Friday, July 10, 2015

What it feels like when you think you are crashing

This was the cursed plane after we landed in Ireland
We all are going to die someday. Death is one of the certain things in life but the uncertain thing is the when and the where. And thank goodness we don't know these things or this information would dictate our our lives. There is a freedom in not knowing when you will die. And that was a freedom I took for granted until I thought I was going to die in a plane crash.

My two kids and myself set out last Friday morning to fly to on Delta Flight 73 to Atlanta, Georgia and then onto to Myrtle Beach, SC for sour annual trip to see my family. However when we got to the airport, our flight had been delayed by three hours due to a problem with one of the engines.

So we sat waiting at the gate and watched the mechanics work diligently on the plane and we then watched them test out the faulty engine. It was cleared by the safety standards and all 400 or so of us boarded this gigantic plane on our way to Atlanta.

I am usually quite nervous about flying, but not this time. I had flown a hundred times by this point and to be honest I was actually looking forward to the relaxation on the flight. I could read while the kids watched a film or two, or three, as they normally did.

And that was exactly what happened, we got into the air, the kids began watching a movie and I settled in with a book I had been dying to read all summer. Soon after, our lunch was brought to us and the entire plane was abuzz with passengers eating and the usual commotion.

Then, all of a sudden, a young lady sitting across the aisle from me started to scream. She screamed "There is something wrong with the plane!" over and over again. Not two minutes later the captain announced that there was a fire indication in the cargo area and we would be emergency landing in 5 minutes.

It was like watching myself in a movie. First of all, how did this lady know something was wrong? There was no way, not even the stewardesses knew anything was wrong.

The plane suddenly became very quiet only for the occasional sob.

My heart lurched out of my chest and I seriously could not believe this was happening to me. I immediately looked at my kids sitting on either side. They were watching a movie, oblivious thank God, to what was going on.

I had a sudden urge to reach out and hug someone. I wanted someone to hold onto especially since I could not see what was going on outside of the window, we were in the middle aisle. I could feel us dropping a little faster than normal and my ears were popping.

I looked around at the other passengers, strangers were holding onto one another while others really kept a calm face, like it was just any other landing.

But we didn't know anything, we only knew that as a precaution we were landing in Shannon, Ireland. To be honest, I would have preferred not knowing anything at all. My stomach was in knots and I couldn't breathe. I listened to the lady in front of me soothe her seat mate. I suddenly reached out and grabbed her too through the in between of the seats. I just needed her comfort, I was alone. I never felt so alone in my life. Sure I had my two kids beside me, but I wasn't about to share my fear with them. If their short lives were to end I wanted them to be happy watching a funny movie, not in the terror I was experiencing.

In those minutes, I thought about two things: I first thought about how stupid I have been in life worrying about really superficial, small things and my second thought was how I never had a chance to really follow my dream to be a writer. I know, maybe out sounds a bit selfish that I wasn't thinking about all the wonderful things in my life, like my two sweet kids sitting next to me. And looking back I think it was too painful to think about them at that point. They had their entire life to live and in just a few minutes it could have ended for them. The thought of it even now makes me cry.

I didn't think about anyone in particular, I just wanted human contact. I didn't make any promises to myself that if I am still alive I will live better or any of that cliche stuff. To be honest, I was just thinking about if it would hurt, so I frantically dumped our food trays into a plastic bag and put up our tray tables quickly. I thought maybe by some chance it could possibly increase our chances of survival. I didn't want to die in a tray full of gluten free bread and salad. Crazy thought but true.

I wanted to jump up and run out of the plane. I didn't want to sit there strapped in a seat belt waiting for my death. I wanted to do something and I couldn't. I had no control and I felt like I had lost my freedom of not knowing my fate.

I wasn't able to pray or confess my sins or anything like that. And up until this point, I wasn't afraid of dying and my soul moving onto another place. But I think the thought of dying from dropping out of the air in a metal capsule jammed packed with other people frightened me. And knowing that when we crash, it could potentially not be a quick death. It was like they say it was like  "watching a train wreck" except it was a plane and I was in it!

And then we landed. It was a rough landing, you could tell we were coming in fast and heavy and we stopped so abruptly that my daughter hit her head on the seat in front of her. The electricity went off in the plane and it immediately became warm. The fire trucks were waiting when we landed and I guess they did their thing because soon the pilot came on to say that everything was ok and no fire was found. Except, he wasn't being totally honest because I was later told there was a small fire.

We were towed to the gate, our tires were too hot and our brakes burned up. We were told to wait in the airport to see what was happening next and that was when we found out we would be spending the night in Ireland.

