Saturday, December 7, 2013

playing with fire

As we were making havdalah, 7 yo used a lighter to light up the candle. I was watching him and a question from his evaluation popped into my head: did he ever try to set anything on fire? The answer: no, never. I understand the need for this kind of question, as it is an issue of figuring out whether an individual had destructive tendencies, but another part of it struck a different chord: this kid gets to play with fire on a regular basis, in a controlled environment, so even if he has those destructive tendencies, he has a good opportunity to channel them in a positive manner.

A year ago we attended this safety house workshop, where the kids are taught all about what to do in case of a fire, including a smoke simulation and crawling out a window. There, the point hammered time and again was how evil the candles were and how dangerous it is to have one in your house. Moms exchanged knowing glances and talked about the flameless candles. I sat there, quietly stunned. I light candles every Friday night, for Shabbos. The kids watch me light those candles. 3 yo occasionally joins me in lighting her candle. Of course, I keep the candlesticks high up, out of kids' reach. Of course, I do not allow horsing around near open flames. But to say that all candles are so bad and so dangerous? Perhaps we are taking it a bit too far.

When I taught middle school science, one of the experiments required the students to light up a match. I do not even remember why, but it did. Well, I had four sixth-grade boys. Out of four, one (ONE!) was able to light a match successfully. The others demurred, or their hands were shaky, or they did not know what they were doing. Sissies! We are raising up a generation of sissies. No wonder the second these adolescents finally figure out how to light up, they set everything on fire.

7 yo ( and 9 yo) have been interested in fire and matches and candles for a long time. My husband allows them to light up and extinguish a havdalah candle under his supervision. They are not very proficient with matches, but they are good with a long handled lighter. We just finished celebrating Chanukah. On every night, the kids lit up their own menorahs. There is open fire, there is a skill of holding a burning candle so that you can light up the others, there is dripping hot wax, there is quite a bit of a mess. But there is also the beauty of flickering flames, and the pride of lighting up your own menorah. There is singing with the family while watching those candles.

Why would anyone want to set fire after that?

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