Friday, June 06, 2008

Storms, inside and out

I've been following the online weather forecast closely, loading and reloading the page, willing it to change. But so far, it's not working. Every time I check, it tells me the same thing - that this is what is headed our way today:

This is what's in store for us tomorrow:

This is what Sunday will bring:

And this is what's coming Monday:

If you're a long-time reader, you may recall that two years ago Bud developed an overwhelming fear of thunderstorms. Last year, it got so terrible, so consuming, so all-encompassing, that it got in the way of Bud's ability to function day-to-day. It made medication a necessity instead of an option.

So, though I complained incessantly about the record snowfall around here this winter, I was also glad that the winter brought with it respite from thunderstorm season. But it's nearly summer now. And the thunder has returned.

I knew it was coming, of course, and we have been preparing for it. We've been talking about how sometimes things that scare you when you're younger aren't as scary when you're older. Bud's been talking about thunder with his psychologist, Dr. Susan, who helped us develop an alternative thunderstorm plan that would give us something to look forward to - we decided on a cookie party, as both Bud and I know well the restorative power of toll house.

Dr. Susan even created a beautiful Sesame Street book for Bud, in which Telly and his hamster Chuckie Sue confide to Baby Bear their fear of thunderstorms. Baby Bear comforts them and explains in very basic terms what makes thunder happen ("Thunderstorms happen when two big clouds have a pushing contest. When they rub their hands together, they make a loud noise.") The Count joins them, and explains that counting after a flash of lightning will tell you how far away the storm is. And, finally, Cookie Monster ventures along and announces "Me going to special thunderstorm cookie party. Me like to eat cookies in storm!" He invites them all along, explaining "Everybody eat cookie. Not mind thunder." They all go along to the cookie party and Telly and Chuckie Sue discover that they don't really mind the thunderstorm at all. Bud loves Dr. Susan's book, especially because it features some big bright illustrations of all his favorite characters, so it opens the door to conversation about the subject in a mostly nonthreatening way.

We've also gotten help from Dr. Donovan, the psychiatrist who manages Bud's medication. He has helped to tweak the dosage and timing of Bud's medications over the past several months to find the right balance for Bud to function at his best. And he also reminded us that though thunder is loud, we are too. He told us that we can make our own storms, and that we can be as loud as - and even louder than - the thunder. So, on beautiful sunny days when the forecast calls for nothing but clear skies, we've practiced making our own loud banging noises - rattling an entire roll of aluminum foil, stomping our feet as loud as we can, banging together on drums.

And when the thunder finally arrived last weekend, we were as ready as we could be.

I knew it was due sometime on Saturday, though I wasn't sure when. I didn't mention it to Bud, but planned on sticking close to home for the day. The morning was overcast, but the rain hadn't started, so I thought it was safe to take a quick shower. I was fully lathered up when the bathroom door flew open and I heard Bud's anxious voice asking, "Was that you, Mama?"

"Was what me, Bud?" I asked, though I was afraid I knew the answer.

"That banging sound, Mama? That was just you? That wasn't thunder?"

I started rinsing as fast as I could. Then I heard it: the big, loud, unmistakable boom of thunder.

"That was just you again, Mama?" Bud asked. I could hear it in his voice: he wanted me to say that it was just me. He knew it was thunder, but he wanted me to assure him that it wasn't. I hesitated for an instant, then wrapped a towel around myself and climbed out, dripping and still a little soapy.

"No, that wasn't me, Bud," I said. "That was a little bit of thunder."

Bud started to panic.

I rushed him into my room, pulled down the shades, pulled on some clothes, and put us both to work.

"We'll show that thunder, Bud," I said. "We'll show him that we can be louder than him!" We climbed onto my bed and started banging on the wall together. I heard the rumbling outside, but saw that Bud was too busy banging to notice it. I banged louder and shouted "WE'RE LOUDER THAN YOU, THUNDER! WE'RE NOT AFRAID OF YOU, THUNDER!"

