Scene: Erik and Carolyn have received a lovely bottle of Greek red wine as a gift. Long after Pete goes to bed, and when we think he has finally stopped the questions and demands and dropped off to sleep, we open the bottle and have a little of the wine with cheese and crackers. Then Pete, sounding worried, calls Erik up to his room.
Pete: Papa, I don't want a fire alarm in my room.
Erik: Oh, it's OK, Pete. Those are just there to keep us safe. We have them all over the house. Nowhere I've ever lived has had a fire, and I don't think we'll ever have one, but they help us stay safe, just in case.
In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should say that the house next to me burned down in Philly, I had to call 911 when I realized that flames were all I could see from my third-floor window, and the firefighters chopped through my ceiling and windows to put the fire out, and it was all very scary, but that wasn't technically a fire in my domicile. I chose my words carefully.
Pete: Papa, if we had a fire, would you run out of the house and the firefighters would come and help me?
Erik realizes that Pete is genuinely scared and that this is therefore a Big Parental Moment. He lies down next to Pete on the bed.
Erik: Pete, I don't think we'll ever have a fire here. But if we did, the very first thing I would do is come to get you and take you out with me. And that's what mama would do, too, OK?
Pete: OK. But firefighters help kids in fires, too.
Erik and Pete undertake a brief conversation detailing the complementary roles of parents and firefighters in keeping kids safe.
Erik: So all of us would work together to keep you safe, OK?
Erik is, frankly, feeling pretty good about himself.
Pete: Papa, I smell beer. Were you drinking beer?
In retrospect, this is what I would like to have said: "No, that's wine, Pete. Remember Will and Giota? Giota's father makes wonderful wine in Greece, and Mama and I just opened it up to taste it. Isn't that cool?"
What I actually said:
True! Technically true!
Pete: That's what beer smells like.
In a further gesture of defensiveness, I hereby attest that I drink maybe a beer a week in a fast month. And a glass of wine here and there. Carolyn drinks even less. This is NOT a kid who should have a highly developed sense of alcohol smells.
Anyway, I try the old change of subject.
Erik: I was eating cheese. Do you smell cheese?
Pete: Was it beer cheese?
Sweartogod. WAS IT BEER CHEESE.
Erik: No, just cheese. It's time to settle down again and sleep, OK?
Pete: OK. Papa?
Pete: Would you tell Mama to get me first if there's a fire?
Erik: Absolutely, Pete. Have a good sleep.
Pete: Good night, Papa.