As some of you know, my younger son is on the autism spectrum. One of his big issues is thunderstorms. When he was a toddler, he mostly ignored them, and as he and his brother got older, they would sometimes come sit by me, or come jump in bed with us during a bad storm, but I think most kids do that. Starting last year, Dan started to get really freaked out by storms. He would go into meltdown mode, start worrying a tornado was coming to get him, and there would be hell. I had to figure out a way to get him through the damn things.
See, Dan loves to read and be read to, and we had books for anxiety and books for me to know if he gets what he's reading, but I thought I needed something a little bit different, something special. When I was a child my mother had given us a Reader's Digest collection of stories for young readers, there was a story in there called "The Devil's Hide" by Parker Fillmore. It is a gruesome, yet delightful story of how a young man named Erkki makes a deal with and gets the best of the Devil. The only problem? The book is out of print.
A couple of days later I am talking to my sister on the phone. I tell her about the storms and ask her, does she remember that story? Does she! She has it. What? Yes, she also loved that story so much that she wanted to read it to her daughter, so a couple of years earlier she had gone in search of the thing and found it, paid too much for a raggedy copy, and was now willing to pass it on to me. I couldn't believe my luck. I hope Dan goes for this the way I think he will.She delivers the book into my hot little hands. It is old, its binding is naked, and pages want to float away, but all of the story is in there. I hide my faded red treasure to await the next storm.
I don't have to wait long. A gentle rumbling and Dan is winding up for it and I say, "Hey, how about we save the day." This distracts him, throws him off balance, as his curiosity overcomes his anxiety, I add, "I have this very ancient book here with a very special story inside about a boy named Erkki..." And both my boys follow me to the sofa and settle in on either side as I begin to read. It is quite the grisly tale. Erkki watches as his two elder brothers, each in their turn, go out to make their way in the world, and come home missing a patch of their hide, lost to the Devil over a bargain on who will lose their temper first. Naturally, Erkki, being the hero of the story, sets out to succeed where his brothers have failed and does so in a somewhat grim yet hilarious manner, vexing the Devil mightily the entire time.
Now the storm was over by the time I was halfway through the story, but Dan had no idea of it. He was too busy giggling at me sputtering and choking back the Devil's rage as I tried not to lose his bargain for him too early in the tale as Erkki wreaked havoc in his life. By the time the story was done, the storm was long gone and Dan was completely at ease. I said: "Well, I guess that storm didn't stand a chance against us, huh? We didn't need to pay any attention to that show-off, we had better things to do." He smiles at me and agrees, ""Yeah, we really did it, we saved the day!"
Sometimes storms last longer than the story and we may have to grab some Shel Silverstein so we can continue reading, and last fall when Sandy hit and we lost power for a week, that was rough. He had a bit more anxiety there for a while after that, I can't say I blame him, didn't that suck for all of us? Yeah, it did. But, overall, he's doing great. Now it doesn't even have to be "The Devil's Hide," it doesn't even have to always be reading. Have you ever seen a nine year old save the day by singing along with a YouTube of These Eyes by The Guess Who? It's awesome.