My book was neatly stored in the seatback in front of me. My seat belt was tightly clamped long before the flight attendants asked. I’d taken ample Dramamine for motion sickness. I had taken every variable into account. I was prepared, ready, and in control.
As we began the slow taxi towards the runway, I realized the sheer number of children on the plane. Two seats over, a little girl in a lacy-purple, Sunday dress sat on her mother’s lap. She opened and shut the window, over and over and over. The entire time she was laughing, and so was her mother.
There was a family with three children sitting in front of me, quietly bargaining over who got what tablet and when during the flight.
And over my left shoulder, a slight growling. I turned my head to see a small boy in the row behind me with a set of crayons and paper pad. He drew one dog after another, demonstrating each new dog and growl to his mother and sister. When the flight attendant announced to store up his seat table, a complicated negotiation followed between the boy and his mother—all the while the older sister laughed, spurning him on.
And there I was, in the middle of it all, gripping the arms of my chair with white-knuckle abandon.
“Umm… Eh hem. Ladies and gentleman, I’m just getting some information from the tower. It seems there is a little, umm, weather between us and Denver. So, we’re working to revise our path and approach. I think we’re going to be able to, uh, work it all out. So just sit back, and try and remain seated and buckled. Thank you.”
I thought about re-plotting a course. Having seen the estimated flight pattern, engine specs, and safety guide, I tried calculating the sort of leeway we had with fuel. I was calculating with math which I didn’t understand, spiraling in circles of meaningless numbers of worry.
At the same time, the little girl two seats over slept. The family in front of me played games on their tablets. A row behind me, the little boy quietly drew more dogs.
The flight was quiet until my ears started popping and the seat belt sign pinged. The pilot asked that we return to our seats and buckle up. Then, the flight attendant made an identical announcement.
My thoughts ran quickly through a gambit of uncertainty: Why would they make the same announcement? Why did it take two different voices to say something? Is it going to be that bad? Am I ready for this? Should I take more dramamine?
Then, we dropped. I’d like to think it was an epic drop, but honestly—as hyped as I was at that moment—it was most certainly minor. Still, my chest tightened.
My hands gripped the chair. I held my breath. Two seats to my right, clapping and laughing. The little girl danced on her mother’s lap. Bouncing on her mother’s knees, she giggled and hummed.
On the final approach, the plane turned. I don’t mean the plane gently turned. I mean that the knot in my stomach, the popping in my ears, the racing of my heart, and the cringing-closed of my eyes—WERE ALL ON THE WRONG AXIS.
We were sideways in a way that no plane should be.
The two kids in front of me roared, “WOOOoooaaaahhhh!” They threw their arms into the air; I Kung fu gripped my seat belt. They were on a roller coaster ride; I was petrified. They couldn’t hold in their glee; I could barely hold back the desire to vomit.
On the way to the luggage claim, I stood next to the family who had sat in the row ahead of me. The mom asked the kids, “So? How was your first flight?”
“It… was… AWESOME!” The two little boys erupted into a ruckus of giggling and the “vroom” noises you make when imitating a plane. I was still spinning from motion sickness.
I’m not often on planes, but I’m also never far from stress landing and overcoming my life—I doubt I’m alone in this feeling.
In these takeoffs and landings of worry and anxiety: would playing with the windows while giggling help? Could drawing dogs with the accompanying silly growls and snarls help? Might simply throwing my hands into the air with an impulsive ‘WOAH!’ help? Would taking a breath to laugh freely like a child help relieve the tension?
Maybe. At least that sounds like a good idea, if my head ever allowed my heart to believe it.
But, I rarely give myself permission to laugh in the passionate abandon and joy of a child. I rarely give myself over to the giggle of simply enjoying the moment, the faith that it’ll all work out and be OK. Instead, my default is to plan, to solve, and to take control of the situation which—on planes and in life—doesn’t particularly work.
So in one month, I’m returning to Saint Louis. I’ll undoubtedly pack Dramamine, and a good book… and hopefully one thing more: permission simply to laugh and enjoy the ride.