Monday, July 4, 2011

Unaccompanied Whiner

It’s no secret to anyone who has boarded a plane with me that I'm a terrible flyer.  I get really nervous on take-off, and any little bit of turbulence has me convinced that one, if not two, of the wings will snap off in mid-flight, sending us plunging to our imminent death.  In actual fact, it’s not so much the flying I’m afraid of; it’s the crashing.

Over the years flying has become more tolerable to deal with as I nurse a glass of wine or three, or alternatively, take the meds for anxiety that my doctor prescribed specifically for air travel.  Everything’s cool as long as I’m not responsible for anyone else, nor expected to function at peak capacity, once I land at my destination.

The only thing that makes me more anxious than flying with my family is flying with my children alone.  I like to think that Dan and I are a fairly equitable couple:  we share the ironing, the dishwashing, and the "I'll drive #1 to soccer if you help #3 with his homework".  But over the course of our marriage, we’ve both gravitated to some of the tasks that we’re more comfortable with, and probably better at, than the other person.  So, he does the banking, reads the manuals to all the electronics that come into the house, and lights the barbeque.  He is also responsible for, when we travel, carrying all the passports, checking us in online, and getting all of our boarding passes.  Basically, he's the Take Charge Guy at the airport.  Me?  I…you know…do other stuff that’s equally as hard.  I’m sure I’ll think of something in a minute.

I'm grateful that our kids are great travellers, and at their ages, we've had several years of sheer parental bliss on airplanes.  We pretty much just pay for their ticket and get them to the right gate.  But obviously our presence is still required for their peace of mind; they like to know that someone who knows what they're doing is looking out for them.

You would think that maybe a person with my phobia would seriously question the viability of moving a third of the way around the world.  Certainly, at some point, I would have to get on a plane.  And because Dan doesn't get three months holidays a year, sooner or later I'd be travelling as an Unaccompanied Parent.

Of course, it happened.  Our long, three-month summer vacation was laid out before us, pristine with uncharted possibilities, our yet unbooked flights to Canada awaiting our decision.  By April, I had to act, or we'd be as good as grounded.  So, I booked our trip, purchasing outbound tickets for me and the kids alone, with plans for Dan to join us in July and fly back with us in August.

For a couple of months I lived in oblivion, pretending that I was not going to be getting on a plane in June, unable to partake in any of my sky-high vices, with three kids for a four-legged trip from DOH to FRA to YYZ to YWG to YYC.  About a week before departure, I got Dan to walk me through all the scenarios from check-in in Doha to getting through Customs in Toronto.  I didn't want to have to think about any of this once I got on the plane.  I knew I'd be concentrating on more important tasks, like keeping my vision fixed on the wing flaps to ensure that they hadn't iced over mid-flight, while simultaneously trying to tear my eyes away from the episode of Discovery Channel's Mayday that the person in the seat in front of my had so thoughtfully tuned into on the inflight TV.

But the day came, and I did get on the (correct) plane.  An eerie, unmedicated calm came over me as I watched my kids independently walk through security and collect their backpacks and jackets on the other side of the X-ray machine.  I found our gate, and cleaned up the fruit salad and juice that one of the kids had spilled on the two of us.  I did my best to ignore the rattling and creaking inside the fuselage as we took off (there goes the first wing!).  And when we got to Frankfurt, I adeptly got the boarding passes for the next two flights, and then sent a text to Dan reporting that now it was official:  only one of our children had never puked in an international airport.

From about that point on, I was too tired to even care if there was anyone actually flying the plane.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not cured by any means.  But I may have stumbled upon a suitable antidote:  being delirious with exhaustion.  Maybe that's been the ticket all along.

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