He's standing on his little stepstool in front of the stove, watching pasta boil. He's waiting for his turn to "help" -- his brother got to pour the uncooked noodles into the pot, so I told him he could help me make the sauce. I'm right there next to him, readying the ingredients into convenient little pinch bowls and measuring cups for him. Milk, cheese, butter, seasonings...check, check, check, and check.
He's watching the burner glow red and talking about how the stove is hot, the pot is hot, the water inside the pot is hot. "And we never touch those hot things," I chirp robotically, even though he knows this by now.
"The red part is very, very hot," he says seriously. "You would burn yourself." He cautiously picks up a wooden spoon to give the pasta a stir.
"Careful!" I say, just because I can't help myself. He's always careful. But still.
I wait for him to put the spoon down and drop his arms back to his side before stepping away to put the milk back in the fridge.
And that's when the screaming starts.
Horrible, horrible screaming and wailing -- I have no idea what's happened, a spill, a splash of boiling water, an accidental grazing of the pot? I grab him and swoop him over to the sink and turn on the cold water.
"What happened? What happened?" I beg him. I don't know what part -- parts? -- of his body I should be soaking. I guess his right hand and blast it with water up to the elbow. He's still screaming too much to answer me.
Finally I realize it's the tip of his index finger. A white blister is forming, but the rest of his hand is okay. I wrap it up in cold, wet paper towels and run upstairs for the Neosporin and gauze.
I try to calm him down while I dress the burn. He's screaming more sporadically now, more from being pissed off that it's STILL HURTING and that nothing I'm doing is HELPING. The medicine, the gauze, the kisses -- it's not supposed to hurt anymore, after all that. But it does. Oh, I know that it does, how it feels. And he's furious.
After examining the tip of his finger, I know something else. I know it wasn't an accident. I know he touched something, and he touched it on purpose.
"What did you touch, Ezra?" I ask.
"I touched the red part," he confesses miserably.
I fall back on the floor next to him in exasperation. He...knows! He knows better! We talk about safety in the kitchen just about every single day! He's always so sensible and careful and GOOD LORD, we'd LITERALLY just been talking about the goddamn red part of the goddamn burner and I turned away for a SECOND, like he was WAITING for the chance to touch it and...
"Oh, dude," I say, shaking my head. Because what else is there to say that I haven't said a million times already?
He's three-and-a-half years old. He just has to figure some things out for himself.
And now, at least, he knows.