While my sister and I were growing up, our bed time rituals were similar to other kids. We had to brush our teeth, lay out clothes for the next day and kiss our parents goodnight. There were storybooks and snuggles which evolved into conversations and snuggles. Some nights we would get both parents making rounds of goodnight, while others just one would stop in, to hasten the movement to bed for everyone.
One hard and fast evening ritual was the kicking of the firepath. My mother had a rule, which my father also enforced, that there had to be a clear path from bed to door, in case of nocturnal emergencies, such as fires, earthquakes or stomach viruses. I don’t remember how it started, but I remember my mom ensuring that a twin pronged alley was cleared from the right angle bunk beds that Raina and I slept in during our years in Eagle Rock. When we moved up to Portland, we got our own rooms, but the mandatory firepath was still cleared.
This is not to say that our rooms were always such pits, that there was always kicking involved in creating a walkable path. But it’s amazing how one or two forgotten pairs of shoes can really trip you up when the glass of water you drank while brushing your teeth demands to be released at 4 am.
The first summer I came home after college, my mom (having traded in the long flannel nightgown of my childhood in for sweatpants and tee-shirt) came in to say good night, happy to have both her children in one house again. She couldn’t help but start to nudge things aside to clear the path. I reminded her sharply that I was an adult and I didn’t need a path, I could see just fine. She gave me a kiss and left the chaos on the floor alone. A painfully stubbed toe on the edge of my suitcase (which was laying in the firepath zone) changed my tune.
I’m heading to bed as soon as I finish writing this, and I can promise you that I will look at the floor space between my bed and the door, to evaluate the possible middle-of-the-night hazards. It is a bedtime habit that is as ingrained in me as bringing a glass of water to my nightstand. A couple of days ago, I asked my mom where she got the idea for the firepath. She paused for a second and replied that she didn’t really remember, but that it just makes good sense. And so it does.