People were coming off the plane taking photos, FaceTiming loved ones and lots of crying.
People were upset. People were analysing and processing what had happened. I found myself talking to a stranger travelling by himself about our experience. He told me about his wife and daughter back home and how much he missed them. We said goodbye with a long hug and tears, no longer strangers.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep that night and ended up staying the weekend in Ireland since I refused to get back on the same plane.  The Delta desk attendant said to me "Well they won't fly1q the plane unless it is completely safe." I quickly replied, "That was what they said in Amsterdam and look what happened." So free weekend in Ireland for us.

And when I got on a new plane to finally travel to the US, a tear was shed for every bump and twist our  plane took on that six hour journey. I couldn't even eat the entire flight. My belly was in complete knots and all I could think about was that moment. That moment when my heart skipped a beat and I thought we were going down. That moment will live with me forever.

It has only been a few days and the shock has worn off, and now fear has set in. Somehow I have to get myself and two small kids back to Europe in four weeks. Maybe by then I can think about the lessons I learned in those 15minutes I thought we were crashing. Or maybe I can think about how statstically this could possibly not happen again. Or maybe we take a ship, either way, I have to somehow find strength so my kids will never know the terror I experienced.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I learned from breaking my son's heart

The last thing a parent wants to do is to break their child's heart. Our instincts tells us constantly to protect them, to love them and to keep their heart safe.

However there comes a time in life when parents have to make difficult decisions and the consequence is a broken heart.

Recently, I had to make such a decision that broke my seven year old son's heart into a million pieces.

It all started during his end of year meeting with his teacher in group 2 (kindergarten). He struggled the entire year and the teacher wasn't sure he was ready to go to group three (first grade). We all decided to let him go with the agreement that we could always hold him back later.

And that was what happened, he struggled for another two years and I watched my confident little fire cracker wither into an insecure little boy who began to hate himself. I watched him walk into his class in group four every morning with his head low trying to go unnoticed.

So we were relieved when his teachers agreed we should keep him back another year in group four to mature and be with kids his own age. He was born in late December and had he been born a week later he would have been a year behind anyway. Another big reason to keep him back.

But we knew this would devastate him.  We also knew this was the right thing to do for his future and that the benefits certainly out-weighed the hopefully temporary pain.

It was the hardest thing I have done yet as a parent. My husband sat on one side of our son and I sat on the other surrounding him with our love and support. Then we told him.

It felt like we had chopped off his arm. He wasn't just crying, he was oozing with disappointment. We spent an hour trying to explain to him the "whys" and every now and then through his sobbing he would ask a question. Yet there was no way to explain to a seven year old about the future.

Our hearts ached with him, we felt his fear, disappointment and feeling of failure. My husband repeated over and over that my son had done nothing wrong for this to happen. We said he just needed time for his brain to grow. And he understood a little more each time we said it. My husband told him about his own experiences of being held back in school and soon the tears were replaced with giggles.

No matter how much he laughed, or how much he tried to dry up his own tears, my baby boy had a broken heart. It was obvious in the following days that he was at the lowest point of his life. He knew that in a few weeks the friends that he spent years with would soon move on and he would be left behind, all alone, with strangers.

As a parent, it is so hard to watch your child walk around like this. We were also in a sort of mourning with him even though we knew it would all turn out positive later. As his parent I felt like I failed him somehow. If only we had held him back two years ago, he wouldn't have even noticed. If only I had fought for my son harder, then his heart wouldn't be hurting so badly today. My head was full of ways I had failed my son and my heart was full of guilt from not protecting him from this pain.

Then my husband had this brilliant idea to let my son spend his savings to buy a Star Wars Lego ship to distract him. We told him it was a reward for trying his best the last year. And it worked,  he came home every day after school to build the star ship. After a week of building the ship, he was ready to talk about the decision we made and his future. Each day he was able to express his concerns and we were able to help calm his fears. We watched his sadness turn to anger, and his anger into acceptance.

And his teachers were amazing support for him. They planned a party and gift for him on the last day of school for his classmates to say goodbye. His classmates were also super supportive. Every morning since the news broke, they went to my son at his desk and put their arms around him or talked to him about how they would still remain friends.

The other parents were amazing too. I received so much helpful advice and even hugs. Yes Dutch people hug! I also went online to the community from Amsterdam Mamas Education Facebook group and received the best advice ever on how to navigate through this situation.

For the first time in my 13 years in The Netherlands, I didn't feel alone, and we as a family will not go through this journey alone. My son is loved and this love and support will get him through these dark days. I have also learned what it feels like to make a difficult decision and how to find the strength to follow through. And the world has taught me that good people still exist and especially in a place where I am an outsider.