And He Flew

And He Flew

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

And He Flew

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.

Confucius

“It’s a gorgeous day for it, Mom. There’s not a cloud in the sky! It’s a little hazy, but that should burn off in an hour or so.” Tim was excited, and that was understandable. After all, he had been working toward this for almost three years; he had saved his money and sacrificed his free time. He spent every spare minute working at the airport, washing and cleaning airplanes.

We paid for the instructor, and he paid for the plane rental—that was the deal. He held up his end of the bargain and now, at the tender age of sixteen, he was about to solo. He had been dreaming of this day since he was three years old, and now it was here. One long cross-country solo flight, and a check ride, were all that stood between Tim and a private pilot’s license. All the study time, all the long hours, all the uncertainty and fear must have dissipated somewhere along the way. Here he was today, huddled with his instructor, getting some last minute advice.

A few minutes later, he ran over to the car where I was waiting. (I had to drive him here since he did not yet have a driver’s license.) We had been through this routine several times over the past few months, and it always ended the same way. We’d drive to the airport, he’d get into the plane, go through his checklist, and prepare for his solo flight, only to find it was canceled due to wind, fog, haze, or any number of meteorological anomalies. I was always secretly relieved, yet part of me felt sad for him because he was so disappointed. This weekly drill had become quite comfortable, and I only half listened to his chatter about the weather and the possibility of yet another cancellation. Still, my thoughts were distracted by the small, bright rays of sun peeking through the early morning fog; somehow I knew that today would be the day. My son was enthusiastic as he ran into the airport to call the weather service, and I sat in the car, almost completely consumed by fear. Finally, I shouted to myself, “Stop it!” I quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard me, but everything seemed to be normal.

People were going about their business, and no one appeared to take notice of me at all. I was becoming increasingly nervous and anxious. Movement, that’s what I needed, I thought. I walked around the hangar and chastised myself on the way back to the car, vowing to pull myself together. “After all,” I said, “he’s a bright, intelligent, capable young man. And according to his flight instructor, ‘He has a natural gift—he was born to fly.’” I liked the sound of those words, and my head knew that they were probably true.

But my heart responded, He’s only sixteen! He lacks the experience and wisdom that accompanies age. I suddenly remembered when watching Sesame Street was the most important part of his day, and how he insisted on wearing his Bert and Ernie bedroom slippers while he watched the show. Now this! When did it all happen, this growing up thing? And why wasn’t I prepared for it? I had spent the last sixteen years nurturing, guiding, teaching, and loving him more than any living thing on earth. He had learned to be confident, self-assured, and independent. He had discovered how to live his life without my protection, and he was doing it now, right in front of me! I had done a good job preparing him to take risks and to face life’s challenges, and he was doing that admirably.

Suddenly, I found my fear returning as I looked up just in time to watch the fog lift, revealing the bluest sky I had ever seen. Against the background of that clear, blue sky, I watched my only son run to the car and announce to me with great joy that he was going to complete his long solo flight, at last. “And, Mom,” Tim said jokingly, “Please don’t take a picture of me beside the plane this time. It’s embarrassing.” I agreed and sat on a bench watching from a distance as he prepared the plane and himself for the journey. It seemed to take forever; he checked everything. When he was satisfied, he flashed me a thumbs-up signal, climbed into the cockpit alone, and closed the door. At that moment I was paralyzed by panic. The sight and sound of the door closing behind him made it all so final, and a thousand terrifying thoughts spun simultaneously through my head. What if the engine quits? What if he gets sick? What if he faints? What if he gets lost or runs out of fuel or has a midair collision with a jumbo jet? By now I was sobbing and drawing a crowd. Better to pray and wait at home than to stay and make a scene, so I left.

A couple of hours later, the phone rang. Tim had made it safely one way, and now only the return trip remained. I hurried back to the airport where I waited and prayed even harder, much more composed and strangely convinced that he would return safely.

Again, my thoughts drifted to a helpless little boy who had somehow grown into a courageous young man. He would never be the same after this experience, nor would I. Just then, my musings were interrupted by the sound of a plane high overhead—it was Tim. He had made it home! As I watched his flawless landing, I thought how raising a child was like being a mother bird nestled high among the cliffs. Each day the baby birds come a few steps closer to the brink, then one day, with the greatest reluctance, the mother bird gently pushes them off the edge of the cliff— and they fly!

Today, my “baby” flew. Unlike the mother bird, I didn’t push. Instead, he jumped.

Ellen L. Boyd

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