I have a fear of flying.
I start stressing out sometimes a month prior to going on an airplane. I get stomach upset, panic attacks and feel anxious.
What’s worse is I love to travel.
I’ve tried hypnotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, reading up on statistics and physics of flying but nothing seems to work. The only thing that seems to reduce, not eliminate, the anxiety is medication. However, for some reason this medication can cause me to experience “blackouts”, and while I am functioning, I am not functioning as a responsible parent or adult should be. I have some hilarious stories I don’t fully recall from my flying adventures, but I prefer not have those types of experiences with my children.
So, why do I go on at least one trip a year with my kids and try to do so with minimal medication?
The biggest reason I swallow my fear and take them on trips is because I want them to see the wonders of world. The things that only travel can show them. To actually experience other cultures, foods, customs and languages. Travel educates children in a way that a classroom never can. This is the reason my parents would take me out of school as a child to go on vacations around the world, and why I will continue that same tradition with my children.
Getting through the airport, flying, customs – the whole experience is exciting for them, even if it’s not always so for us as parents. I’ll never forget my experience going through customs in Winnipeg last year. I had just finished a five hour flight, on my own, with the two boys. My youngest was having trouble with his ears and was either crying and sitting on the floor of the plane in front of my seat or screaming. The turbulence coupled with my eldest complaining about my youngest complaining only added to my stress and anxiety. When we finally arrived in Winnipeg I was near tears and grateful that I was finally almost home. I don’t know if my stressed demeanor was the cause but, the customs agent decided to add to my angst and hassled me about not having a letter of consent -a note from my husband allowing me to travel with my kids. (I know, my bad, but I always take one and finally figured why bother as no one ever asked me for it). I was frustrated and testy, I suggested she page my husband, who was picking us up, or just walk through the doors because he would be standing there. Besides why on earth would I bring my kids back if I was abducting them? Judging me untrustworthy, she decided to question my eldest son. He told her everything in the honest detail only a five-year-old can, “That’s my mom, and that’s my brother Desmond. He’s really bad and is REALLY hard to take care of.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
This year, I brought my letter and the customs agent didn’t ask too many questions. Maybe because my two year old broke out of his stroller as soon as I handed over our passports. Then he proceeded to run to the back of the room only to start howling as I brought him back to the counter. I think he realized the only threat we posed was to his sanity.
Other than when we go through customs it seems, my kids have learned to behave properly on the airplane, and respect the privacy of others. They enjoy all the little things -like getting their own bins to go through security, watching the cities that resemble their play sets with tiny cars driving down winding roads from the plane windows, getting food from the flight attendants, and watching the little TVs on the seat backs. For some reason the washroom also holds some huge excitement for my two-year-old. It is wonderful to watch them enjoy all the things we take for granted as travellers.
Every year for the last six years I have taken my children to Mexico with my parents. I try to teach them or show them something new every time we go – culturally and geographically. The first year, we walked in the ocean with starfish, rays, crabs and sea urchins all around us. We even saw a sea cucumber. One year we went on a submarine ride over the reef and saw thousands of fish, sea turtles and corals. Last year we discovered a group of flounders that hid under the sand with only their eyes poking up, and met a band of coatis and a shy agouti. This year we walked through a 5,000,000 million year old cave system and swam in a beautiful cenote.
Having visited the same beach in Cancun for several years we have been able to track the many environmental changes that have occurred there and notice the changes from year to year. We discuss the environment and how people are affecting it – both positively and negatively.
The amount and variety of sea life we would see on our daily walks has dropped dramatically. When I saw two boys around 13 from another resort trapping fish and then putting them in little pools they had dug out in the sand, I became inwardly enraged. I am not sure whether I was more upset with them, or their mother for not caring. I said something to them and rescued the fish to no avail – they just caught more. My own children were impacted by this as well and the only benefit was that it opened up a discussion on why those kids were doing was so wrong and the harmful effects it was having on the fish and environment.
Sadly, another thing I noticed this year was the amount of garbage I would pull out of the ocean or from the sand on a daily basis. We started making a pile by the beach when we were playing and bringing it in to the garbage bins in their buckets later. Another lesson learned, the only thing my kids left on the beach was their clothing – trying to keep clothes on my two-year-old is damn near impossible, but that is another story.
Culturally they learn about the different music, foods, clothing and customs in other countries. They are learning a little Spanish and realizing that not everyone only speaks English. Even though Canada is multicultural, it is through actually visiting another country that they realize people don’t all look or talk the same and that we live very differently.
I know some parents prefer to not travel with their children and I get it; it is not always easy. For me, they help me face my fear of flying because I want them to see the world and experience it, not just read about it. At the ages of six and two they have travelled more than many adults and have helped to re-ignite my joy of travelling.
My biggest fear, even bigger than my fear of flying? Is not being able to give them this gift. To make them do without so that I can hide behind my fear. To perpetuate my fear in them. To let them think that we shouldn’t face our fears. I want them to fly fearlessly. Because they should. Because there is so much in this world that they should go and experience. Because I want to go with them to as many places as I can while they still want their mom going with them. And because, like me I want them to have fond memories of spending time travelling with their parents.
Am I still afraid to fly? You bet. But I won’t let it stop me.