It either stands to reason or defies logic that a storm would be the tool to calm a child experiencing the thunder of a behavioral disorder. I discovered this tool accidentally and early on in my daughter’s life. It was the catalyst for my unending quest to understand her, guide her, and in turn help myself.
A tornado watch had just been issued for the Kansas plains when I held my baby just five hours old, brought to me because her endless shrieking kept the other babies in the nursery awake. She calmed only in my arms looking out the window where the lightning closed her deepest blue eyes and the thunder muffled my lullaby.
When she was two years old I could no longer bear the guttural crying, gasping, and shaking another minute. Recently settled on the east coast, the doctors were as vague and indifferent about the cause as they were in the Midwest. It just couldn’t be “colic” anymore. I refused to believe I was “a bad mother” and I wouldn’t accept that she was “just an unhappy child”. In the background the radio crackled. She threw herself to the floor. Hurricane Gloria had arrived. With a convulsively screaming child in tow, I stepped out into the pouring rain. I cuddled her close in an attempt to sedate her mounting frustrations. She helplessly gulped the pure forces of wind and gaped in awe of its pressure against her face. She blinked wildly against driving rain and wouldn’t turn away. Her vision danced compulsively from lightning show to lightning show as if she knew where each would strike next.
Thunder filled the air and then her throat, not like an anguished cry, now rather like an answer. The storm called to her and her to it. When wind gave in to breeze, she cooed. When lightning powdered behind clouds she lay her head on my shoulder. When finally thunder rumbled distant she succumbed to sleep. Her storm slumbers were deep if not disturbingly long for one who, to this day, has never slept through the night.
Eight years later and in the Mojave, she clung to digital recordings of thunderstorms like the heartbroken whose lover has gone out to sea. One rare and cloudy evening, the high desert winds blew in something seen only too long ago. I waited in the distance and watched. My living barometer was on the move. She turned on a dime in skates never meant to do so and took in a deep breath. Her eyes canvassed and then pierced the landscape for the source. She left the smooth sidewalk and headed over rocks, sand, and twisted desert plants. Her arms heaved to keep her balance as her body leaned for speed. She collapsed on a mound of dirt we’d made grassy for just such an occasion.
She sat up, holding her legs to her chest. She rocked, agitated, the muscles tensed around her eyes. She watched intently as the clouds rolled over each other, her lips moved with no sound. She was speaking with, not to, the impending energies. Her hands clenched and unclenched, an attempt to wait patiently. She didn’t reach to grasp, she waited. But it was not a grasp she anticipated. It was an embrace.
A first gust gently lifted her face and fluttered her eyes. A stronger gust brought her breath then took it away, wrapping her in weightlessness. Her long blonde hair whipped around her throat and shoulders. Her expression became rested and peaceful. She was warmed as if by fire. She was comforted as if by the quilting weight of the wind. The rain was pelting but infrequent. I brought our blanket, soft on one side and plastic on the other, and we huddled as if shelter did not sit but thirty feet away. Cracks of thunder leaned her head against my shoulder and her face remained deliberately unshielded. As so often before in the olden days of her new youth her eyes danced from light to light, her body shivered and trembled as if absorbing the ions whirling through the air. She let the driving rain close her eyes, making her use her other senses to see the storm.
She moaned and sighed a language all her own, a gift from the sky when she was just five hours old. The storm raged overhead. She cooed and the clouds rumbled. She sighed and the lightning careened across the sky. She moaned and the thunder responded in kind. I witnessed two living, breathing, moving energies composing what few had ever felt, what no other understood. She believes in the god of the sky. She believes she came from the clouds. She yearns to be home and is soothed only when her family comes to visit. They stayed long and she slept into the night, huddled by her earthly mother and our blanket tent.
With our last move to my family’s home country of Germany, she has discovered a culture of age and history. She is in awe of things that, unlike herself, have been in one place for hundreds and thousands of years but that have, like her, weathered many storms. Her walks along ancient streets are deliberate and decisive. She touches aged structures with the flat of her hand and holds it there, staring intently. For several minutes she is uncharacteristically still as if there is an exchange of energy, she feeding it aliveness, it feeding her stability.
At six years old she was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder. She isn’t attention-deficit. She is attention abundant. The world is hers to take in and she does so to ridiculous points of heightened exhaustion. Reality for her is all things, sights, sounds, textures and tastes coming at once throughout any given day, leaving the fittest of sleeps to decipher and assimilate all that has been experienced and perceived. Awake, she wants and needs something bigger, stronger, brighter, and louder than her always oncoming world. She’s craved and often dangerously sought out the uncontained violence and chaos of a raging thunderstorm to outpace the still unchecked mayhem boiling up inside of her.
As a young mother, I longed for peace and quiet, and help. I could do no more for her than for myself. I have the same disorder. She has not grown out of this, as is the common misconception. When an ADHD child grows up, they can become disorganized and unable to finish one task before starting another. Raising this child so much like myself has often ignited a tinderbox trap of anxieties. My only defense has been to remember what I felt as a child, what worked, what didn’t, and to read and visit every available source on the subject. The best resource I’ve found is my daughter.
The first time I lay eyes on her she stole my heart and I haven’t seen it since. She races me for it everyday and I only hear it beating in the distance of her unending gait. I no longer fret as once I did that like all else she touches it would cease to be (the same?). Instead I have learned much about myself. I am strong, compassionate, and courageous.
I run the gauntlet to this day but if not for her, where would I be? Richer? Less encumbered? Maybe. Pity the me that wasn’t blessed with her birth. Like a relentless personal fitness trainer she pinpointed and carved hollow my every character flaw, my every weakness. She didn’t build patience from impatience. She crafted creative diversion . She didn’t create tolerance from intolerance. She sculptured acceptance. From the caverns of grief for my own lost childhood she molded a soul of my own.
Hers was not a willing student and our ongoing battles of will stand as testament to my resistance. She was surely too innocent and naive to know, yet she broke from a bedtime embrace, daring me to follow (chase?) my fears, my dreams, and my self into the night. A bouncing-off-the-walls-and-furniture-and-breaking-so-much-in-her-path child did this for me, taught me what isn’t taught, taken me to see what isn’t seen. She realigned my world in a way I didn’t know could be.
Whilst warned of her impending adulthood, I feel for the cynics. Without benefit of her arduous regime lo these past years it is the world, not I, she will take by storm.