On Fireplaces, Christmas, and Asthma

I’m just not sure what to do with this.


This is the third fireplace I’ve owned but the only one I’ve ever lit a fire in, and I didn’t decide to start using it until last February. I’m still wrestling with this decision. I have angst.

Because of Asthma Girl, of course.

I know the particles in wood smoke are not good for her. I’ll just go ahead and lead with that. (If you don’t know how wood smoke triggers asthma, read this.)

Besides the health effects just in my home, there’s the environmental issue, too. Every time I light a fire, my chimney throws that particulate matter into the air, doing my own little part to make the air pollution problem worse. On the other hand, here’s an interesting question. Since the tenth-dirtiest coal-fired power plant in my state provides my community’s electricity, is using my fireplace better or worse than keeping my thermostat on to heat the house? I can’t imagine it’s worse, but answering that question myself would require more scientific training than I have. (read: none) Wanna do your own amateur research of your area’s emissions numbers and rankings? Poke around in CARMA, the Center for Global Development’s carbon-monitoring database. You can also read more about CARMA in my article here.

Understand, too, that forgoing the fireplace has never been a great sacrifice, as we spent most of AG’s life living in South Florida, and the kid had enough trouble breathing while little to terrify me into never using the thing.

Now I live in an area that’s still temperate but much cooler, and AG as a young kid with fairly severe asthma is a whole universe different from the relatively healthy (It’s always relative with asthma, isn’t it?) asthmatic third grader she is now. It’s Christmastime, too, and as unbearably sentimental and superficial my fireplace is since A)I live in Florida and B)its usefulness in the temperature-control arena has been pretty much negated by central heating and all, there is something undeniably cheerful and social about a fire in the hearth during the holidays.

I know we’ve got to stop using the thing so damn much, but I’m having trouble figuring out some guidelines. Maybe I need a household policy of sorts. Burn every other night? Once a week? Every third Wednesday? Nights with full moons? Never?

You know why I can’t figure this out?

Because sometimes I feel like my brain will explode from having to consider the asthma implications of every single thing this kid encounters. Before you send me hate mail, please note that I would never, ever say anything like this to AG and I will never stop making lifestyle choices based on minimizing her pulmonary problems and my impact on the environment and I am well aware that she has the harder part of this whole parent/asthmatic child dynamic.

But, man dealing with this disease gets tedious. Sometimes I just want to burn the damn firewood.

Without thinking about it, like *normal* families do. Believe me, I know that *normal* is a meaningless word, and the family down the street that looks perfect and trouble-free is carrying its own burdens, but it sure doesn’t feel like that sometimes.

What started as a short post on fireplaces is starting to feel alarmingly like obsession, but let me give the larger picture here. It’s not the fireplace. It’s the struggle between raising AG not to spend every minute of her life obsessing over her asthma, fearful of what might trigger a flare, while simultaneously instilling in her caution, good sense, and the need for preemptive thinking about triggers and flares. I don’t want to turn her into little Eddie Kaspbrak at the same time that I know I need to protect her and ensure that she’ll protect herself when she is older and I’m not there.

I’m searching for the equation that balances it all out, the one perfect relationship between anxious overprotection and ignorant neglect. The sensible midline that keeps her safe and keeps us both sane. If I ever find it, I’ll let you know.

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