31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Turn "Angst" Into "Adventure"

Single With Children: Happy and well-adjusted at 32,000 feet

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 01/22/03

I must confess that the first time I tried it, I didn't like it, and I was pretty certain I was going to die. The year was 1985 and my former husband and I were making our first flight to search for a new home, as he had just accepted an administrative position out of our native state of West Virginia. This required that, at the age of 25, I make my first flight.

I can remember only two instances in my life where I was so scared I could actually hear my heart beating in my ears. The first one was at my wedding and the fear involved fainting in front of the assembled guests and family. The second time this phenomenon occurred was on all four legs of my first trip to Amarillo.

Flying out of Charleston, we took the circuitous route of landing in Roanoke, Va., on over to Charlotte, N.C., 2 hours later arriving at Dallas/Fort Worth and finally, blessedly touching ground in Amarillo; a city that was soon to become my home. Only a few weeks before I had to look on a map to determine just where in Texas Amarillo was actually situated. I was so happy to be safely on the ground that we could have landed in Timbuktu for all I cared. I briefly considered kissing the ground upon arrival.

I was in awe of all of the cowboy hats and the huge sky. Growing up in "The Mountain State," I'd never seen such a vast, breathtaking canvas of sky. Next to the flights, it nearly took my breath away, but in a good way.

That first flight of mine took place 17 years ago, and, after many moves, and a year of psychotherapy to finally address and deal with my flight phobia, I overcame my fear and have actually grown to enjoy flying. It didn't happen overnight. Few important things in life ever do.

A couple of weeks ago, I was flying from Raleigh to Philadelphia and as I settled back in my seat with a book, I realized that there were two young voices conducting an animated conversation in the two seats directly behind me. I listened as these two young boys exchanged information such as how old they were and what grade they were in, what presents they received for Christmas and how excited they were to be on their way to spending time with their respective fathers. Both children were flying alone and spending the second half of their winter holiday with the other half of their family.

I abandoned my reading and quietly listened as they talked of the excitement they felt at seeing, and spending time with, their fathers. They couldn't wait to share news, exchange hugs and hang out with Dad for a whole week. One talked about looking forward to seeing his very cool stepbrother who was really old. He was in high school.

Both boys dipped into backpacks filled with things to do on the flight. They had both received portable electronic game systems for Christmas and a debate soon ensued as to which game offered the most challenge. After much discussion it was clear that on this point, they could reach no agreement. What was more interesting to me, however, was how much they had in common, even if they didn't realize it.

They both bemoaned the dorky tags they had to wear that meant they would be met by an airline employee upon arrival and escorted to their next flight. They had both outgrown what they termed "silly" plastic wings that are frequently given to kids on airplanes. For these two obviously seasoned travelers, this was just another facet of life; Dad lives in another city and sometimes you get to fly to see him.

As I sat there and listened in, I couldn't help but marvel at the adaptability of children. Even more amazing than the magic of aviation is the fact that neither of these youngsters seemed to find anything particularly unique in their situation, and the fact that they were making a long journey alone. Their conversation revolved around the routine everyday events common in the life of most fifth- and sixth-grade boys.

Of course, in an ideal world, no child would ever have to make a trip longer than the next room to see the other parent, and one Christmas would suffice with both parents in attendance. But we don't live in an ideal world, it is often necessary for children to travel great distances to share and spend time with the noncustodial, but still very cherished, much loved and essential, parent.

If it's true that something positive can be found in most every situation we encounter in life, I'm pleasantly delighted when I am reminded of the flexibility and adaptive quality that we humans, particularly the younger of our ranks, practice and possess.

As difficult as a life altering experience such as a divorce can be, how wonderful that family members, particularly children can move forward and hop on a plane, make a new friend even if it's only for the length of a two-hour flight, and walk into the warm embrace of a parent they love and feel secure in knowing that they are loved right back.

It's not perfect, but very few things in life are. Happy and well-adjusted is not a bad place to be, even at 32,000 feet!

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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