I learned a very important lesson yesterday. All that disaster planning we’re told we should do? All those fire drills and how to call 911 that you’re supposed to cover with your kids? The Important Documents file you should grab as you run out the door? Screw that! In that moment, I panicked and grabbed my kids and... a pair of dirty underwear! From the hamper!
I had a very early start to my day, getting up to see Hubby and the Oldest off for a Swim Meet, and starting in on my mile-long To Do List. Around 10:30, the Baby goes in for a nap, and I decide to shower and get changed. Right after the shampoo hits my head, I hear a loud bang. I yell down to the Middle Child, asking what the noise is. He comes running up the stairs yelling “The house next door is on fire!”
Keep in mind, I have no contacts in (and am blind without), a headful of suds, and am butt naked and soaking wet. I throw on a robe, run downstairs, see the flames coming from the neighbor’s back porch, and reach for the phone. As I try to see out the window through the smoke while simultaneously yelling to Middle Child to get shoes on, I realize police and fire are already on scene. So I run back upstairs to grab the Baby and my clothes. Then a male voice, a police officer, yells from downstairs “You need to get out NOW! The smoke’s getting bad!”
I scoop the Baby, run downstairs, grab my purse, the diaper bag, and Middle Child and tear out the door. It dawns on me what I look like: wet, half-washed hair, glasses on (did grab my contacts!), and attired in a fashion-making statement of Hubby’s robe under my barn coat and shoes. Oh yeah, and underwear!
The officer wisely grabs two chicken hats to put over the kids’ face because the smoke is SO bad (yeah, felt chicken hats the kids had been playing with; Hubby wore them at some corporate team-building workshoppy thing). Yeah, he’s thinking, because he’s not panicking. And the smoke? Not a campfire-smelling wood stove nice smell. It’s thick, grey, acrid smoke that’s burning my throat. He offers me his cruiser to wait in. I tell him I’m taking my kids up the street to my friend’s house. All I can think of is to get the kids away from the smoke, and to find a place to shower, dress, and then maybe begin think logically. We don’t get that far. We end up in my other next-door neighbor’s house, where I meekly ask if I can borrow a towel and her shower. If I have to go back out there, I’d prefer to not look like the woman who may or may not have just flashed half the police and fire departments.
Thankfully, my cell is in my purse. I leave a message for Hubby, the kind you leave in an emergency: “Hi! It’s me. First of all, we’re okay! But, um, the house next door is on fire, so we’re over at ____’s house.” Then I do what most adults would do: I call my Mom. And tell her we may need her to come get us. Then I shower and dress. As I come down the stairs, I hear my parents’ voices. With the Middle Child’s asthma, my mother tells me that we need to get them away from the smoke. Which is great, but the Baby’s car seat is in my van. In my driveway. Right next to the fire. And which is now blocked by a pumper engine. And my keys are in my house.
I go out and ask one of the officers if I can get to my car. As I look at this guy’s face, I realize it’s… a kid I used to babysit. So now I’m wet, smell like an ashtray, and am old. And may be a flasher. Oh, is that a news copter overhead?
He checks with the Fire Chief, and I check in with other neighbors. We had all heard the same big bang. The resident and his dog are okay thanks to another neighbor, who ran into the house to get him out – he had no idea his house was on fire. The officer comes back and escorts me to my house. I run in and have that proverbial one minute to grab the important stuff. Do I grab the birth certificates and other important papers? Photo albums? No. Do I get a coat for the Baby? No, but I do grab some clothes and the animal he can’t sleep without. I grab Middle Child’s spare inhaler, and my external backup drive. That’s it.
I run to the car, grab the car seat and backup diaper bag, and work my way through the crowd to the neighbor’s house. From there, we go to my parents, where I realize everything on me and the kids, including my fabric purse, reek of smoke. Shower again, give the kids baths, and my mom washes our clothes, while I change into one of her sweat suits.
Then we wait. It’s a small town, so calls start coming in. Hubby and the Oldest return, with the Oldest immediately begging his grandfather to go online – he’s just got to update his Facebook status with this! He quickly learns, from everyone else’s posts, that they were all down at the fire. My aunt calls. She heard the call and called my house. When I didn’t answer, she got in her car and drove over to make sure we were okay.
My mother makes lunch, and asks what I want. My response? A really big margarita with salt. My mother tells me I need to eat something. At this point, I’ll eat the lime on the margarita. I just want to cry – the adrenaline rush is wearing off, and I’m realize how lucky we were. Four hours later, we get a call from a friend who’s on the call force, who says we can go home. Now that my bra is dry (something else I really should have grabbed an extra one of!), Hubby and I leave the kids and go to see how bad it is. Luckily, it’s been pouring all day, which helped keep the fire from spreading and the smoke down. The house has an odor, but should be able to be aired out today.
So, seriously, for those of you that have done your homework… have your Hubby yell fire while you’re in the shower. Or asleep. Give yourself one minute on the stopwatch. Can you grab what you need and go? For those of you as unprepared as I now realize I am, time to do some homework.