Automatic Pilot


Years ago, when I was studying for my PhD exams and thus doing a lot of procrastinatory reading, I indulged in one of those fabulously long New Yorker articles about something you don’t particularly think you’re interested in, but the writing draws you in despite the topic (I lost the better part of a week in college to a 3-part piece about interstate trucking).

This happened to be a piece about pilots, and how airline pilots learn to fly, how difficult it is to get the hours in the air required for a commercial pilot’s license unless you’re in the military first (or independently wealthy). And while I was absorbed in the piece, I mentioned it to a friend, whose dad was a commercial pilot at the time, and he said that while of course there’s a lot of complicated work involved in flying a plane, in some ways, once you’ve got that big bird up in the air, it’s kind of like driving a bus. And I found that so comforting, somehow. I’ve never been terribly afraid of flying, but it always used to make me feel a bit anxious, like I needed to concentrate very hard to keep the plane aloft. But now, after the take-off is accomplished and the plane’s leveled off, I tend to relax and think, “Automatic pilot. Like driving a bus.”

Having spent 11 hours on planes yesterday, and today feeling the effects of the 10-hour time difference I crossed, I’ve been thinking a lot about automatic pilot, and how much I wish I could engage it right now. Of course, pilots don’t use it when they are tired, but to avoid getting tired. They can set the course and relax a bit, knowing that they don’t have to concentrate for five or ten solid hours on each little adjustment required to keep a plane in the air. Now I’m not saying that my life here at home is quite like keeping a plane flying, and I’m not responsible for 300 people in this house, but the two people I do share responsibility for are reacting to their jet lag with an astonishing relentlessness, requiring continual food and drink and books and thoughtful responses to incessant “why” questions (Eli will not be brushed off with “Because” right now) and tape and markers and help with lego creations. They are very happy, and very energetic, and –unlike most days when they will go off and play by themselves for a little while and even (Eli anyway) nap for a couple hours in the middle of it–requiring a lot of participation and witnessing to their play, while I just want to curl up in a ball and nap. Why don’t they? That’s my why question for the day.

I guess the auto-pilot system for parenting is called a babysitter. With all the plans I made for this trip, that’s one that slipped through the cracks. Next time.

One Comment

  1. Violeta says:

    I’m glad you’re back safely. I thought of you and your brave journey while things grew increasingly chaotic at our house. Mostly, I’m referring to Maya outgrowing her nap (the end of life as I’ve known it)! Her spiritedness is the reason I so loved nap time. Anyway, I could hardly get down the street, much less to Paris! Good for you! 🙂

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