"Let's be even louder, Bud," I said. "Let's stomp our feet, too." Bud was still too distracted to pay attention to what was going on outside, but it occurred to me that a single flash of lightning could redirect his attention and ruin everything.

"Bud!" I shouted. "We need lightning! Can you make the lightning?"

I kept up the banging and stomping and shouting while Bud threw open the door to my closet and flicked the light on and off. I listened for the thunder outside. It had stopped.

We'd made it.

I stopped banging and the sound of the rain - a light tapping when we'd started, but now a full downpour - filled the room.

"Mama, the rain..." Bud said, anxiety creeping back into his voice.

"Let me show you how to make a rainstorm, Bud," I said. And together, we rubbed our hands, flicked our fingers, tapped our legs, and stomped our feet as we simulated the rise and fall of a downpour.

As soon as our rainstorm ended, and before his anxiety returned, I asked "I forget, Bud. What fun thing did we say we were going to do if there was a storm? What did Telly and Chuckie Sue do?"

"Have a cookie party!" Bud answered.

I dashed to the kitchen and grabbed some cookies, then we cuddled together in my bed (Cookies in bed??? This must be a special occasion!) and celebrated a job well done.

"We scared the thunder, Mama?" Bud asked.

"We did, honey. We were even louder than the thunder."

"We scared the thunder all the way to Canada, Mama?" Bud asked.

"All the way to Canada, Bud," I said. "Then all the way to the North Pole, and then right back up to the sky."

"The thunder said, 'Eek! I'm afraid of those people noises!'" Bud said.

We'd survived the first storm of the season. Bud seemed to be managing well. All the same, though, for the rest of the day, and through the next day and most of this week, little signs of the old storm perseveration peeked through - jumping at the slightest noises, asking repeatedly about impending weather, and making proclamations and assumptions based on false correlations: "I'm not wearing my purple Joe shirt. That makes a storm." or "The storm was Saturday? There will be a storm next Saturday?"

And so I'm braced for the onslaught of foul weather headed our way. I'm hoping that homemade thunderstorms can continue to carry the day for days on end. I'm hoping that the thunder runs screaming to Canada at the very first sound of our people noises. And I'm hoping that no matter how many chocolate chip cookies we eat, they never lose their magic.


Anonymous said...

Yes, you are a brave and wonderful mama making storms with your sweet boy, banging on the walls and blinking in the flickering closet light.

I'll be thinking of you this weekend and hoping for the best--blue skies? Is it too much to ask for? And maybe we'll eat some cookies and check the weather map and stick pins in a weather balloon...just in case that might make a difference. Good luck, my friend.

Niksmom said...

Bereft of speech; I'm smiling and crying tears of pride for your sweet Bud!

Damn, you've got some awesome docs and the most amazing attitude. Cookies or no, you managed to make a party. Awe.

Jen said...

I love love love how you and Bud's docs have come up with this ... battleplan for thunder!

We had big storms here last weekend that made us all jump. Even the fearless middle guy was shaking. Hugs to you guys (and maybe some extra aluminum foil too!)

kristina said...

Well, sounds like Bud's Dr. made up a great story book----and the best stories are always worth several rereads. So it's time to reread and re-enact the thunder happening again.......

We had humid weather prior to storms and it seems that the rising humidity before the thunder and rain hit bother Charlie the most. Swimming (with Charlie fully submerging himself) has proved a good antidote.

I also think Bud and you are recrafting the ending of TS Eliot's The Waste Land if you don't mind my saying so.

Maddy said...

What a fabulous coping strategy for you both.

Hope you don't have to utilize it too often during the coming months.
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

You are all fabulous. Really -- the docs, you, Bud. *THIS* is what creative parenting looks like! Brava!

xo karen in ca

Anonymous said...

You tell Bud that the storm did in fact make it all the way to Canada. And tell him anytime he wants to send a fraidy cat storm running up to Canada, I will take it and finish the job scaring it right back into the sky.
I wish I could eat cookies in bed, but right now even cookies don't stay "down", so please let Bud have just one extra for 4, who is waiting for the next storm he sends.

