us safe. How the fire alarm tells us that we need to leave the building so that the firefighters can turn it off. How when the fire alarm is too loud, I can cover my ears and stay with my teacher. How we’ll walk together and wait for the fire alarm to stop and the firefighters to tell us it’s OK to go back in the building. How if I hear the fire alarm, I can pretend it’s saying, “Get out of the building!” in a funny voice.

The story that we had to write with the BCBA after my girl nearly crawled out of her skin.

The story that didn’t stop her from saying EVERY SINGLE DAY since that fire drill- EVERY SINGLE DAY without fail – “No noises at school today. There will NOT be firefighters at school today.” Every single God damned day.

We have the checklist. She knows what to do. Together we read through the procedure. We practiced how her aide will help her check each item off the list.

When I hear the fire alarm I will cover my hands with my ears.

“What will you cover?”

“My ears.”

I will have a quiet, calm voice and body.

“Will we scream and run?”

“No, we will stay calm.”

Then I will line up with my class and my teachers with my ears covered.

“What will you do next?

“Stay with Miss K.”

My teacher will lead me out of the building and away from the alarm.

“Where will you go?”


I will wait outside with my teacher until the nice firemen turn off the alarm.

“Who will turn off the alarm?”

“The nice firemen.”

When the nice firemen turn off the alarm, the fire drill is done and I will walk back to my classroom with my class and my teacher.

I’ve told her that she’s different this year. She’s more grown-up. She can handle this. It won’t be the same.

As I walked out of her room last night, my girl’s last words for the day were, “Tomorrow is my fire day.”

I left her at school this morning covering her ears. She didn’t believe me when I told her not to worry, that it wouldn’t happen without her knowing.

She was shaking as I kissed her goodbye. I made the funny voice. “What does the alarm REALLY say?” She laughed as we said, “Get out of the building, get out of the building!”

We’re as ready as we can be. All hands are on deck. She’s going to be OK.

She’s going to be OK.

Tell me she’s going to be OK.


Saturday morning ~ 

Brooke and I bundle up and head out for a walk in the freshly fallen (and still falling) snow. It’s incredible snow – powdery and dry, far more Aspen than New England. She scoops it up in handfuls and tastes it. She stops to tilt her head skyward, opening her mouth wide to try to catch it. Every few feet she drops straight into it to make snow angels.

As we walk, we talk. We follow scripts for the most part. “Mom, you be the dog. You are a bad dog.” I play my part by offering a sad doggy growl in response. The scripts always sound so odd when I type them, but hey, they are what they are. 

We stop to ‘clean’ the trees, then a stone wall, then a neighbor’s bushes, watching the snow cascade down from each in sheets of white. Brooke is enthralled.

After a while, she decides she is done. “I’m so very cold now,” she says. “We will go home and then you can make me some hot cocoa of the water kind.”

The ‘hot cocoa’ will be a glass of water that she will call hot cocoa. Because it’s the idea of it, the convention – the fact that mamas make hot cocoa when kids come in from the snow – that is appealing. When you don’t actually like hot cocoa, you have ‘the water kind.’

As we walk, I veer dramatically off script to ask her a question. “Hey, Brooke, what do you think you want to be when you grow up?”

There was a time that I never would have asked that question, for so many reasons. Now I do. And not because she’s evolved, but because I have. 

Her answer comes quickly, without hesitation. And it’s not at all the answer I expect.

“I will be a fire fighter!” she says.

I try not to stammer. “Really, baby? How come?”

She is silent. I wait, then realize that ‘how come’ is not a phrase that registers. I try again.

“WHY do you want to be a fire fighter, honey?” I ask.

Again, her answer is immediate. And not remotely what I might have thought she’d say.

“So that I can test the fire alarms.”

I’m glad that she’s looking at the snow and not my face. Surely it registers shock.

“Really?” I ask.

I proceed cautiously, unsure of where to go with this.

“I thought you didn’t like the fire alarms,” I say.

“I don’t,” she answers. “But the fire fighters do!”

I laugh. I can’t help it. The logic – while perhaps flawed, is sorta brilliant.

I don’t like fire alarms + Fire fighters do like fire alarms = If I were a fire fighter, then I’d like fire alarms. 

It’s genius really.

Oh, it also turns out that she wants to save animals, which apparently fire fighters do too.

“You’d be a wonderful fire fighter, Brooke,” I say.

“I would?” she asks.

I picture her decked out in fire gear, coming to a school someday to test the fire alarm. I see her walking slowly over to a little one cowering in the corner covering her ears. I hear her saying, ‘It’s all right. I understand.”

“Yes, baby,” I answer, “You really would.”


15 thoughts on “fighting fires

  1. I hate HATE the anxiety. But I love LOVE the way she is processing it and responding to it in her head. A genius no doubt.
    She’d be a pretty awesome firefighter. Think of all the kids she could help.

  2. This is one of those magical moments of life. Brooke is incredible. She’ll manage to overcome more and more obstacles in her life. Leaps and bounds.

    Love you,

  3. “some hot cocoa of the water kind”-best line in this post. Gosh do I love the way our special kids phrase things, THAT’S genius too.
    In our house firefighters save EVERYONE and they love alarms, because alarms saves lives:)

  4. You can put into her IEP to have an adult escort her from the building before the alarm goes off. My son has done that all of school and he’s in 9th grade. It is asking too much of her otherwise.

  5. “I don’t like fire alarms + Fire fighters do like fire alarms = If I were a fire fighter, then I’d like fire alarms.”

    I can’t think of a way to articulate why, but this is more than brilliant – it’s profound.

  6. Can I tell you how incredibly awesome this is? You guys can come by the fire station anytime I’m working and visit. I’ll let her play with all the cool stuff and wear my gear, or just look at the trucks. Whatever she wants. Serious.

  7. “… not because she’s evolved, but because I have.” I realize this statement to be so true. I have so much further to go…

  8. Jess, I’m pretty sure I have a firefighter costume (coat, hat, and plastic axe) that I would to give you for Brooke. Perhaps it would help her “be a frefighter” and relieve some of her anxiety. Since we were both at the Greater Boston walk though I don’t know where you live, perhaps there’s somewhere in the middle we could meet. Please let me know by email if you’re interested and I’ll see if I still have the costume. Hang in there!

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