How motherhood is like flying

As I’ve shared here before, I don’t like to fly.

I could really relate to Brene Brown’s Blissdom keynote, when she said that every time she takes a trip by airplane, she is pleasantly surprised to find herself alive at the end of it.

For me, the worst part—by far—is taking off. Does anyone remember the scene at the end of Say Anything, where John Cusak’s character is trying to comfort Ione Sky’s character (who is terrified of flying) by telling her that the first five minutes of a flight are the most dangerous part, and that as soon as the fasten seat belts light goes off, they know they’ll be OK? Yeah. Not helpful. That scene has stuck in my head since I was a kid, and instead of being comforted by it, all I can think each time I fly is “The first five minutes of a flight? ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH.”

It’s not just my Say Anything hang-ups that scare me about the first few minutes of a flight, though. The noises, the almost impossibly fast, lurching forward motion, that creepy feeling when the plane starts lifting into the sky and you realize there’s no going back now—I fly several times a year, and usually it’s all I can do to get through the first few moments of a flight without clutching the arm of the person next to me and sobbing on his or her sleeve.

When we reach cruising altitude, though, I always relax. After the terror of takeoff has passed, I somehow remember—and believe—that flying is statistically much safer than driving. Once we’re past that mythical first five minutes, even turbulence doesn’t freak me out: I liken it to driving over bumps and, occasionally, potholes (though I’ve never experienced any really awful turbulence, she says knocking wood frantically)

And I actually love to land. From my very first flight ever—which took place when I was an adult, so I can remember it clearly—I loved the feeling of descending, and watching the ground growing closer and closer. I got a huge thrill out of looking at the approaching skyline of whatever city we were landing near, tingling with excitement over being in a new place.

Now, logically I know that landing is probably every bit as statistically risky as takeoff. But after that first flight, I’d decided “I love landing!” and believed it. And I’ve continued to believe it through dozens of flights. It’s like creating a positive feeling about landing early on overrode any logical arguments my brain might have tried to raise.

So the last time I flew, I decided to try an experiment: could I convince myself to love takeoff just like landing? Because my trip to New Orleans had two layovers, I’d have four separate takeoffs to practice loving takeoff. Or at least experiencing it rather than hiding my face in my hands and trying not to hyperventilate.

On the first flight the window shade stayed firmly drawn. As it turned out, chanting “This is fun! I love taking off!” was not all that convincing when all I could do was look down at my clenched hands, feeling every single bump intensely while listening to whirring engines, landing gear clunking into place and goodness knows what else.

On the second leg of the flight I planted myself near a window and took cautious peeps as we ascended. It was kind of cool to see the ground getting smaller and further away.  I had a few white-knuckled moments, but I never once thought about bursting into tears.

On our third flight I outright stared out the window and watched the whole process. And…I can hardly believe this, but it was fun.

Suddenly the noises and bumps and grinding all made sense; there was context. I could see where we were going and what we were leaving behind. It was exciting and distracting, and even though I was still nervous, I had something beautiful to focus on. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there was the knowledge that things could still go wrong, that we could still crash. But I was so busy taking it all in, I almost didn’t care.

Why had I thought takeoff would be less scary if I spent the entire time staring into the darkness of my palms and wondering what was going on outside my window? I mean, duh, right?

I know you all are smart enough to sense where I’m going with this, right? You got it: there’s a lesson about motherhood tangled up in here; possibly even two or three, but I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what they are.

Maybe it’s that you can’t completely predict how your kids or your life are going to turn out—all you can do is try to make the most of the ride.

Maybe it’s that it’s not enough to white-knuckle it from the sidelines, trying to convince yourself you’re having fun. You have to really get in there and experience it, scary as it might be, or else all you’ll feel is the bumps and dips.

Or maybe it’s that intent is everything. If you tell yourself you hate takeoff…or the playground…or taking your kids to the hotel pool (hand raised!)…or cleaning the kitchen…or doing the laundry…or helping with math homework…well, that’ll definitely be your experience, won’t it?

Or maybe there’s entirely another lesson in this metaphor. I don’t know. What do you think?

Looking for another opportunity to get your hands on a copy of The Happiest Mom? Check out these giveaway stops on my blog book tour:

Confessions of a Mean Mommy

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