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FEBRUARY 25, 2010 8:55PM

White Knuckles And Harper's Bazaar

Rate: 36 Flag


My mother was terrified of flying. But every year she would white-knuckle it all the way down to Florida to visit her sister. She would bring me along.  And I learned to white-knuckle it with her. We would make the two and a half hour flight once a year and it never got easier. 

These were the days when meals were served on trays covered with white cloth napkins. My mother would shake her head and wave away the flight attendant who stood poised with her tray of food. She was too nervous to eat and besides, the food was awful she would tell me.

My mother would sit with her eyes glued to Harper's Bazaar. That was the magazine she always chose to distract herself from what she was sure was her untimely demise. She would close the shade on the window. Her hands gripped the arm rests at every bump and thump. I watched her face as she never lifted her eyes from the page. I learned to be afraid too. I would politely wave away the tray of food.  But I thought it looked lovely. Neat and compartmentalized. A good choice for a child with OCD in her blood.

As an adult I still find flying frightening. Yet I also find it strangely exhilarating. I have a battle going on in my brain as I'm looking out the window at 30,000 feet. Part of me is marveling at the sights below and part of me is thinking, "This is lunacy. We are in the sky in a tin can."  As much as I feel the fear I also feel the thrill. 

Recently my flight was delayed due to bad weather. We sat on the tarmac for what seemed an eternity, but was actually only about twenty minutes. The pilot's reassuring voice came on telling us "We're just waiting for the storm to blow over Virginia, folks. Should only be a few more minutes."  He had that southern drawl every pilot I've ever flown with has had. Deep, comforting and southern.

I put on my "Sea Bands" wrist bands. I'm expecting some heavy turbulence. I take out my magazine and try to focus. I buy the magazines I would never buy ordinarily. I will read about Jessica Simpson's weight gain and Charlie Sheen in rehab at 30,000 feet  but not on dry land. I am like my mother with my eyes focused on the magazine but without my mother's sophistication. I need trash and gossip to distract me from impending doom. There is no food tray to wave away. This is not the seventies. My daughter however has a huge submarine sandwich waiting to be unwrapped.

The pilot tells us we are cleared for take-off. I am saying a prayer and hoping we have given enough time for the storms in Virginia to move off to the east. My daughter takes one ear bud out to say, "What's taking so long?" She looks at me with impatience. 

I look at her in amazement. Does she not hear the drumbeats in the distance? She has her I-pod in her ears. She is unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. "There are storms in Virginia didn't you hear the pilot?" I am saying it with more drama than it deserves. But her indifference is maddening.  She shrugs and put her music back in her ear. 

Blissfully unconcerned. My daughter and the other two hundred passengers on the flight: Blissfully unconcerned.

 We take off. The seat belt sign stays on which worries me. As if reading my thoughts, my southern savior in the cockpit makes an announcement. "Folks, I'm going to try to make this as smooth as I can for you. But leave your seat belts fastened because it may get a little choppy." He goes on to tell us if we look down to our left we can see Cleveland. This guy is all right. 

The flight is definitely "choppy."  But I have my wrist bands on. Bright yellow bands that scream,"I get sick on airplanes!" The thing is I actually don't get sick. They are just another talisman in my arsenal to avert plane disasters. 

The pilot's honey coated voice tells us we are ready to land. Another disaster averted! Another safe landing! I wish it would get easier, this flying thing.

We collect our things. My daughter glances over at me. She has not inherited this fear of flying. This fear of life in general. I try to look normal.

We walk past the cockpit.  "Thank you so much," I gush as I walk past the man who got us down from the sky. I have this sudden urge to hug him. I see my daughter squinting suspiciously at my yellow wrist bands. I resist the urge. She's seen enough for one day. 

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Personally, I love flying. For me it really flying...I seem to be able to lift myself and suspend myself in mid air inches above the seat and somehow manage to enjoy the ride.

