Nicole set herself on fire yesterday. Over the last year, she has begged to take on more duties in the kitchen, graduating from mixing and measuring to working with the oven and more recently the stove. Mac and cheese has become her signature recipe, with variations added each time she makes it as she tries to expand her repertoire of recipes. But yesterday, while making ice cream, she wanted to take on the job of stirring the milk mixture in the pan while it cooked on the stove. I hesitated for a moment, but since she has been boiling the noodles for pasta for months now, I didn’t see the harm in letting her stir while the pan was over an open flame.
As she stirred, I insisted that she hold the pan so that she didn’t accidentally knock the mixture off the stove and onto herself. Having done that once when I was younger, I remember being so thankful that I had decided to wear jeans that day and that the pot of hot cream sauce hit my pants and not my bare skin. But since that day, my rule has always been, hold onto a pot when you’re stirring it. But the pot handle was hot, so Nicole used an oven mitt so that she wouldn’t have to touch the pot handle directly. I turned my back for a second to get another ingredient and that’s when it happened. And it happened very quickly.
I smelled it first – it was like the faint smell of bad incense. But then the smell grew more intense. I turned around and saw that the oven mitt Nicole was still holding in her hand was on fire. The odd thing is, she continued stirring, not realizing that it was burning. I couldn’t even speak – it seemed to happen so fast. A thousand thoughts raced through my brain in an instant…Fire, fire, fire, get it out of her hand, don’t let the pan spill on her, don’t let her hair catch on fire. I think I yelled. I’m not even sure. I know I kept saying, “The mitt, the mitt…” unable to form a full sentence. As I was babbling, I reached for the mitt, trying to take it out of her hand, but since she didn’t realize it was on fire- because she was looking at her mother going beserk instead of looking at her hand- she pulled her hand, with the burning mitt on it, away from me, trying to keep me from taking it away from her. She pulled the mitt back towards her shoulder, setting her shirt on fire.
At that point, I started hitting her arm, trying to squelch the flame, then the fire drill practice I’d been taught in second grade kicked into gear and I threw her onto the floor and started rolling her around. It was all I could remember them telling us to do as a kid, “Don’t run if you’re on fire, it will only make the flame grow. Fall to the ground and roll.” So that’s what we did. Natalie walked into the kitchen to see what all the commotion was about and saw Nicole and I rolling on the floor, trying to put out the fire on Nicole's shirt sleeve.
It was over in a second. The mitt was totaled. Nicole’s shirt slightly singed. Nicole is perfectly fine. The funny thing was, she didn’t even realize she was on fire. She thought I was jumping on her and couldn’t figure out why. I couldn't stop shaking. Even after it was all over and everything was fine, I had to sit down because my legs were shaking and I didn't let on how upset I still was thinking about what could have happened.
When we told my husband the story at dinner later that night, Nicole proudly showing him her shirt and the burned oven mitt, David looked at me and said, “You tried to put out the fire by rolling around on the WOOD floor?” Maybe he has a point. I don’t know. In an emergency, you act by instinct. Hopefully, that instinct is correct.
Natalie listened while Nicole finished telling what happened, finally interrupting to say, “After all that, that ice cream better be good.” She’s right, it better be.