There’s a noise that you can hear in my house only every once in a while. The best time to hear it is at night or during rest time because if the kids are up the sound is overwhelmed by their talking, singing, laughing, hollering, running, jumping, banging, and bouncing. But when all else is still and quiet, and you’re in the right part of the house, you may notice it.


What was that? Was it the creak of a spring as RU rolls over in her bed? Was it the heat coming on? Did the dishwasher finish? Is it that noise the fridge makes when someone doesn’t close it all the way? Is it a cricket?

Did I imagine it? Because —


No, there it is again.

Only now I’m over in the kitchen checking the refrigerator and the dishwasher. It turns out the dishwasher is ready to be unloaded after all, and while I’m clanking around with plates and silverware I can’t hear the noise. Then, either the kids wake up from their nap or it’s nighttime so I’m ready to go upstairs to bed. Either way, it will be a while before I notice the sound again…


Which turns out to be (as you probably guessed) a smoke alarm needing its battery replaced. It’s actually the one in the garage, which explains why it’s so hard to hear no matter where in the house you are.

The very first time I had to replace a smoke alarm battery in our home we were still settling in and lacked some standard household junk. I scrounged up a random 9-volt battery from somewhere and stood in the upstairs hallway waiting for the culprit to sound off so I could zero in on which smoke detector it was. Is it the one in the hallway or the one in the bedroom? Or the one in this bedroom? Finally, I decided which one was giving the plaintive cry of a fading battery and hauled a chair upstairs so I could change it out.


The sound persisted. I’d picked the wrong one, of course. I fished the old 9-volt out of the trashcan (it must still be good, after all) and used it to replace the real dying battery.


Only after I spent several minutes swapping batteries among three different smoke detectors did it become clear that two of them needed replacements at the same time. Between the 9-volt I’d found and the ones from the three smoke detectors, I now had four different batteries but only two of them (at most!) had any juice left, and I’d lost track of which ones were which. Before heading to the store, I shuffled them around one last time… No more chirping.

Good enough for now, I thought to myself, but I’ll have to go to the store soon and pick up some more batteries before they start up again.

Naturally, the next two or three times I went to the store I forgot about the smoke detectors that were hanging on my ceiling, sucking the last few volts left, just waiting to start their symphony up again (probably in the middle of the night). Eventually, I stopped remembering that batteries were ever a thing I needed.


Until the noise started again. This time, it was a different smoke detector than any of the ones I had fooled around with before.

I immediately stopped what I was doing and drove to the nearest big box store. (As you might have guessed from the fact that I was able to do anything “immediately,” this part of the story takes place prior to us having any children.) There, I bought an entire brick of 9-volt batteries. While I was at it, I bought a sleeve of D-cells for the flashlight we can never find and a 100-count box of AAA batteries in the mistaken belief that we owned anything that took that size. I bought so many batteries that when I set my bag in the passenger seat and started to drive out of the parking lot, my car kept swerving to the right.

As soon as I got home I changed out every single smoke detector in the house. With the possible exception of the one in the garage.


Naturally, the piece of furniture we’d had to buy just to sort and store our plethora of batteries is now packed up and in a storage container. We no longer have a single spare battery in the house, 9-volt or otherwise.

So the other day, the kids and I went to the grocery. This involves me wearing Z in a carrier while hoping to find a cart with two seats for the girls (ideally shaped like a racecar). In such situations, a prepared list is a must or else I’ll come back home with two different kinds of cereal, three different kinds of bacon, and a movie from the $5 DVD bin. This time I had a list, and on that list (among other things) was a pack of 9-volt batteries.

But where to find them? After making a pass through the entire store, we still hadn’t located any batteries. Here was the quarter of an aisle devoted to school supplies — no batteries there. You’d think it would have been in the section with air filters, light bulbs, and shoelaces but you’d be wrong. I even scoured the Aisle of Totally Random Toys but failed to spy any batteries amongst the bags of army men, coloring books, and travel-sized Milton Bradley games.

I searched down each aisle a second time to no avail. The kids had previously been doing great but once they sensed that we were wandering around aimlessly, they began to beg and reach for whatever we were passing at the time. (“Daddy! We have to have this! Please?” “No, you don’t need any oven cleaner!”) That meant it was time to go.

The single open checkout line was full of people who had nothing better to do on a weekday morning than buy a month’s worth of groceries, so we opted for using one of the self-checkout stations. That involved putting RU into the cart so she could pass me items to scan (leaning over is something I try to minimize when I’m wearing a baby) while MeToo initiated a Chinese Fire Drill and started orbiting us. Naturally, they’d gotten bored during my quest for voltage and were more than ready to be all done with this adventure. Frankly, I was too.

Finally, we got ourselves checked out and headed for the door… Which took us right by the battery display inexplicably located between checkout and the exit.

Why? Why? It made no sense! What did they expect people to do? Make a post-last-minute impulse buy and get back into line with a pack of AAs? Use their X-ray vision to see through the shelves and the cashiers and the checkout line to display? (Heck, even if I did have X-ray vision I wouldn’t have thought to look there for it.) Even if I’d seen it earlier, I was wearing a baby while pushing a cart the size of a stretched limousine. There was no way I would have been able to squeeze my circus past the people waiting in line and then loop back to pay for them.

Now that we were checked out and more than ready to go that wide selection of brand-name batteries at rock-bottom prices was not a last-second chance for me to acquire what I needed. No, it was more like having someone kick me in the teeth while that kid from the Simpsons laughed at my pain.


Whatever.  The smoke detectors are hardwired into the house. As long the place doesn’t happen to catch fire while the power is out we’ll be fine.  Most days the circus drowns it out completely.



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