Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This, Just in....and Fear of Flying

"hi. in rome, heading to florence tomorrow. love love love rome. you
MUST come here.


I got this from Izzy today - this morning - and it honestly gave me goosebumps. (For anyone that might not know, my 20-year old daughter, Isabelle, a student at UW-Madison, is spending her Junior year in Madrid.) I know, a lot of kids travel today. And, I also know that most don't. Most aren't as lucky as Isabelle. But, this is so meaningful to me because I was 53 years old before I ever crossed the Atlantic. I went to a state school, the University of Iowa, and did not know a single person who did a study abroad. I'm sure they did, but I did not ever know one - not one of my friends from high school and not one of my college friends. It was a different time, partly, but more than that, it was a different way of thinking about what was possible.

I didn't fly on a commercial airplane until I was 23 - to New York, to a city I had only dreamed about at 17. At 23, I still lived in Iowa City and was being trained in as a buyer of a rather chic, progressive women's clothing shop and it was a trip I could have only dreamed of - fashion shows, awards banquets and buying appointments, dinners in New York and a little shopping on the side.

I only flew a few more times in my 20s - then became afraid of flying. I did it but only when I couldn't avoid it - like going to spend Christmas with my father in law in Charleston, SC with our young family - or in Virginia with my mother-in-law. Eventually, I avoided it altogether. I couldn't bear the turbulence. Take off? Landing? No problem. Up in the air in a trembling martini thank you.

I was also just afraid, in general. Of trying new things. From the outside, it may not have looked that way, but I recall desperately wanting to go to school in NY - FIT (to study fashion) or to study acting somewhere, but I was terrified and there was absolutely no support system that said, "Go. You can do that. Go." New York was the moon to a farm family from Iowa.

So, I shrunk my dreams to fit my fears.

Then, when I turned 51 and I had been married to Lee for about 7 years, he moved to LA while I stayed in Minneapolis. I knew that I would never see him again if I did not get over my fear of flying. I also knew that I would never get to Europe if I didn't tackle it. So, I just decided I would get over it. I had to see Paris before I died.

With a xanax at a time, I re-conditioned my thinking. Because the xanax prevented me from worrying when I was flying (in fact, you basically wouldn't even worry much if you were plummeting out of the sky...whatever!) I stopped associating turbulence with anxiety. And, now, after five years, I am 99% xanax free when I fly!

I now fly 2 times every month back and forth to NY. But, the real test was flying across the Atlantic in 1996 when Lee and I decided to spend one month in July of that year in Florence, Italy to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. We studied History of Renaissance Art at the British Institute of Florence, 5 days a week - 2 - 3 hours a day - for the month. Lee also took a life drawing class. It was the single most magical month of my life. (The first month of motherhood might tie that.) And it was magical, not just because it was Europe, but because I had transcended a boundary that held me captive for way too long, a mind-made boundary that my daughter does not share.

To be 53 and going to a foreign country - especially Florence, Italy! - for the first time must be like being a virgin at 40 and finding the love of your life! I was so grateful for the time there, for the circumstances in my life that we could go. So, when I see that Isabelle has a different life, one that is not afraid, at 20 years old, I almost want to cry with joy. She will be forever changed by this year in Europe, as I was forever changed by my time there even in my 50s. I know that she will have her own karmic boundaries, but fear of travel and new places and languages and people are not some of them. I have told her since she was young that she could do anything. She had to work for it, create it and be responsible for it....but she could do it.

She's doing it. I am really proud of her and I am tickled beyond words that she likes Italy. Now, I must go to Roma. Don't all roads lead there? Or something like that?

Ciao. Ciao. Arriverderci.


  1. Alecia
    I'm not sure how I stumbled across your blog (link to link to link etc!) but I am so glad I did. I live in Mtka MN & am 42 and have never been across the Atlantic - and can't wait for the day I will. i have some similar feelings to you - slight fear of flying etc. but now i figure if i'm flying with my family, then if we go down, we all go down's only when i fly alone now that i don't much like it - contrary to flying when i was younger and felt so independent & cool to be flying alone - ALONE!!! and to places like NYC & Boston & Philly. I don't think my husband would ever want to live in NYC but I dream of living there someday. so for now, I will live vicariously through your midwest/east coast life if that is ok w/ you!
    Karmen Mannella

  2. Thank you so much for your nice note. And, btw - I forgot to mention that my fear of flying increased after I had children! I have heard this from other moms. Perhaps it is only because they are now almost "launched" at 23 and 20 that I know they would be okay without me. I really think there is something in our DNA that protects most of us from risk when we are young mothers, no?

  3. I had a debilitating fear of flying. We drive mostly everywhere even back to New England from Wisconsin. But last week we went to California on vacation, and either it was the Yoga that I've been practicing, the desire for a vacation after 6 months of working, or the fussy 1-year-old that I had to keep quiet and calm, the fear disappeared. I was like you, the 30K feet in the air would do me in, and I looked forward to the slight nose dips because it meant were were landing soon.

    I desperately wanted to get over my fear of flying because I also want to go to Paris, and I certainly can't load up the minivan to get there.

  4. love, love, love this story! And, of course, you WILL love Rome!! Happy New Year :) -mnr