I used to love to fly.
My first flight was to Spokane from Wichita Falls at the age of two.
We’d take the puddle jumper from Shepherd to Dallas, then fly Southwest to Salt Lake and finally Spokane. In Spokane at my grandparents’ house, I’d watch the airplane on the bathroom clock ticking its way around the hours. I’d watch the jets fly over their backyard cutting across the sapphire sky through ponderosa branches and the clothesline. My grandpa loved airplanes and kept models in the basement, some of them gasoline powered. He always had rubber band airplanes on hand for my brother and me.
I think of those days often when I remember how I used to love to fly.
When we were older my brother and I would play cards on long flights. Or draw, or read, or listen to our portable CD players. I remember flying over Mississippi one night during an electrical storm.
I felt safe and cozy thousands of feet above severe weather.
Later in my college years, Mom and I would expertly pack carry-ons to avoid baggage fees on spring break trips to Phoenix. I’d spend the brief in-flight hours writing stories for homework and listening to Tom Petty.
As I grew older and wiser, any turbulence led me straight to prayer and the realization that flying was a win-win situation. “Either we’ll make it home or we’ll make it Home.” That’s what I’d tell myself whenever the distance between earth and the jet was suddenly palpable.
Or I’d remind myself, “the pilot knows what he’s doing.”
“The flight attendants aren’t concerned, so I shouldn’t be concerned.”
“Those sounds are normal.”
“It’s only rough air. I’ve never been on an airplane that didn’t hit rough air.”
These were the plane conversations I’d have with myself while praying.
I prayed so often on airplane rides that even the sight of contrail while on the ground became a thing between me and God, a reminder that for every thought of him while flying, he had a million thoughts of me no matter where I was.
These are all things I now remind myself of when flying with the kids.
It wasn’t until children that my anxiety fully blossomed – a postpartum shift in my brain and body so tectonic I’ll never recover, a familiar landscape now morphed into something totally new somehow.
Having someone completely dependent on you does that.
When flying, I look at them when we hit rough air. They are too distracted by their games and shows to notice, or too delighted by the novelty of it all. But they are not too young to learn fear, and so I try to smile and joke along with Abigail when we bounce in our seats.
The first time we flew with all three children, Isabella was not yet two months old. We flew from Anchorage to Orlando. That’s a lot of mileage, a lot of opportunity for turbulence and irrational fear, a lot of work keeping the kids entertained and happy, and a lot of worry over what people think of us.
That’s another reality that has changed flying for me: judgment. Yet for every judgmental crank, ten kind-hearted, understanding people show up to offer encouragement or assistance.
The day we flew to Orlando I remember telling myself out loud for Zach to hear that “I’m not going to waste any energy trying to make someone else feel comfortable.” If the baby was going to fuss and cry, if Izaak was going to hum loudly and often, or if Abigail was going to treat turbulence like a roller coaster ride, then so be it.
Still, my shoulders felt tense. I could feel people looking at us in either sympathy or annoyance as we commenced the first movement of flying to Orlando: unloading our luggage.
That’s another way flying with kids has changed me. It’s a lot of work and to cope I view it in movements, and passing through each one feels like a huge accomplishment.
But for this flight I chose a new coping strategy, one to help my mindset shift from “worry” mode to “enjoyment” mode. After all, I used to love to fly. It is a privilege and thrill to view the clouds from an airplane window.
My strategy was simple and extremely effective. I kept a list, a list of all the good things happening:
- Isabella sleeping!
- All bags checked
- A parking spot
- On time.
- Not that stressed!
- Kind TSA agents
- Kind flight attendants
- Cooperative baby
- Smooth air and sunshine
- Snacks and movie time
I did this from the moment we arrived at the Ted Stevens International Airport until we touched down in Orlando. I did it again on the way back.
I ended up with eighty two reasons to be grateful.
Eighty two times I was able to chill out and enjoy flying again.
It was a practical way to implement Paul’s advice to the Philippians; to rejoice and be reasonable, to not be anxious but to praise and pray, to think only good and worthwhile thoughts (Philippians 4:4-9).
Now my plane conversations are morphing into something totally new, and the practice of listing out all the good things is one I’d like to use on ordinary days when I’m looking for contrails or when the roar of a jet engine reminds me suddenly that God is thinking of me. That he cares for me. That he is not far away.
What a lovely coincidence that you wrote this thoughtful piece ! My own journey through aging and the challenges of living with negativity has recently shifted. Instead of fuming with frustration at grumpiness and criticism around me, I jump right into gratitude in the moment – for whatever is right at hand. “You never/always do this…” is met with gratitude for the water running over my hands. “Those people should all die…” flips to gratitude for having clean air cooling into my nostrils. Small things, but right there, and reminders for daily miracles.
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