Planning for the worst

In the last few weeks I’ve tackled a few of those unpleasant tasks that seem infinitely postponable. The first task was to update our wills. We actually had created wills after Grey was born, in a similar fit. But since then, my husband’s father (who was mentioned in the will) had died and Thane was born. While I’m sure those left behind would’ve figured our will out if neither one of us was around to explain it, I thought we might as well spell it out. That, and my MIL had asked for a new copy of our wills to keep in a safe deposit box down by her so there wouldn’t be any delay in her ability to take custody of our kids should something unthinkable happen.

It’s not fun imaging a world where you leave your kids orphaned. (There’s really no difference between our will and what would’ve happened if we died intestate if only one of us dies. Ok. I’m really just looking for excuses to use the word intestate. Intestate intestate intestate.) And by the time you get down to the final levels of planning, “And if we both die and she dies and all these other people die, THEN blah blah blah.” I feel glad that we tackled it.

Any interpretation of this post as a hint that you might want to do likewise, especially if I’ve bugged you to do so before and am executor of your estate, is likely accurate.

The other bit of worst-case planning wasn’t so bad. It started out with the world’s most boring shopping. In retrospect, I suspect that the folks who redid our attic for habitation didn’t get all the permits they needed. There is a bedroom in our house which is basically a fourth floor bedroom. If you can’t get out the door, it is four stories out the window. If you can get out the door but not down the staircase, it’s three stories. The attic has no built-in fire escape. So basically, if you get trapped in that room in a fire, you’re screwed.

My brother, who is living with us for the summer, is living in that fourth floor room.

So I bought a pair of these: — one for each room in the attic. This is quite possibly the most boring $120 I’ve ever spent on anything in my life. They’re bulky. They have to be high access to be useful. They’re single use. I consider it an investment in anti-regret insurance. It’s actually not quite long enough to get to the ground for that fourth floor, but I reckon it will get you close enough that the fall might result in a sprained ankle, but not death. I’m willing to take that.

(We also have one on the second floor, but there are more possible egresses from that floor. Also, a fall is in the “break a leg” instead of “lose your life” range from the second story windows.)

Having equipped the house, we staged a fire drill yesterday. This was a little for the grownups, but mostly for Grey. We trained him that if he hears a fire alarm, he’s to get down the stairs from his bedroom and get out the front door right away. I’m glad we did it. He had some questions that could’ve been trouble in a fire. “Do I need to put on my shoes?” “Do I need to wait for you to open the door?” We practiced it three times. Now, if the fire alarm goes off, he can get himself out of the house without help. I’m happy with that outcome. I also practiced crawling (with my eyes closed) to the baby’s room to get him out. I’ve heard that in real house fires you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and that it’s important to have muscle memory. Since I’m not leaving a burning house unless I know Thane is safe, this also worked well.

With a three year old, it’s not possible to go through all the permutations. (For example, I think it’s too much confusion to check for a hot door, etc.) But this seems like the best default option for if he hears the fire alarm.

With both of these things, it wasn’t pleasant confronting first our mortality and then our peril from fire. But I feel better having done so. We all have a better chance of getting out safely now if there’s a fire in our house. And if we don’t, well, at least our families will know what to do.

What have you been putting off doing because it’s no fun to think about? Rebalancing your portfolio? Updating your will? What would make you tackle those projects?


Finally, FINALLY I managed to get that 20 minutes to myself last night. (Actually, it was a whole hour! Luxury!) And I fulfilled my daydream and spent it in an armchair reading the Odyssey. I’m enjoying it. I’ve never read the Odyssey before (cue wails of astonishment from my East Coast educated brethren) and I’m reading it very slowly and intentionally.

The bit that caught my attention last night was a metaphor. I find it interesting to discover the root of some long-familiar phrases and metaphors. I find it equally interesting to discover which ones have not survived to be reused. One that really caught my attention was this:

“Then, as one who lives alone in the country, far from any neighbor, hides a brand as fire-seed in the ashes to save himself from having to get a light elsewhere, even so did Ulysses cover himself up with leaves;” (Book 5) (Also, my translation is better)

I had never really thought of this before. It evokes this vast loneliness. If you are far from neighbors and your fire goes out past relighting, what a dark and dire world it must be! I sometimes complain of the way nursing ties me tight to this schedule. In some ways this fire-holding must be worse. You must have something to burn. You must awaken, return, whatever is needed to keep the fire alight. I’m not sure how hard it would be to reignite the fire if you fail to keep it going, but obviously it is a barrier. On the other hand, how refreshing it must be to live with other people — to have a family who can share this responsibility, to have neighbors who can also be counted upon to have kept their fires alight.

It brings to me a new light to the idea of community, and what community meant.

Keep those home-fires burning, friends.