When we fly we stock up on movies for Lily who’s eight. For our most recent flight in April Michael chose The Horse Whisperer, a film which depicts an awful accident. A girl, played by a young Scarlett Johansson, goes horseback riding and she and her friend slam into each other, one horse goes down and the girl is crushed underneath. Once the horse is upright it wanders into the road only to be hit by an oncoming truck.
My daughter is scared shitless. The girl, loses her leg, the horse’s chest is gaping open and its nose is torn. Yes, it’s a family film. It’s too scary, she tells me shaking. So we turn it off and put on an Adam Sandler movie, which only seems to scare me.
To add to her trauma, the news was on a lot that week with the story of the German plane whose copilot steered it into oblivion. With all this on her mind, Lily somehow manages to fall asleep.
So there we were.
35 minutes later Lily wakes with a start.
“We’re all going to die, we’re all going to die!!!!” she cries emphatically. She is certain. She is a great actress and she has everyone believing her too.
Anyway it’s that part of the flight where everyone is finally sleeping. And she is screaming “We’re all going to die.” So like any good mother I do my best to muffle her and shut her the fuck up. “Shhh shhhh shhhh!!!!” I cover her mouth. “We’re gonna die!!!” I try to reason with her, “you’re just having a nightmare”. “We’re gonna die!!!” I shake her. I slap her. I slap my own child. It accomplishes nothing. “We’re gonna die.” I point to all the people on the plane. “No one is dead, see?” Who knew I would ever say something like that as a way of comforting her?
“We’re all gonna die!!!!!!!!!”
The stewardess comes running down the aisle from 20 rows away. That is how loud Lily is.
“Is she okay?”
What the fuck? Does she look okay?
“No. She is having a nightmare.”
“Does she want some juice?”
What the fuck does that have to do with the fear that we are all going to die?
“How about some water?”
I picture this stewardess using this technique for a variety of emergency situations: “Oh, your arm is bleeding, how about some snacks? Oh you may have a fracture, don’t worry, this flight has complementary beverage service!”
Lily screams “We are all going to die!” I tell her “No, the plane is safe and we are all going to be fine.”
But the truth is we are all going to die. It’s something I think about about 20 times a day. Maybe Lily’s defenses have come down and now she’s thinking it too. And should I lie to her?
I tell the stewardess she had a nightmare, and all she needs is for me to hold her.
“Look,” I firmly grasp Lily. “You have woken up all these people!” I make her look at all the blinking exhausted eyes cast into our row. “This is a time to sleep and you’ve disturbed all these people.” This quiets her down. Shaming her silences her! And that basically is the teachable conscious parenting lesson. Shame is more powerful than anything to get your kids to straighten up and fly right.
I cradle my 8 year old, who will always be my baby. She settles down onto my lap again. She gets back to sleep, dozes deeply for the remaining two hours of the flight and I am left counting the minutes until I can run off the plane and escape the psychic pain of carrying the mortality alarm clock on board the flight.