One of the defining moments of my childhood occurred on the evening of December 25, 1981. Like many girl children throughout history, I had both an irrational fear of the dark and a love of all things ballerina. My parents bestowed upon me a beautiful ballerina nightlight with a pink, illuminated skirt and a large DO NOT REMOVE tag affixed angrily to her panties.
"Caution," said the tag warned. "Flammable."
"What does this say," I asked my parents.
They told me.
I blinked in disbelief. "You gave me a nightlight that could catch fire?"
They assured me of the unlikelihood of such an event, provided the nightlight was used safely and appropriately. But it was too late. The seed had been sown. My world was no longer a safe place.
That night my dreams were filled with the melting faces of my dolls as they screamed and begged to be saved from the flames that engulfed my bedroom. My walls turned to black ash, my parents disappeared into a wall of smoke, and through it all I could discern the blazing nightlight ballerina, lazily turning on her toe to a tinkling tune of perverse horror.
I managed to put all of that out of my mind for twenty years. But this past weekend, we transitioned Youngest from crib to Big Girl Bed. We gave her a nightlight and a CD player that whispered gentle Good Night Music. All was well. Youngest fell asleep.
Then we noticed the distinct odor of burnt wiring.
"Unplug it all," I told Husband.
"But it's so dark! She'll get scared. It's just the funny-smelling plastic on the new CD player."
Sidenote: Husband is the one who gets up five times a night to double check the lock on the front door, turns the car around mid-trip to make sure the oven is off, and insists that all bedding be moved well off the floor vents. Paranoia is his domain.
"We can leave the bathroom light on. That's enough light. We can't leave the nightlight plugged in."
Youngest woke up crying at 3:30 AM, and I reluctantly replugged the electronics for her. And spent the rest of the night mentally working out escape routes and contingency plans.
Tonight I'll buy us each our very own fire extinguishers to keep under our pillows.