It sounds as though a wonderful team of wonderful encouraging sorts is on the job. I am most pleased to read that. So keep those cookies coming your way, and I'll take care of the storms in Canada.

Anonymous said...

We don't have cookies here, we have popcorn on the stove. Same difference :)

Reminds me all of a book, Thunder Cake, where a girl scared of storms is sent running around her farm for the ingredients for cake - and makes it just in time for the thunder to roll in.

Daisy said...

Is Bud ready for Patricia Polacco's book Thundercake? It's wonderful. It deals with facing fear...and also involves a sweet treat at the end!

KAL said...

It sounds like he's well on his way, though, to facing his fear. What a great idea to make your own storm... AND the cookie party. HOping you have bluer skies soon.

Tina@ SendChocolateNow said...

So sweet, what you did for him. Around here, we say that thunder is just God bowling. And my son doesn't have a problem with that. But ask him to take the garbage out when it is dark and NO WAY!

Autism is a weird thing.

Beth Allums said...

I love it! Triumphant! You are a dynamic duo, and you inspire me again and again!! Yay Bud!

Anonymous said...

At my house, summer brings the ice cream truck. My nos son has a fear of the ice ream truck coming down our street. The music drives him crazy, and the unpredictability of not knowing when it will come. Kind of like Bud and thinking a purple shirt will bring storms, my son tries to find the pattern of when the ice cream truck will come.

I love how you handled your situation. My house often looks just as weird and crazy as we help my son cope. But even this is what memories are made of...

Joeymom said...

My grandmother was so terrified of storms, when they built their house on the bay, they actually built a "storm room" in the cellar- a kind of bomb shelter, no windows, insulated against noise. First sign of thunder, and down she went.

LAA and Family said...

Terrific strategizing! I hope this will continue to be helpful, did your area have lots of storms this past week too?

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel any better I freak out over thunderstorms too. My husband thinks it is cute. Me...not so much.

I was playing Sims 2 Seasons yesterday. In the game they were having a thunderstorm. I had the sound up. all of a sudden a crack of thunder erupted from my computer. I jumped and almost peed myself. I turned off the volume after that.

mommy~dearest said...

I'm with niksmom- for no reason other than pure awesomeness, I've been reduced to tears reading this post. Good job Mom, and good for Bud!

Anonymous said...

Funnel cloud touches down at Seba Beach
Emily Senger,
Published: 7:46 pm

EDMONTON - A small funnel cloud touched down 85 kilometres west of Edmonton at 5:20 p.m.
A tornado watch for Edmonton, St. Albert and Sherwood Park has ended.

Now, I am all about supporting Bud sending the thunderstorms to Canada...but this one was a little close. We're off tomorrow to survey the damage at the cabin.

kristi said...

Awesome.....very creative.
TC, too is scared of thunder. I will try to destract him by reading to him or simply hugging him and telling him it is only rain.

But those thunders that shake the whole house ARE scary.

Anonymous said...

what a BRILLIANT way to work through Bud's fear! i love love love your people thunder and lightening storm! you are such a wonderful mom to such a wonderful boy. xxx

Anonymous said...

I like your people noises strategy, but really - would it hurt so much to tell him what really makes thunder happen? A couple of minutes on Google will give you an answer. "Lightning makes a hole in the clouds. The air rushes in and goes bang" would be better than "Thunderstorms happen when two big clouds have a pushing contest. When they rub their hands together, they make a loud noise." He's going to need to deal with the real world sometime.

MOM-NOS said...

Actually, Anonymous, I think that, while accurate, that explanation would be frightening to Bud. We can play act a pushing contest and Bud knows it won't hurt him. But if I introduce the idea that lightning makes a hole in a cloud, I believe I'd open the door to the idea that lightning could also make a hole in a house, or a car, or a person.

There are lots of things that Bud is going to need to learn about - lots of dark, scary, unpleasant things that are, unfortunately, simply a part of life. My job as a parent is to work to figure out when the time is right for each one. And, to me, right now, a gentler story about thunderstorms is the right way to go.

Anonymous said...

You are, like, the BEST MOM EVER.