By Shelley Murphy
Like it or not, it’s official: the holiday season is here. Last month, Costco unwrapped its Christmas trees, toys and trimmings.
I’ve already ordered a noble fir from the SCHS Triton baseball Christmas tree fundraiser. And before long, my family will celebrate our holiday traditions together, including watching our favorite Christmas movies: Elf and Die Hard (oh. yes, it is!).
My two sons are both in their early 20s, and as their lives evolve, so do our traditions. Last November we flew to the Midwest, and my older son hosted his first Thanksgiving dinner. Next month, I reclaim the Thanksgiving feast, and he’ll fly home.
The holidays reunite our family and for that I am thankful; but, I wish our gatherings didn’t entail flying. In the months ahead, my family of four will fly aboard numerous airplanes. Just thinking about aviation triggers my nerves and nausea.
Earlier this month, Christine Blasey Ford was mocked for “a selective fear of flying.” A prosecutor challenged her fear, citing Ford’s recent flights to visit family and vacation getaways. The attorney attempted to cast doubt on Ford’s phobia.
For countless fearful flyers, myself included, being afraid to fly doesn’t mean you don’t do it—it means you loathe it, limit it and suffer anxiety while doing it. I dread flying across the ocean wedged in an aluminum cylinder, but I do it to spend quality time with my kids on tropical trips.
My fear of flying is rooted in reality.
I flew through thunder and lightning storms, so my kids could visit “The Happiest Place on Earth” in Florida—twice.
In the early 1970s, I eventually landed at the tiny Orange County airport amid seasonal Santa Ana winds. The pilot tried landing several times during the swirling, gusting windstorm. Each attempt, the plane slowed nearing the runway, but before touching down the engines roared and the plane struggled to climb upward. We circled many times before the blustery weather allowed for our bumpy landing.
When my boys were elementary-school students, our family vacationed in Hawaii. Returning home, we boarded an evening flight departing Honolulu. After settling in my seat, I immediately popped in the earbuds attached to my iPod Mini to avoid listening to the flight attendant advise that my seat cushion doubles as a flotation device.
An hour into the flight, I removed an earbud to ask my husband why I still saw land. My husband said he wondered when I’d ask and then explained I missed hearing the pilot announce that they’d begun dumping fuel for an emergency landing.
After circling the Hawaiian Islands for two hours, everyone aboard readied for an emergency landing as we began our descent. The only sight visible from my window seat were the vivid flashing lights from the fire trucks and ambulances awaiting our arrival.
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me how much safer it is to travel by airplane rather than car, I could afford Capt. Sully Sullenberger’s salary as my personal pilot.
My fear of flying is really a fear of falling, and turbulence sends my mind and heart racing. To minimize my panic during turbulence, I’ve tried mindful breathing and busying my brain on thoughts other than plunging to my demise, all without success.
This time of year, my flying fears escalate. My boys are grown, and getting our family together for the holidays necessitates navigating the scary skies.
To take my mind off our approaching flights, I turned my attention to the festive boxes, bags and bows the season brings. Although early, I texted both of my sons asking if they’d given thought to their wish lists.
They replied. Foremost on both boys’ lists: travel funds for flights to Europe.
Son of a Nutcracker!
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.