The only time I had a problem was the one time when our plane was flying over the jungles of Mexico to Cancun, and in the haste to make a wide turn, the plane literally felt like it was that was unsettling.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the wholly non-wheelchair accessible airplane bathrooms!
Your braver than I am. I love this story for the mother daughter bond onto the daughter who is a mother to daughter bond. I was with you the whole trip.
Vividly, and often amusingly, told. Glad you landed all right.
Funny, familiar, and I'm so happy that she didn't inherit the white knuckles. I also read trash when flying, and believe that it's exciting, but that I need to concentrate hard to kerep the plane out of danger. Rated with gusto.
It isn't it great when you realize your children didn't inherit ALL of your negative traits!? That must mean you also did a good job of either shielding her from your own fear or at least framing it in a way that allowed her to ability to feel for herself. I used to fly without fear. I can't anymore. I don't even have flying dreams. Maybe if I had some of those wristbands...
I'm not a white-knuckled flyer, but I have a good friend who is one. Can't make it through a flight without prescription meds, so I relate vicariously. Nicely told. r
What a service Chuck Yeager has instilled in the aviation industry! I was with you here on this ride. (I am now an infrequent flier). Glad you landed safely. (r)
I could see and feel this and the daughter's dirty looks. My daughter is in constant consternation at how unraveled I can be, in the air or on the ground. You do neurotic, but you do it so it seems cool. Like something I'd want to try. I mean your particular ways. I have plenty of my own. The thing is the more 'consternated ' my daughter gets the more crazed I become, the more dishevelled. Aargh, never mind about flying in a tin can at 30 000ft, parenting is the much greater threat.
Now, if I see you ona plane, I think I will recognize you!
Oh, damn, that's one good title.
But then, you had me at "southern drawl". I'm a sucker for that. And that's all I'm going to say.
Wonderful post.
Your take this fear from your mom...filter it..and do not pass it to your daughter. Seems like a good deal to me.
Nice writing!
i love this post. i never used to be afraid of flying--when i was a kid, i loved it. now, i hate flying. it just feels unnatural to be that high in the sky in a plane. i have to be distracted, so i read from the moment i get on the plane until the moment the plane lands. i don't want to look out the window until i'm safely on land again.
I am not a good flyer. I don't do it often enough to be nonchalant about it, hence white knuckles on take-off and landing. I try to read, but I can't ever sleep -- I too think I'm the only thing keeping that plane airborne, so I've got to be alert!
Rated. Great post, Joan. Glad you landed alright. Much love to you.
I have no fear of flying. Zero. I DO have an enormous fear of everything leading up to flying. I despise the check-in process with those self-check kiosks where real people wave you over to a machine and refuse to answer a question or to help. I hate the security checkpoint where I have to wonder if I remembered to pack my pocket knife in my luggage, or if my lip gloss is .0375 ounces too much, or if they are going to do a full body check. I hate taking my shoes off in public and walking on those nasty dirty floors in my stocking feet. I hate spending $4 for a bottle of water 'cause they won't let me bring mine. I hate finding out that the airport I am in doesn't have a Starbucks and that I don't know how to order my mocha latte the way I like.

Even flying itself isn't as much fun. The seats are smaller, the legroom is truncated, food is non-existent, the planes are dirty. Did they used to be dirty? I don't remember them being dirty when I was younger, but I am terribly conscious of the stains, the crumbs, the...eewwww...that might await me in the seat pocket in front of me. But then, the engine roars to life, we back away from the gate and soon we are FLYING! For a while I forget about the rest of it. Then the captain turns off the seat belt sign and the guy in front of me reclines his seat into my lap and I hate it again.
Great post.
Obviously you have not passed your fears onto your daughter....and I think you are braver than you think.
I hate HATE going through security. I hate waiting for my row to be called, wondering if there will be any space left in the overhead bin....but once I am safely in my seat, I am surprisingky calm, believing my fate is now in the pilot's hands and all I can do is sit back and relax (and watch TV if I am on Jet Blue.)
Enjoyed reading about your mother and daughter, and those days when a rubber salisbury steak was part of the experience. r.
I don't like it either, I do it of course but my first choice is to ride the rails. I'll take the train anywhere I can ...
Diminishing the negatives for the next generation is the best thing we can offer. Good job Mom!
I am a relaxed flier, but feel your pain. Well discribed Joan.
I love Sea Bands. I've never had to use any on a flight, though.
Wonderfully told.

