When I was eleven, I wanted to be a stewardess. At the time, it was not a fleeting fantasy, rather it was a plan. It all began on a flight to Florida when I was bestowed with my first set of wings, back in the day when they were metal and had a sharp pin on the back. I wore those wings with pride and a plan, a goal, a destiny. The memory is wildly entertaining to me for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I spent the better part of at least a decade (okay, closer to two decades); you guessed it, afraid to fly. My fear was not that my plane would crash or that, G-d forbid, some insane people would hijack us into a building. No, my terror (and that is not an overstatement) was the knowledge that, once those jet doors were shut, I could not get off if I wanted (no, needed) to.
For a good while, it was easy enough to avoid. I simply did not make plans to go any place that could not be gotten to by car or, if absolutely necessary, train. (Yes, the same anxiety held true for trains, although it was somehow less severe due, I am sure, to the fact that at least a train was on the ground.) Eventually, however, my need to avoid flying was trumped by my desire to be a part of family events, vacations and a change of scenery. I had to face the fear.
At the suggestion of more than one (as in at least a dozen) friends, I requested a prescription from my doctor for a baby dose of Xanax. I had been assured by more than one (as in at least a dozen) friends that it would make all the difference in the world and that I could, indeed, leave the confines of the two hundred mile radius which had become my travel sphere. I obtained, filled and picked up the prescription at CVS. And then I let it sit on my dresser for months. Literally, months. I kept planning to take one while on the ground, just to see how it made me feel, but was unable to do it. I was crippled by fear.
Until one day I wasn’t.
I had (bravely?/fearfully?) booked a flight to Los Angeles to visit my brother and his family and departure day was drawing near. It was sink or swim time: I either had to give the ol’ Xanax a whirl or plan to get on that plane without it. Neither option was particularly appealing, but I was an adult and had to friggin’ do something. I took the Xanax, got on the plane and would go so far as to say: I enjoyed the flight. Thereafter, I made sure to have a Xanax at the ready before any takeoffs or landings but the need to actually ingest the pill soon gave way to simply having it in my handbag…just in case. I realize now that the pattern of being fearful , eventually doing something about it, and then crushing the fear is my standard operating procedure for just about everything in life.
When Jessie first began to display real signs of a gender issue I was terrified. What did it all mean, how would it play out, where would she (and, frankly, I) land? It took me a long time to even attempt to get ahead of it, to accept it, to embrace it. I measured the success of a day in half hour increments, the entirety of an hour being too much to take on. As time progressed, I used whatever means necessary to go about the business of parenting my transitioning child. And then one day, just like the plane, I didn’t need the “pill” anymore. Life settled into a new normal (an expression which, by the way, I find incredibly irritating, but will use, nonetheless) and I am no longer gripped with fear.
Jess is the same age now that I was when my dreams of being a stewardess were hatched. (Aside: I also wanted to be Jeannie, complete with her perfect ponytail and that rockin’ bottle which was, in my estimation, the most perfect home imaginable.) Her (Jessie’s, not Jeannie’s, that is) dreams are so different than were mine. She wants to be a designer (which she will be), she wants to be true to herself (which she is being) and she is successfully navigating her decidedly unorthodox path. No fantasies of flying or blinking her way to success there. Does she have fears? Of course she does. We all do. The difference here: she takes them on, while I let them fester. Yet another lesson to be learned from one of my children.
Yes, when I was eleven, I was going to be a stewardess. Until one day I wasn’t.