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Stories, observations, and reflections from a life of raising boys

The Airplane

Jenifer DeMattia

For the last few weeks, I have been experiencing something that I guess could be summed up as “writer’s block,” although it seems like so much more than that. I like to write about my life. My experiences with marriage and my children sometimes seeming boring or monotonous but very deep and complex at the same time. Writing just makes me feel better – a release – that’s why I do it, and today I definitely could benefit from feeling better. So I went onto my computer and looked through my old stories for inspiration. I realized that the day I saved the first story I wrote was today, a little over a month before it was posted about a year ago.  It was called “The Elephant.” It was about the emotions I experienced when my son first began having difficulties controlling his emotions. Reading it brought it all back. The nights spent in his room watching him cry in the corner until he eventually passed out on the floor. Emotional episodes that seemed to come from nowhere but began consuming our everyday lives. My fears about his fear of everything. It seemed as though he was scared of the world. I was a first-time mom who was terrified of what would become of her whole universe. Now, two years later, our little world is nothing like I thought it would have been during that time when I first began the adventure of learning who my son was.

When I first began writing I was clearly on a search for a diagnosis, although I ended the piece by saying I didn’t care. After all, my boy who was afraid of even his own shadow had ridden the elephant and proved to me that I knew nothing. But I did care because the behaviors continued and so did our concerns for what would be the best for him. There was eventually a diagnosis made, interventions and strategies put into place, which leads us to where we are today.

Today, I got a text message from my husband with a picture of him and our son in an airplane. They traveled to Kitty Hawk, NC for what was meant to be a family vacation but ended up being a boy’s trip. Our son has changed so much in two years, as all kids do. But he is mine and I know where we came from so watching this particular change has been, and continues to be, quite astounding. Needless to say, he is no longer scared of his own shadow and the corners of his room no longer remember the nights he spent huddled in them, struggling to breathe because the emotions were too big to bear. Now, when he gets overwhelmed, he hits himself in the head while staring at me. As awful as it sounds, I find myself trying not to laugh. He does not hit himself incredibly hard; it’s more like a tick of some kind. And even the hitting has decreased. Sometimes he even says, “Err, I’m putting myself in time-out!!!” And that works for us just fine. In fact, I too need to put myself in time-out once in a while.

It was one of those Biplanes, where it only fits a couple of people and is completely open. I saw the picture on my phone and immediately texted back, “You were just sitting in it to get the picture, right?” But I knew with the second text, that was not the case. It was a video of them flying over the ocean. I was so pissed off. I immediately texted him back with something along the lines of how could you do this without asking me or at least telling me it was about to happen. I knew by that point they had landed safe, and these plane rides happen multiple times a day for tourists and most likely everything would have been fine, but I was mad. That was a piece of my heart in the sky and I didn’t know about it. My mind was flooded with thoughts about what my son must have been thinking. He was probably scared to death up there. My son who used to stop in his tracks if I moved a picture frame in the house to a new location and demand it be put back in its place. But he has changed. He went up in the plane and never shed a tear. He talked to me on the phone and said, “It was a little scary, but I’m okay.”

I quickly came down from a place of anger into more a place of realization and inner peace about the situation. My new thing is questioning myself constantly. After something happens, such as a moment of anger, I ask myself around five questions in my mind. This time it was went something like this: Was I really mad because my husband didn’t ask me first? Was it really about the permission or about wanting to be included in every decision about my precious boy? Was I mad because I really wanted to be in the plane with him? Or was it because I didn’t trust that our son would say whether or not he was scared before it was too late? Was I just over emotional at the thought that something could have happened to him? Or was it because I am over emotional at the thought of how much I miss him and how fast he is growing up?

The inner peace came with this thought: Would I have been more upset if my son chose not to get on that plane? The answer is yes. Because I have to remind myself there was once a time I thought my son wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things, paralyzed by his own fears. And so reflecting back on the Elephant ride two years ago that opened my eyes to the possibilities, the airplane ride was just a reminder to allow those possibilities room to soar. He is not the same boy he was. He is evolving into himself although he doesn’t realize yet he will spend a lifetime doing so. And I am not the same mom I was before. I am still evolving, and that is a wonderful thing. And so continues the adventure of not so much finding out who my son is, but what else I can learn from him. So as I sit here and try not to dwell on my own battle with the tough times life can sometimes bring, I am lifted by the possibilities of two years from now. Watching each layer reveal itself slowly, giving me a glimpse of who he might become and what else he may teach me about my own life. All I know is that I will certainly be there, looking back to a story I wrote about a boy taking an airplane ride, reminding me that although sometimes life can be a little scary, I’m definitely going to be okay.