June 22, 2009

Thunder! Lightning!

After dinner tonight, I proposed a walk to the kids. It's June, and the fireflies are out in droves. The sky was clear with a stunning sunset in the making. I even promised popsicles and a late bedtime, figuring on a little bonding and some memory-making.

And from the diva? A total meltdown. She could not handle even the thought of walking out the front door. Tears streamed down her face from the mental trauma of it all. I was at a loss until she blurted out, sobbing uncontrollably, "But Moooom! What if there's a thunderstorm!"

A new phobia is born.

To be fair, we've had our share of thunderstorms these last few weeks. All that noise and lightning, it's a bit unnerving when you're seven. Today, though, was a gorgeous, sunny, blue-sky day. The kids were outside in it at the ballpark with their dad for Father's Day. Bevy of sunburns all around.

But the second she set foot back home, my beautiful diva became severely agoraphobic. Because of the weather.

It started off reasonably. Twice in the last week she crawled into bed with me in the wee hours of the morning, awakened by the loud bang of thunder. This is what you expect from a seven-year-old.

But it escalated from there.

By Friday, she was sitting for hours in the living room, glued to the windows. Every passing cloud she saw - whether high and white and puffy, a shadowed, pearly gray, or scarlet from the setting sun - was met with a bleak, drawn face and a panicked, "Mom, is that a thundercloud?"

Airplane passes overhead. "Mom! Do you hear thunder?"

"No. It's an airplane."

Perfectly delightful cotton ball cloud drifts by. "Mom! Is that a thundercloud??"

"No. Plain old cloud."

Gently overcast day, without a single raindrop. "Mom! Thunderclouds!"

"No. Just clouds again. See? No lightning."

Harry Potter zooms past on his Nimbus 2000. "Mom!!! Lightning!!"

Okay, I made that one up. But you get the point.

Tonight what was a simple irrational fear escalated to the point of total panic. She couldn't walk outside anymore without enormous thunderstormy angst.

So I reassured her. I told her that she'd know it's a thundercloud because she'd be able to see the lightning from far away. Thunder and lightning can't hurt us in the house, I said, and we'd have plenty of warning that a thunderstorm is coming. I explained the science of it. And we also came up with alternate theories on the weather. Such as, thunder God is bowling, and he's a poor loser so he starts crying his eyes out and throwing lightning bolts around. Made her laugh.

Otherwise, the talk-it-out approach was not working.

I finally got her outside by promising her that there would be NO thunderstorms, and that I'd tell her if I ever knew a thunderstorm was coming because I'd want her to be prepared. She liked that. She's young enough to believe that mom does know everything about everything and can also control the weather. I am like Rainman and Storm from the X-Men rolled into one. Makes me one heckuva smart autistic mutant superhero.

Desperate to do the mom thing and teach a lesson, I cited a line from my favorite movie, Strictly Ballroom: "Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias" ... or, a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. I told her, "You can't let a little thing like being afraid of thunder keep you from having fun."

She bought it. She got out there, forgot her fear, and caught a few fireflies with her brothers. She had a great night.

We'll see how she does the next time it rains.

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