Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27, 2011 ~ Day 139
My Heart, Hurtling Through The Air

My son is about to take his first airplane ride.

I know I should feel happy for him. This is a moment he has been waiting for since he was less than a year old, when he would point from his carseat to the window and scream "Ba! Ba!" anytime he saw an airplane in the sky.

At the age of two, he would race down the sand dunes at the beach with his arms spread wide - running and jumping to simulate flight.

Although we are not a military family, we happened to live in a military community with its own airfield for several years. During that time not a day passed when my son didn't spy some kind of jet, helicopter, fighter plane or other aircraft soaring above as we walked to the park or the library. At all times of day we could hear planes taking off or landing.

Sometimes we would go down to the beach just to watch the airplanes landing. My son would run the length of a city block away from me on the sand to get as close as he dared to the incoming plane... then on its approach he would dash as fast as he could back into my outstretched arms, taking cover for safety in my lap but waving violently at its pilot as the plane passed by.

If given a single sheet of paper, my son would thrust it at us and demand: "MAKE ME A PLANE! I WANT TO FLY!!!"

For years, whenever anyone asked my son, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" he'd answer without hesitation,

"A pilot! I'm going to fly jet airplanes!"

I'm sure it didn't hurt that the fathers of so many of his school friends were former or current Navy pilots.

We've rented videos about airplanes, learning the mechanism of the engine, propeller and wings. We've discussed the concept of lift at length.

Yet in all of this time, my son has never ridden in an airplane. Not once. The closest he's come would be straddling a helicopter attraction at the local theme park... or walking through a flight simulator at the local airplane museum.

Many of his close friends have traveled extensively around the country, and some have even flown halfway around the world. Listening to them talk about their adventures has been difficult for him - even when they are talking about how boring it is to sit still on the airplane. He feels left out. "Why does everyone else get to go on an airplane but me, mommy?"

I'm pretty sure that he's going to be surprised by the reality of flying as a passenger on a jumbo jet. The kid bores easily, so unless he ends up with a window seat, I'm guessing he'll be watching videos on his daddy's laptop computer the entire time... or reading one of his beloved "Magic Treehouse" books.

He may even imagine that he's going to be helping fly the airplane all the way to its destination... I hope he doesn't feel let down when he finds himself strapped into a carseat at 30,000 feet.

No matter how it turns out, my son is elated right now. So excited! He's been dancing around the house for days, jumping like a bean in his chair at the dinner table. He is incredibly thrilled that in less than two days, he'll be riding on an airplane to see a city and state far away from home.

This trip is a rite-of-passage for him, and I can see the look in his eyes. He believes this trip will make him into a "real boy" now - no longer a little boy, and he's so glad to cast off the shackles of babyhood.

"Mommmmeeeeee, Can you guess what I'M doing in two days?" he chortles. "I'm going on an AIIIIRRR-PLANE!"

Of course, I am the wrong person to talk to about all of this.

I am my son's polar opposite. I am *terrified* of flying. If I never had to get on another airplane in my entire life, I would be totally okay with that.

The problem is, I LOVE to travel. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I love to see new places, discover new restaurants, listen to foreign languages being spoken all around me. Most of all, I love to meet new and different people from around the world. I adore traveling and if I could manage to visit every single country on Earth without flying, I'd sign up tomorrow. There is nothing I would rather do than travel the world and write about my experiences.

So my fear of flying isn't going to stop me from flying.

It does, however, slow me down. I made a promise to myself once over a decade ago that I would never fly anywhere that I didn't really, really, really want to go. "It has to be worth the risk that the plane will go down," I decided - which is hilarious considering that I drive in the car every day and am at much higher risk when running to the grocery store than I would ever be in an airplane. Somehow my brain doesn't ever think, "It has to be worth the risk of a car accident!" every time I drive - which is just absurd.

There is a reason why they call them "irrational" fears. My fear of flight is totally irrational.

It is also totally Type A.

My friends will all agree that despite my more lovable qualities I also sport a Type A personality which can be very annoying. I like to be in charge. As a child I was quite bossy, ordering around my little friends. (God bless you, friends who've stuck around since I was nine years old!) There is a reason why my best friend once wrote that I wanted to be the president of the United States, which I did. I wanted to be the "ultimate" boss, I guess.

In the end I became a teacher, which is like being the ultimate boss of your own classroom. You run the entire show, which worked for my personality perfectly.