I am a scaredy-cat flyer, too. It is nice to know I'm not alone. I love to also know there are people persevering through their fears in this world.
We could never fly together. I cry continually in my hands, cursing myself for allowing society to convince me that it is "normal" to be up in the air like that. Then the xanax kicks in and I make people laugh. Great piece.
Never been afraid until I read this one scene from some Dean Kuntz novel about a plane crashing. I have had some near panic attacks since then and I have flown thousands and thousands of miles.
@Placebo, I need a Valium just thinking about your flight over the Mexican jungle.
@Ll2, thank you for coming by. I am only a little brave.
@AHP, I'm thankful every time I land. Thanks.
@Ann, it is good to hear I'm not the only one who is responsible for keeping the plane safe.
@Bell, it is always a relief when I see that my daughter did not acquire or inherit most of my baggage. Get yourself some magic wristbands like I did.
@Densie, I love sitting next to people like you.
@dirndl, thanks for reading.
@Gail, of course parenting is scarier than flying. See you on the plane!I will share my wristbands with you.
@v. thanks so much for reading. They don't call it "southern comfort" for nothing. The drink, I mean.
@JD, thank you for reading. Some things are not meant to be passed on.
@flw, It *is* unnatural! Thanks for reading and understanding.
@M. McKenzie, you too? Good to know there are others keeping the plane safe.
@Jill, as always, I appreciate you coming by.
@Kim, you are my kind of flier. Your comment made me laugh out loud too. Dirty planes...Too scared to notice!
@Thanks Steve. You would be a good person to sit next to. The salisbury steaks were rubbery?
@Scarlett, if only I could ride the rails to Paris! Thanks for reading. please, I know what you mean. I'm always grateful to see my daughter has more courage than I ever did.
@Rita, I'm sitting next to you...
@Kathy, Sea Bands are especially good for embarrassing your daughter!
@Sparking, pushing through my fears is a lifelong project. Thanks for coming by.
@Amanda, you made me laugh out loud. I could sit next to you after the Xanax kicked in.
@Dr.S. I can't wait to find that book! Kidding!
@mLee, thanks so much for reading and relating.
I've only flown twice (both round-trips) and would love to do it again, but still have a fear of being up so high!! But ... sometimes, it just gets you there faster. :o) R
Great Stuff Joan. I used to fly all the time and it never bothered me. I was on a connecting flight that almost went down one time, but for some reason, I wasn't afraid. But I won't get on a Roller Coaster. Weird, huh!
Another great piece, Joan. I love the wrist bands and how you don't actually get sick. Something very funny about that and the fact that you allow yourself jessica simpson info up there. I hate flying only because I get so restless sitting, but I'm a you die you die sort ,but still I can totally relate to this piece. Highly rated!
Oh just noticed. Congrats on EP, Joan. Highly deserved. And, Lol on the rubbery salisbury steak, Steve Katz. To think we yearn for those know.
great post Joan, and congrats on your well deserved EP! I love the wry way you tell this story, and can envision your daughter's rolled eyes.
@Reb, good to hear from you!
@scanner, thank you for coming by. I've never been on a roller coaster in my life and never will.
@fernsie, yeah, the yellow wrist bands are crazy. And thanks! I just saw it!
Great story. My mother adored flying. My world-travelling oldest daughter had flown almost every major airline to 75 world cities. I flight track her all the way. I got very little sleep during her nonstop flight to Singapore.

I am afraid to fly. I bring my old rosary beads with me. Before takeoff I always tell my husband how much I love him and how happy he has made me.
@Linda, thank you for coming by. Yes, teenagers and that look they give you...
@Redstocking Grandma, that is so sweet.
@donnastreet, I hate when she is more mature than I am...
Joan...this is eerie! Same topic, slightly different spin for us today! White knucklin' it through flights and life, on the very same wavelength, girlfriend! Beautifully done--and rated, of course!
Blissfully unconcerned
Great story, Joan.
I hate flying. I used to love it. Now, not so much. It makes my bowels grumble and my hands sweat.
I hate flying. I used to love it. Now, not so much. It makes my bowels grumble and my hands sweat.
I miss the old days when flying was a special event (cavity searches and hijackings do not qualify) and passengers were courteous and respectful. I also miss good food but your daughter's submarine sandwich would be a fair substitute. Today it's just the fastest way to travel -- not the most convenient.
I love your writing style, Joan.

I'm not afraid of flying. But a couple of years ago, I went up in a four seat Cesna with my hubby, our bff, and her sister. I was terrified, but I made myself go for the experience. I may have broken David's hand with my kung-fu grip. I was so relieved when we landed.
@Keka, we were channeling each other...
@Trilogy, you said it: "kids!"
@Akopsa, thanks for reading and sharing my pain.
@Donna, Ha! Cavity searches don't count as a special event?
@Gwendolyn, I am ill just thinking of that four seater. You are one brave chick!
Great post, Joan and congratulations on the EP. I'm not afraid of flying - it's just the take offs and landings that bother me.
Rated ~ higly - like 36,000 feet above :o)
Joan~I can't tell you how much I despise flying. Even reading this made my palms sweat. I once loved it too.

Here's the problem: I LOVE to travel, mostly to places that are far, far, away. So, like you, I force myself with the help of some very nice drugs, which seems to take the edge off~ slightly.

Here's the thing. I was all good with flying until I ended up on a plane that nearly crashed. Somewhere over the ocean we went into a nose dive out of the blue. Everyone was screaming and crying. The masks came down, food was flying, the works. The pilot never came on to say anything.

When I finally managed to track down the flight attendant to ask what the hell had happened she said: "we almost crashed but you would've been unconscious. You wouldn't have felt a thing."

Was that supposed to make me feel better?

I still fly. I still hate it. I still check out the pilot as soon as I get on to see if he looks angry, or tired, or crazy.

Nicely done:)
EP!!! The magic wristbands worked!! You flew. Today you flew.
@Eden, your comment has given me a migraine. Omg.
And yes, I check out the pilot to make sure he's feelin' fine.
@Bell, they are cutting off my circulation, but now I'm not taking them off. Thank you.
I understand the fear of flying, but it is statistically proven to be MUCH safer than driving in a car. :)
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