Issue 46

Fear of Flying


                I recently faced one of my greatest fears: taking my son Skylar on a plane without Mom.

                I needed to fly out to Colorado to stand as godfather at a baptism and decided to use the trip as an excuse to stop in New Jersey first to see family and introduce them to Skylar.  The fact that I’d have my 11-month old son for a week without Mom was enough to lay the foundation for an ulcer, but it was that time I’d be trapped in the giant steel can that haunted me most.

                The non-stop flight from San Francisco to JFK is a seven-hour flight.  I began to question my sanity for deciding to be thrifty and carrying Skylar on my lap the entire trip instead of buying him his own seat.  I knew I simply couldn’t be prepared enough.  What if he puked?  I’d need an extra outfit for him.  But what if he puked again or his diaper leaked?  I stuffed two more outfits and a handful of socks into my carry bag.

                On to the next anxiety: What would my son eat?  The airline was quite adamant that I had to bring my own food for Skylar since I didn’t spend several hundred dollars on a seat for him.  Today Skylar likes bananas so one went into the bag.  But what if he stopped liking bananas?  I threw in an apple.  Five kinds of cookies.  A pound of individually wrapped slices of American cheese.  Three kinds of cereal in snak-sized plastic bags.  Two sipper cups for water and three bottles buttressed with the extra large tin of formula.  A twenty-pack of diapers.  Several toys, a picture of Mommy, and a prayer that I’d forgotten nothing important.  I lifted the bag; it weighed at least forty pounds.  But was it enough for a twenty-four pound boy for seven hours?

                Can’t be too prepared, I thought, can’t be too prepared.  Oh yeah, stuff to entertain myself during the flight.  No, I wouldn’t need anything.  I know my son.  I’d have my hands full.

                Now deciding what I was going to wear was a long, deliberate, and very important process.  Normally I employ the happy-and-insane method of travel: I wear a pair of my too-difficult-to-look-at pants, which I suspect are legal to wear only in California, and put on my biggest smile.  That way nobody bothers me.  But not on this trip.  I would be a dad traveling alone with an eleven-month old just learning the joys of walking and slamming cabinet doors.  If I was going to survive this trip, I would need to play the sympathy ticket.  Conservative jeans and shirt.  And layers, in case some of the puke landed on me.

                “Why don’t you use your upgrades to fly first class?” suggested Rebecca.  “Then you’ll have more room.”

                Rebecca obviously doesn’t fly much. A screaming infant in first class is simply too great a wrong and could cause the universe to collapse in on itself.  If I upgraded with Skylar in tow, I’d find myself surrounded by hostile people who had paid at least double or triple what I paid for the very reason that they didn’t want to sit next to a baby.  My best option was to voluntarily exile myself to the last rows of coach, where I might get lucky and find a few allies in other parents who had been there themselves.

                With my last hours, I surfed the Internet for sites about flying with infants, wanting to leave no stone unturned.  I even called Skylar’s peditrician for advice.  She suggested that he suck on something during take-off and landing, to relieve the pressure in his ears.  “I meant for me,” I told her.

                Finally I ran out of time to prepare.  As we fought traffic on the way to the airport, I found myself almost praying that we wouldn’t make it in time.  But we did, and then I stood at that hardest of crossroads: boarding the plane. I had prepared for every eventuality but getting on the plane.

                I felt Rebecca push me from behind.  “Have fun,” she said.  And before I realized it, I was walking down the gangway.  Have fun?  I’d been so busy preparing that the idea of having fun had never occurred to me.  I located our window seat and settled in for the long journey.  Suddenly I found myself on the edge of an adventure.

                Just my son and me.


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