Yes, my irrational fear of flying is definitely a Type A thing. I can guarantee you that if I myself were flying the plane... if that was MY airplane, and if I had charted our course myself, and personally filled the gas tank and checked the engine, de-iced the wheels myself, etc., I would have absolutely no problem with flying. I would trust myself enough to believe that I could avoid having a fatal plane crash.

In which event, I would probably adore flying as much as (or more than!) my son.

My phobia is purely a control issue. A trust issue.

I have a lot of difficulty putting my life into the hands of someone I don't know ~ a fellow human who may have a drinking problem or have had a terrible fight with their spouse right before boarding the airplane to fly me somewhere. I am uncomfortable with relinquishing control to a total stranger.

Obviously September 11, 2001 did not help me much with my ardent fear of flying. If anything, it just gave me more to worry about on airplanes. After the attacks I began to worry not just about the mechanics of the plane but also about the other passengers on board. Were any of them terrorists? Did they have weapons? Were they going to try to blow up the plane?

A friend whose husband briefly worked as an undercover air marshal reinforced my sense of insecurity by admitting just how poorly the program was run and confiding how unskilled folk were being hired to do this all-important job. Her revelations made me feel even less happy about flying.

From the age of 19 to 25 whenever I began to panic on an airplane I would ask the person sitting next to me if they would mind talking with me to calm my nerves, explaining that I was a nervous passenger. This actually led me to meet a wide variety of kind and interesting people, including young brides, hovercraft pilots, university students, mothers with small children and slick businessmen.

Many of them were very gracious about chatting with me during takeoff and landing, and some even shared my same fear. I will never forget the kind male flight attendant on a British Airways flight from Spain to Los Angeles who talked me down from a Code Red Panic Attack somewhere over Boston or New York. (I was pouring sweat with ringing in my ears.)

(Now that I've been diagnosed with late stage chronic lyme disease, I wonder if something about flying at 30,000 feet might not affect the spirochetes and bacteria in my body. Perhaps at that level of radiation or fluctuating cabin pressure levels, they are able to multiply rapidly and therefore produce the commonly described symptoms of massive sweating, anxiety and panic that I experience routinely when flying.

That would actually make logical sense, especially since I have not always been anxious while flying. Only since the age of 19... before that time I absolutely loved it. I should really look into re-oxygenating after arriving in my city of destination, by exercising or undergoing a hyperbaric oxygen treatment.)

Once I met my husband, flying got harder. "Would you please talk to me?" I'd beg as the plane began to take off.

"What do you want to talk about," he'd laugh - and keep reading his magazine.


"There is nothing to be scared of," he would smile - and then go back to reading, leaving me alone with my panic.

I guess people who have never experienced real anxiety don't know how stressful it can be.

Finally, I broke down and sought professional counseling for my fear of flight. I saw a wonderful hypnotherapist who specialized in the Emotional Freedom Technique (which involves tapping and repeating affirmations) and although I haven't flown yet since meeting with him, the strategies truly helped me with delivering my last two children - one normally and one by c-section (my other greatest fear).

He helped me to accept my fear and walk through it, rather than denying its existence altogether. "A courageous person is not the one who feels no fear," the therapist consoled. "True courage is knowing what you're up against and then bravely walking into the battle anyway."

Someday, whenever we have money to travel as a family of five ~ and a worthy destination! I'll walk straight into that battle with my head held high again.

For now, I think it is wonderful that my son will NOT be taking his first trip into the air seated next to a mother who is sweating profusely with a racing heart, clinging onto the plastic sidebars of her seat for dear life.

I'm so happy for him that he will be flanked by his father and adored grandmother, both of whom love to fly. Together they will fill him with the confidence and courage needed to truly exhilarate in the journey.

In the end, I was the person who suggested that our son join my husband on this trip. I think it will be a monumental event for him - something truly special that he will never forget. Indeed, this may just end up being the very first memory that he holds onto for the rest of his life.

I am genuinely pleased for my boy who at nearly six years old is now on the cusp of fulfilling his greatest lifelong dream.

That said, I'll be clenching inside until I get the call to say that they've landed safely... that my husband and son once again have their feet planted firmly on the terrestrial soil of this beautiful planet.

How does that cliche go? If you love something, let it fly free.

I love you, my son.

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