I was never afraid of flying. As a kid, my dad would take us all over the Eastern Seaboard on the single engine plane he shared with a friend. Sunday afternoons, we’d be taking a quick trip to New England while other kids went to the mall. Some of my most exciting memories were airplane-related capers, like when we got stranded on Nantucket in a storm, or emergency landed at an Air Force Base when my dad got sick while flying. All this translated to a rather relaxed attitude about air travel. When you grow up rolling down the windows on the runway, a jet seems very safe indeed.
I knew that there were people who were afraid to fly, but I never encountered one personally until I had a flight-phobic boyfriend in my 20s. He’d sweat and self-medicate (gin and juice). I’d sit by his side, petting him like a rabbit. I thought his fear was sweet, and a little silly; clearly we were in more danger driving through the country at night with deer weaving over the roads.
Then I had kids.
It wasn’t an overnight transition. Flying with babies didn’t worry me. (That may be because I was so preoccupied with shutting them up I couldn’t be concerned with us falling out of the sky.) The first time I recall freaking out about flying was before we took our first vacation away from our son. He was almost a year and a half. We were going to the Caribbean for five days. I became overwhelmed with guilt thinking of my selfish vacation and the tragedy it could wreak on my son’s life.
After talking to some other mothers, I found that I was not alone in this new anxiety. Over and over, women told me that they had been easy-peasy travelers before the kid variable entered the picture. There’s no easy solution, either. Go without them, and they could be left motherless. Take them with, and we could all be doomed.
Now, days before the trip are consumed by not just worry, but elaborate efforts to explain away the purpose of the trip entirely. Why did I think it was a good idea to book this vacation/business trip/family reunion again? Surely it’s not THAT important. Maybe we should cancel? At least I’ve gotten used to this pattern and stopped taking it seriously.
Sometimes these pre-journey panic attacks can be calmed by writing “goodbye” notes to my children. Goodbye until Friday. Or forever, whichever. I’d try to get across how much I loved them, how sad I was to leave them (for three days or eternity, whichever) and you know, whatever important life lessons I could pour out without looking like a total lunatic.
My fear was calcified on one actively frightening journey (on a plane very similar to if not actually the one I am currently sitting in at 35,000 feet over Kansas). When one of the plane’s engines failed, we were forced to make an emergency landing in St. Louis. I tried to relax (this is why planes have more than one engine!) But I wasn’t very successful. Looking back, though, my kids seem to recall that event as an adventure rather than a near-death experience. I don’t remember my mom being at all freaked out over Aberdeen Proving Ground when we made that emergency landing. Was she better at hiding it, or are kids just better at remembering the good parts?
I haven’t stopped traveling, because I can’t, really. There are family and friends and places I love too much to never see. But it’s more than that. My family’s love of travel was one of my favorite parts of growing up. I loved exploring new worlds. The exposure and understanding I got from our trips to other cultures felt more valuable to me than anything I learned in school. I don’t want my kids to think traveling is something to avoid. So I grit my teeth and bear it, getting a little solace from other mothers who share my symptoms. True, there is the worst to fear. But the alternative—missing out on all the world out there has to offer—is pretty scary too.
For a Stress-free Family Vacation, try Babble’s Travel Tips for babies and small children!