We were at the dining room table, Avery was taking a nap and Sean was trying to fix yet another Hmm, wonder what could cause that? kind of quirky, old house, breakdown. I had scooped a handful of tea lights and a couple of tin candle holders along with a box of wooden matches. It was early enough that the candles were more to entertain than to actually illuminate, but I still had the mild hysteria associated with anticipating being without power in the Adirondacks in the winter.

I was prattling on about getting everything just so when Briar slapped the table and squealed.

“Mommy, look! I did it!”

I couldn’t imagine what she’d done and wasn’t ready to focus on anything but the task at hand, but I did. I turned to look at her and the sight of the flame, so alive and close, rocked me at a primal level. She’d opened the box, struck the match and lit it in seconds. The emotional and intellectual assault of the countless images that careened from the recesses of my memory, matches on counters, tables, on the toilet and in the desk drawer, were almost too much to bear. I lurched forward, snapping the wooden stick from her fingers and pressing my lips to her forehead.

“You did do it, sweetheart. That’s amazing.” Then I blew the match out and immediately lit another. I placed it between her still-chubby-to-terrified-eyes fingers. “Hold this for mama and light the candle. I waited, holding the candle ever so slightly out of reach before placing it in front of her. I watched the flame go and warned her that when lighting we need to be quick. “Remember, matches and candles are hot,” and I let her feel the quickest twinge of heat from the flame. She gasped and a lump, part guilt and part terror of all that is yet to come, took root in my throat.

Her blue eyes looked up at me, wide with fear and expectation. I put my hand on her face, “I am so proud of you for lighting that match and helping me with the candles, but I don’t ever want you to do that again, ok? It’s too easy to get hurt.” I watched her, she looked at the candles and then back to me. “Very hot. Dayn-guh-ruhs! I’m not gonna light ’em. Can we go play piano?” She asked and, upon my nod, scampered out of the room.

I stood feeling intense, head bowing shame. Her bouncing curls, spindly legs, tiny yet nimble fingers, I felt I’d let them down. Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have put another match in her hand? Let her feel that burn? Was I punishing someone? I had never considered the danger of matches, never imagined she could possibly light one, with that ignorance gone a whole new world of possibility opened, a giant chasm of how-can-I-keep-them-safe. It’s been five hours and I am still reeling, still suffering that distinctly parental torture of numbness and blinding pain.

I don’t know how this will change things, but it will. It has to.