The smell is what I remember best. The smell of the air and the appearance of the sky. I seemed always able to sense the coming of a tornado. My guess is most kids growing up in Kansas develop this skill. I lost it when I moved to Michigan, or maybe it lay dormant because I never needed it, but I can remember.
I can remember happily swirling chocolate ice cream around my bowl to develop the smooth consistency I loved, when I smelled the tornado. Joy became fear as our family rushed down to the common basement of the apartment complex. We waited, because that is what you do when a tornado is on the move. On this occasion there was no damage, but a time would come before I left the state, when anticipated stress became real as the windows of our new home were blown out.
When you are 6 or 7 years old tornadoes create immense stress.
Decades later I realize there are tornadoes of many kinds, each with their own ability to create stress. For those of us who are parents of special needs children stress comes like tornadoes. Though implied by many our children are not always or even primarily the source of our tornado like stress. We feel extreme stress because so little about the world includes special needs families or supports them effectively. As a result, when we work our jobs, live in our communities, deal with our health, or plan our finances everything is harder. Each basic element of life requires adaptation turning basic life experiences into tornadoes.
What can we do about the difficult experience of managing life in a world ill-equipped to include families with special needs? While I don’t have all the answers one came in the form of a movie I recommend.
Bridge of Spies for which Tom Hanks should have received best actor contains clear and inspired direction about how to handle tornado like stress.
Mark Rylance, who won the academy award for best supporting actor had one line repeated in the face of great stress. “Would it help?” I can still hear it in my ears.
Applying this simple mantra, as we surrender the false belief we can control the uncontrollable, calms the tornado. In this moment, we can remember these tornadoes are emotional not physical storms and overcome, using the energy saved from anxiety to accomplish important things.