Fear of Flying

May 30, 2006 at 2:05 pm (Uncategorized)

Early in the morning on Thursday, Andrew and I will fly from Montana to Philadelphia for my next round of doctors’ appointments. This will be the first time I have ever flown alone with Andrew. Because of work obligations, Jay won’t be able to join us for another week. I’m meeting my mother in Philly, but the airplane ride with my sometimes cranky toddler is wholly my responsibility. I am scared.

My solution is to support slave labor in China and non-union American jobs. Indirectly. Whenever we travel, it’s time for Mommy to hit the Dollar Store. Whooo-hooo. For our last trip, which involved something like fifteen hours of air time to Thailand, I spent over $40 there. “How can you possibly spend $40 at a store where everything costs a dollar?” Jay asked me when I got home and showed him the cache of airplane entertainment I had procured. For a man with an Ivy League education, Jay can certainly be obtuse. Duh. “You buy forty items each costing a dollar,” was my quick response.  “That’s not what I meant,” he said.

For our Thailand trip, the Dollar Store was the last stop on my airplane shopping circuit. First, I loaded up on higher-end “educational toys” at our local toy shop. That receipt was significantly more than $40, but for the most part, Andrew was uninterested in these arty wooden objects. The Dollar Store, on the other hand, cheaply provided travel (and life) essentials, like five stretchy dinosaurs nestled in a translucent purple plastic miniature suitcase, ballpoint pens with fuzzy creatures perched atop them, fake cell phones that emitted piercing notes when you pressed the buttons, a four page book about dump trucks, and a toy aircraft carrier labeled “Peace Mission” on its side. The stretchy dinosaurs were a particular hit, although to me they looked more like poodles than extinct reptiles. But then I wasn’t the one stretching them.

Tomorrow it’s time for another D-Day–Dollar Store Extravaganza. I’m ready to hunt down the latest round of cheap, plastic crap to distract my son from the fact that he is in the process of being confined for several hours. You have to understand – Andrew doesn’t even stay still when he’ssleeping, and now he’s supposed to stay in his seat for five hours on one flight alone. I need the big guns to fly these friendly skies. I’m hoping for something along the lines of small, stretchy tigers or a tank on a “Mission of Mercy.”

Whenever I’ve broached the subject of how terrified I am of making this trip with Andrew by myself, everyone says, “Well, he’s flown all over the place before and wasn’t any problem, right?” True. I’ll admit, he’s been a champion world traveler. When he hears the call for boarding at the gate, he grabs his wheeled backpack (which he calls his “luggage”), tells us, “We’re all set to go” and marches down the jet way rolling his bag with nary a look behind him. He flirts shamelessly with the flight attendants and is mesmerized by all the machinery involved in the process of getting airborne. And if he eventually starts bothering other passengers (typically by kicking the seat in front of him or fiddling incessantly with the blinds), all we have to do is tell him, “The pilot will be very disappointed in you,” and he settles down immediately.

I know that Andrew can be a tremendous airplane traveler. But I also know exactly how much effort it takes to keep him entertained and sanguine for the duration of the flight. We read to him constantly; we work on several truck sticker books; we talk about what the pilots are doing; we play with cars; we do Play-Doh; we sing songs; we tell stories; we read more books; we go for walks up and down the aisles. If we could stand on our heads, we would, but TSA officials would probably shoot us if we tried. (Jay once had a plastic Starbucks cup confiscated as a potential weapon). When we finally land, Andrew is in a terrific mood and ready to explore our destination. Jay and I feel like our souls have been sucked from us and we must sleep pronto. The thought of doing all this without the prospect of handing Andrew off to Jay when I feel most like chucking my son out the window at 30,000 feet is what is getting to me. Let’s just say that I’m experiencing a renewed respect for single parents.

I’m not blind to the fact that I’m transferring my anxiety about my upcoming doctors’ appointments onto the logistics of travel. I’m behaving as though everything will be fine– medically and otherwise – if I can just remember to pack both of Andrew’s favorite toothbrushes, my lucky pen, and the MapQuest directions I’ve already printed. If I forget these things, though, I fear that everything (and I mean everything) will be out of control.

Even though I’m aware of my underlying loopiness, I can’t stop crafting the perfect packing list and scheming about what crappy toys will make the flying experience easier. I figure if it costs me another $40 in plastic toys to ease my anxiety, that’s worth it. After all, toys for my son are a whole lot cheaper than long-term therapy or a serious drug and alcohol habit, right?

I know, too, that once I’m on the plane, I will feel much calmer because I will be on my way. I will have a sense of fatalism that will bring relief. “There’s nothing I can do now to prepare myself,” I’ll think. And this same weird calm will hopefully carry me through doctors and tests. Then all I have to worry about is the flight home. I hope they have a Dollar Store in Philadelphia.

1 Comment

  1. Lori said,

    I think you should break down and finally get him hooked on the
    real stuff……e-toys. OR borrow one and find some age appropriate
    games….like the time we were just making the 3-hr drive back from
    Big Sky and Cory went all loopy on us and was torturing us with
    7-yr-od goofy kid things and we succumbed to GAME BOY. It’s a great
    traveling toy. If it’s a borrowed toy you have to give it back to
    whomever and you can borrow it from kid X the next time you fly.
    Andrew could handle that? Love, Lori
    PS have a good trip.

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