Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The one with the dolphins on it

I grew up in southwestern Ohio, along the northern edge of tornado alley. Or perhaps this is beyond the edge of tornado alley and is only the tornado...sidewalk. Or something. In any case we had regular tornado drills at school, and a handful of full-on go-sit-in-the-locker-room tornado warnings. Every so often, like once or twice in fifteen years, a tornado actually touched down and did damage in the vicinity. Very little, though. Nevertheless, I had a fully developed tornado phobia. I had a subscription to National Geographic World and one summer they did a special feature on "maxi" tornadoes, with lots of graphic footage from one that had touched down in Texas. I hid this issue away under all the other ones and whenever I'd come across it--it had a cheerful blue and green cover with dolphins--I'd get a hit of that hot, too-still, pre-tornado dread and shove it back. I think I became somewhat of a panicked pain in the neck anytime it got windy, and camping with me--we did lots of camping, one of the highlights of my childhood, despite the fact that it was sometimes overcast--was often an exercise in patient explanation about weather conditions and why a faint cloudiness did not mean we had to head directly for the concrete bathrooms. I remember being carried out screaming into a rainstorm once, because someone waiting with us in the lobby of the Sears had mentioned tornadoes. I think I was ten. Perhaps I was more like five. Either way, I was old enough to feel, as I was carried out bodily, that I was maybe a little too old for such carrying on. Nevertheless, I carried on. I couldn't help it.

It is not a coincidence that I now live in a location that is functionally tornado-free.

So it is with mixed feelings--relief and empathetic dread, mostly, and also sorrow, that I watch the storms blow across the fields across from my office. Cool dry air from the Rockies, heading east to meet up with the warm humid air of the Gulf and cause trouble...but not here. Good luck, all my midwestern friends & readers. May your basements/closets be strong and the tornadoes twist elsewhere.

I'd like to say that this childhood phobia helps me be more patient and kind with my own kids' phobias. It does a little, I suppose. But mostly I get exasperated with their fears of spiders and thunder and the dark, and if I have to carry them bodily somewhere I am only about 1% compassion, compared with 90% irritation (and 8% embarrassment, with a healthy 1% of "other").

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