Laura knew then that she was not a little girl any more. Now she was alone; she must take care of herself. When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up. (from By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder)
I just had one of those pretty humbling moments where I am forced to question my own grown-up status. Both my two-year-old son and my one-year-old nephew are snoozing gently when the smoke detector in the hall directly between their rooms starts angrily beeping every ten minutes to warn me that the batteries are dying. That’s when I realize I have never, in seven years that I’ve lived here, touched that smoke detector. I realize I have no idea how the thing works or how to shut it off if it really gets going. The beeping speeds to every five minutes, then even less frequently than that. I am terrified this will wake the children on a day when I desperately need them to finish their naps. The door to my room, where my nephew sleeps, is wide open and feet from the offending contraption (the air conditioner does not work in that room and it is roughly 105 degrees today in West Texas–the door must stay open!). As I look at this device from the kitchen chair I am standing on, I can hardly believe I am 28 years old, married, with a toddler, the coordinator of a Mothers of Preschoolers group and I have never touched a smoke detector in life. My parents changed it at their house. Then I got married and my husband tests and changes it. I figured out how to remove the battery because, after all, it isn’t complicated and I’m a reasonably intelligent woman. But I am afraid to put the new battery in because I don’t know if there is some sort of resetting I’m supposed to do and if it might result in more beeping. Truly the beeping is very loud. So if the hallway spontaneously combusts into flames, I’ll just have to rely on my own nose to detect the danger until the children wake up and have their diapers changed and their snacks.
This reminds me, painfully, of the time in high school when I told my dad my car was out of gas and he simply handed me a twenty. “Um, dad, I don’t even know how to pump gas,” I said. I was secretly hoping he would continue to do this for me until I got married and then I would have a husband to do it, the way my grandmother lived her entire life without every pumping a tank of gas. She had a master’s degree and worked as a school principal, but never once pumped a tank of gas. Incredible. Enviable. But even she changed out the batteries of her smoke detectors regularly! My dad did, by the way, take me to the gas station that day and force me to fill my own tank. Then he showed me how to check the oil in my car and informed me that I was to do this at least once a month. How did such an obviously conscientious father fail to make me take care of the hallway smoke detector?
Oh, well. I guess I’ll confess this remaining vestige of helpless child mentality to my husband tonight (you know, after I speak to a group of peers on the subject of couponing and budgeting as if I am a competent and reliable source) and ask him to show me exactly how the device works and how to reset it. Like a grown-up.