On the last weekend before school was to start, my hubby decided he would take our two boys to the local gun show. It comes to the Civic Center once a year and I'm not ever sure who enjoys it more; my husband or the boys. At any rate it's become a tradition, and they generally call some friends to go with them. They make a Saturday morning of it and eat lunch at some dinky man dive after.
This year, as most, Clay and Nick went with them. Nick is my eldest's best bud, and Clay is his Dad, one of my husband's hunting buddies. When my three drove by to pick them up, they piled in the truck. They were off.
Only something was different, my husband reported later. Clay and Nick were both sheepish. A little quiet. Discombobulated even. Little did hunky hubby know he was getting ready to find out why.
Nick, Clay reported, had had John over the night before. John is the third of the Three Musketeers. Ever since second or third grade it's been Nick, John, and my Cole. Sometimes others joined, and lots of times two of the three got together when all three couldn't, but all these years these three boys have been dearest of friends and together often.
That night it was just Nick and John. They decided it would be fun to get some black powder from Nick's Dad's basement and light it. Yes, you read it right. Let me interject here that both these boys are all of 14 years old. Both bright. Both in A/C classes in 8th grade. Both have been Scouts since they were in Kindergarten. John, in fact, is getting ready to transfer to a magnet school for science - always has all As, is the 'most responsible' patrol leader in the Boy Scout troop, is engaged, respectful, and blends in well with kids and adults alike. What would make such a child decide he needed to light gunpowder, you ask? Me too - I've yet to figure it out. I'm still shakin' my head over it.
So who lit the powder? Yep, John. As his Mama said, "Yep, Mr. Smarty Pants wasn't so bright." John suffered second degree burns to his face and hands. Nick's hair curled, singed, and broke off, but he had no damage. A third friend, a next door neighbor, got smart and ran when they decided to light it.
Nick and John thought they would go to Nick's room and put some cold water on John's face until it stopped burning; that way they could get away without telling their parents what they'd done. But of course, John's skin began to burn worse and worse and before long, they decided they'd have to go admit to the parental units what had happened.
As the burns began to look and feel worse and worse, they took John to the Emergency Room. There they found out his burns were second degree. He was treated, bandaged and sent home with instructions to return a few days later for surgery. In this surgery, they replaced his burned skin with pig skin (I'm thinking until new skin regenerates?) and in a few days from now, he will return to the doctor to find out if there will be permanent scarring on his sweet face. Kills me that could be possible - I've looked at that beautiful face and perfect skin for years and I don't want to think it could be marred forever. In the meanwhile, he is out of school for at least a week to a week and a half, and in a significant amount of pain and discomfort.
I'm taking Cole over later to visit with John for a few minutes. He wants to let John know he's thinking about him. He's going to take him a basket of candy including but not limited to Atomic Fireballs, Hot Tamales, and RedHots. These kids have a sick sense of humor and in any other case it might be in poor taste to do such a thing, but they will adore the appropriateness of the gift and laugh together while they visit.
We have used poor John's situation as a teaching moment for Cole. Even though we have had dozens of conversations throughout our childrens' lives about safety of all kinds and just as many about guns and explosives specifically, and even though for years hunky hubby and I have each relayed stories to our kids about childhood friends who similarly burned their faces, eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair off and even blinded themselves lighting gunpowder, here's the thing. So had John's parents. I asked Cole what he would have done had he been with the boys that night, and he said he would've told them not to even go get the gunpowder. "What if they did anyway?" I asked. If they continued, he said, he would've gone and told an adult. But y'know, who's to say he isn't telling me what I want to hear, regurgitating the accurate answer? I want to believe it is what he would have done. He's smart and he's reasonable. He's down to earth and he's mature for his age in some ways. And I'd be willing to bet that since this happened it's definately what he would do in the future should he be in that situation, but here is the bottom line.
There's only so much you can teach your children whether by words or by modeling behavior yourself. After that (and during) you just have to pray over them. Daily. Sometimes hourly or by the minute.
I've received a teaching moment of my own from John's plight. It is that good, smart children can get into trouble and can do dumb things. That just because you've taught your children something doesn't mean they'll heed it. Moreover, that I have no power or control over my childrens' actual behavior, just the shaping of it and the consequences after it.