Recently after dinner Dave was cleaning the kitchen, I was talking with him and holding Ryan, and Nathan was busy shuttling blocks from the living room to the sun room. And then Nathan paused next to me, and pointed up toward the ceiling. “What’s that?” he said.
He was pointing at a bundle of dried peppers hanging from a hook in our kitchen ceiling. They’d been there for a year and a half, leftovers from my insanity of planting six hot pepper plants one year. I’d strung some of the leftovers, thinking I’d use them up over the winter. Trouble is, I don’t cook a lot of hot food. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy food. And I know that peppers are supposed to get hotter as they dry, so it didn’t take all that long before the idea of plucking one of those bad boys down and putting it into our dinner was… well, rather intimidating.
Thus they remained as decorative elements, with me occasionally glancing up at them and thinking that I really ought to just send them to the compost.
So when Nathan pointed them out, all those thoughts coalesced. “They’re hot peppers,” I told him, “and I really ought to get rid of them.” I hooked down the two strands, tossed the larger one onto the counter, and, at Nathan’s insistence, handed him the smaller one. “Remember, they’re hot peppers,” I warned him, and went back to talking with Dave.
Now in retrospect, handing my child a bunch of dry hot peppers was a bit like handing him a canister of pepper spray and saying “Ok, but don’t push this button on top.” But for some reason, immersed as we were in our conversation, neither Dave nor I recognized that.
It wasn’t until Nathan came crying into the kitchen, rubbing desperately at his face, that the light finally dawned — and Dave was the first to catch on. “He got it in his eyes,” Dave told me, swinging Nathan up onto a chair in front of the kitchen sink. He started to flush Nathan’s face with water. Within in a few minutes Nathan managed to get across that his lips were what really hurt, and Dave started feeding him peanut butter, which soaked the sting out pretty quickly.
I looked into the sun room and saw the half-decimated string of peppers, pulled apart and with many of them broken open. Seeds were scattered over the carpet. Ryan was going over to investigate. I grabbed Ryan, went for the vacuum, and set aside for a moment the mother-guilt exploding in my brain. There would be time enough later to reflect on how a three-year-old doesn’t necessarily make the connection between “hot peppers” and all the rules that my own brain associates with that phrase, like “don’t get it on your skin,” and “for heaven’s sake, don’t touch your eyes!”
Once the clean-up was done I headed for the bathroom. Dave had transferred Nathan to the tub, the better to douse him, and it appeared that the worst of it was over. But oh my word — sure, I’d heard that hot peppers could hurt you, and I’d experienced enough mild irritation to take the warning seriously. But I’d never seen anything like Nathan’s poor little face.
Someday Nathan will look back on experiences like this from a safe distance. Hopefully he’ll laugh, because he’s turned into a healthy, well-adjusted person despite my moments of insanity. Hopefully.