“My daughter is feral,” stated Elise Free in an article published on ScaryMommy.com. “Not in the way that she walks on all fours and hissed through infancy… but in the way that she is not like other children.” Free compares her daughter to Mowgli from The Jungle Book. And although the young girl did not grow up in the jungle, Free still says, “There’s something about her, something wild.”
Free is a 38-year-old mother, writer and playwright, whose work has been published on several websites, including The Mighty and Felicity Huffman’s page, What the Flicka? Free also writes for magazines like L.A. Parent, and she won the award for Best Screenplay at the LA Femme International Film Festival in 2017.
As a transplant from Iowa to Los Angeles (and recently back to Iowa), Free and her not-so-feral daughter have had an interesting journey. Free raises Adelaide, also known as Addie, on her own, after going through two divorces. Despite the challenges of single parenthood, however, Free has no complaints. In her writing, she gives a frank and honest telling of her story, and now Addie’s, as the strong female duo navigate through life together.
Free didn’t have to encourage an ambitious spirit in her daughter, which started at a young age. “The instant she learned to crawl, she began climbing – book shelves, dressers, sinks, counters, desks – any place that was at least a hundred times higher than she was,” wrote Free in her ScaryMommy article. “After baby-proofing our apartment, our dwelling resembled a prison more than a home.”
Adelaide seemingly had no fears. By Free’s account, the girl launched herself confidently into any new situation that seemed to promise excitement. “Addie was the toddler we’ve all witnessed at the playground, who teetered to the top of the monkey bars, pausing for a brief moment before hurling her body into the air like a preschool base jumper.”
The single mother no doubt had her hands full with Addie. “She was the kid who immediately upon walking into a house would zero in on all electrical outlets and locate something (preferably metal) to stick inside them,” recounted Free. “I called Poison Control at least 15 times in her first two years. And it was not (I swear) out of negligence.”
“On walks with our dog, I had a leash for her and a leash for our Pomeranian,” admitted Free. “And yes, I saw the judgment from other parents as I walked my dog and kid in unison.” However, Free also knew that she was doing what was best for her free-spirited child, because, “… judgmental parents didn’t know that just like a puppy, my kiddo, if allowed to roam free, would beeline for the house across the street to shove a marigold or bird-of-paradise up her nose.”
“It doesn’t stop at thrill-seeking,” said Free, expressing almost a sense of wonder about what her daughter was capable of. “She’s almost always behind the ‘big idea.’ She was the kid who cut all of her playmate’s hair, played doctor, and encouraged the neighborhood children to embrace their wild sides, too.”
“It may come as no surprise that we’ve lost a few friends along the way, wrote Free. “You know who you are. I hope you liked the fruit basket we sent.” However, little Addie’s avid curiosity and adventurous spirit are not the only aspects of her daughter that require Free’s constant attention. The mother and daughter have plenty of serious notes in their lives.
Adelaide is actually impressively carefree considering she was diagnosed with a serious medical condition – one that would require lifelong monitoring and treatment – at a very young age. You see, Addie has cystic fibrosis (CF), a life-threatening disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. It’s a condition Addie will live with for the rest of her life.
When Addie was diagnosed with CF at only four months old, Free was afraid she would lose her daughter. “She was considered failure-to-thrive and spent three weeks in the hospital,” wrote Free in an article for FightCF.com. “She endured blood transfusions, daily blood draws, and medications to aid in digestion, and respiratory treatments.”
“Our doctors told us she may not survive,” said Free of her daughter’s tenuous first days on earth. “And it was like hearing the sun may not come up tomorrow.” Around 30,000 adults and children in the United States are living with CF. Fortunately, treatment of the genetic disorder has come a long way.
Back in the 1950s, few children with CF lived to reach school age. “Now, at age 12, Addie is thriving!” proclaimed Free in the FightCF story. Addie’s good health, however, doesn’t ensure that she lives a typical pre-teen life. Addie and her mom spend hours each day treating CF. That’s because the disease causes the body to create thick mucus that can block the lungs and cause serious infections.
As for treating the disease, Free says, “Addie is doing her part!” The mother described the arduous treatment Addie continuously undergoes. “Every day we get up two hours before school starts to do respiratory therapy, where she wears a vest and mucus is shaken from her lungs, she inhales 2-3 nebulized medications, and takes about 40 pills a day.”
Incredibly, Addie has to go through two more hours of respiratory therapy after school as well. “Add on sinus rinses, supplements, doctors appointments, and required daily physical activity, and this kiddo does more in one day to stay healthy than most people do their whole lives!” exclaimed Free.
Adelaide is a trooper, however. “Despite daily, time consuming treatments and medications,” said Free, “she does everything a ‘normal’ kid can do. She’s in gymnastics, swims, and has more energy than ten kids combined.” And certainly, Addie’s childish sense of wonder seems to outshine that of more cautious children.
“She’s the female version of Mowgli from The Jungle Book, more attracted to nature and danger than order and safety,” described Free. “She came out of my body fast and loud and that has never changed.” And, Free admits, she would never want her daughter to change.
While Addie’s wild antics have undoubtedly kept her mother busy, she cherishes her daughter’s “feral” side. “Despite her wild ways, she’s also a very affectionate little beast who is kind, funny and sweet, and she has outgrown some of her jungle ways,” wrote Free. Apparently, around the age of ten, Addie started developing what Free described as “a sense of fear, or caution, or possibly common sense.”
Free admitted, “As much as I admire her ability to take life by the horns (and the bull too, if she had the chance), she has scared the holy crap out of me more times than I can count.” And Addie has probably not worried her mother for the last time, most recently surprising Free with her desire to dress up as Jack Nicholson’s character from The Shining.
However, it seems Free would rather Addie keep her on her toes. She recounted the comment of a friend who has two children – an older, obedient son, and a wild, younger daughter like Addie: “Sometimes my son is so boring, I can hardly stand it. At least my daughter makes life interesting!”