No, not in the pic. The pic was actually taken the other day, of my favorite little harbor in Maine, Cosy Harbor (also spelled ‘Cozy’ Harbor (no, really, this harbor’s name can be spelt either way and be considered correct (also, you can use ‘spelled’ or ‘spelt’ and also be correct (but mostly we use ‘spelled’ in American english and everywhere else they use ‘spelt’ (which is probably because ‘spelled’ felt better to us so we just went our own way (kind of like when we just couldn’t do the whole metric system thing)))))). But I digress.
Back to me… and the Flight Attendant.
First Born Mac and I have been having lots of discussions lately. She being in Seattle and me being in Maine, we have been comparing snowfalls and I think she is ahead in that category. This makes me uncomfortable, and I think this is because sometimes mothers and daughters are competitive and this might even apply to cumulative snowfall in any given winter.
Or it could be because we have had very minimal snowfall in midcoast Maine this winter and I’m feeling very salty about this. Sure, it’s really cold, but just not a lot of snow. And it’s practically March. Well, this just won’t do. That being said, I think we have had way more blue sky days than Seattle has had (I don’t wanna brag but…).
Anyway, other bits of our conversations have ambled a little over here, then over there, and up and down and all sorts of places in between. And, of course, there have been references to stories and happenings of days and years past.
We have always had a pretty open relationship – no, not one where she is allowed to audition other parents, nor me other kids – but open in the way that there are few, if any, topics that are off limits (healthy boundaries respected of course). But, as we have been talking, a dawning that has poked its head above my radar once or twice (or twenty-seven times) over recent years has shown up once again. And it’s had me noodling (I know, shocker).
It’s the flight attendant thing.
I think the first time I became aware that Mac was aware of it – though she didn’t have a name for it (or at least the same label I have), was three or four years ago when she was describing her experience with E coli back when she was about twelve.
E. coli is a bacteria that normally hangs out in our bodies and doesn’t really cause any problems, BUT certain strains of it are kind of… well… life threatening. And when we are watching the news and hear about an outbreak, it’s probably about one of those nasty kinds. We are talking all out yuck.
And also potential death.
By the time Mac got all caught up in the outbreak of… I dunno… 2005 maybe, I’d been aware of several prior outbreaks and the outcomes, some terrifying.
We – she and I – spent about a week in the hospital back then, having total VIP treatment and pretty much an entire hallway to ourselves. This may have been intentional, it’s hard to tell. BUT the good news was that our room was part of the pediatric wing, so Mac got a free teddy bear.
When the doctor came in to confirm that Mac’s diagnosis, Mac immediately looked at my face. And my face instantly registered what she was doing. And so… Flight Attendant.
The plane experiences turbulence or a strange clink or conk or boom, and we look to the flight attendants. If they appear calm, you feel calm (or at least calmER). Because, I mean, they fly all the dang time, right? So they know when to panic. If they’re still smiling and wheeling that cart down the aisle asking for exact change, I’m a happy camper… er… flyer.
So, my dear children…
You have E. coli?
Undergoing tests for an always-fatal neuromuscular disease?
Have a wackily deformed forearm after a particularly awkward back handspring?
Just broke up with your first love?
Break your ankle in two or three places the day before college scouts want to see you play?
Lost a friend?
Just emerging from a coma?
I will calmly take each step with you (right down to explaining you ought to put your own oxygen mask on before helping your teddy bear), and exude confidence that we’ve got this, and we’re in it together.
We might laugh a little (or a lot).
When Mac was telling the story of that hospital stay – and I feel like she was telling the story at a point when the entire family was having dinner together (because why not discuss an inflammatory, hemorrhagic bacterial infection as you are passing the garlic mashed)… Anyway, at the end of the story, Mac was laughing and exclaimed, “I had no idea it was a big deal at all, I just remember watching Gilmore Girls in the hospital bed!”
So, mission accomplished.
I now realize I have to circle back a little bit, now that I have three and a half adults-who-used-to-be-kids in my orbit. And here’s why:
It has occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that the younger versions of my kids did not see what happened when they couldn’t see me… as I was pretty much dehydrating and/or hyperventilating in the hallways, bathrooms, and – yes – closets of the offices and hospitals as these happenings were unfolding.
They also didn’t see the behind the scenes of my brain when I got home, after everything was okay, or was going to be okay, or might be okay (thank every deity and spirit and angel and force and energy involved).
Meltdowns big and small.
Prompted by terrors big and small.
They didn’t see the uncontrolled shaking, the results of adrenaline pouring into my bloodstream once I exhaled the breath I’d been holding back in order to be in flight attendant mode.
And so what? That’s the job, right?
Well I’ll tell you so what.
The flight attendant thing, albeit a gift of calm in the moment, is not an example I would want anyone to try to live up to… thinking that there is not another side to it.
Otherwise they might not realize that it is normal to fall apart…
and have to do the work to put yourself back together again.
To lean on people.
To share about it and talk about it and work through it with those you love and trust.
And if they don’t know that is totally, one hundred percent normal… and necessary… they might avoid it.
Or think they are weak because they can’t just sail on through the traumas.
Or think they are somehow broken.
When they are, in reality, human.
Like us all.
Though, on the one hand, I don’t need each of my offspring to know about every tear shed, fear realized, or moment of uncertainty, they need to know I’ve had them… well, we’ve had them (JoHn has had a few good parental moments over the years, and I’m not including the time he chased Mac around the house in an attempt to confiscate her cell phone while she screamed – at the top of her lungs – that she was calling DSS).
She – the Flight Attendant I mean – is not false or fake or a mask. She is a very important dimension of the multidimensional me, the one who can be calm in a storm and step into it, so we can – hopefully – chart a course through and beyond it.
But now that they are older – and so that they don’t hold themselves to a standard that would be nearly impossible to pull off in the long run – I’m working on introducing another dimension of me; The one who not only cried the tears of happiness when Mac was cleared to go home that day so many years ago, and Gabe stepped back out on a soccer field to play a game he loved, and when Sam woke up from that coma… but who was also scared and lost and sometimes flat-out leveled behind the scenes.
So they didn’t have to be.
Thanks for readin’.
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