Zinnia’s parenting adventure!

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a little busy recently. That’s because I’ve now assumed the role of stay-at-home mom. The reason I came to Florida was to help take care of my girlfriend’s children, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month. The younger one is not yet out of diapers, and the older one is in second grade. This has been an intense, hands-on learning experience, and probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If you’re like me, and you’re the kind of person who says, “okay, so it’ll be difficult sometimes”, and you think it’s going to be just fine, you still don’t quite understand what you’re dealing with here. Surprisingly, raising children is not easy!

If this is something you’re planning on, you should be aware that you’re about to become an educator, entertainer, counselor, chef and maid, 24 hours a day, forever. You will constantly struggle to find an overlap in your respective conceptual spaces that allows you to explain things on a child’s level. You will lose every last bit of privacy, because there is no longer such a thing as being alone. Sleep will become a precious resource that you will fight to protect.

You will lose your mind from having nonsense conversations with someone who doesn’t quite know how to use words yet. You will regress to a primordial state of eating chicken nuggets and peanut butter sandwiches all day while watching Dora the Explorer and playing with Nerf guns. You will face the challenge of keeping them occupied at all times. You will not have five minutes to yourself to compose anything resembling a complex thought.

Everything you do will be subject to the whims of these living avatars of entropy. All of the autonomy you once had is now contained within them. You will run around all day long until you completely lose your ability to concentrate on anything. You will perpetually have to keep track of multiple autonomous beings who are seemingly designed to get themselves into trouble. If you’re the kind of person who’s obsessed with cleanliness, you’ll quickly learn to stop caring about what you just stepped in. Things will frequently get lost or broken, and that’s just how it is now.

The amount of garbage generated on a daily basis will shock you. You will find yourself cleaning up human waste every day. You will be faced with bizarre, incomprehensible and unspeakably awkward behavior from these developing people. And sometimes, regrettably, you’ll have to resort to heavy-handed incentives when they fail to understand why they need to behave. Essentially, a child is someone who is unable to constrain their volition to accommodate others, and you will have to deal with the ramifications of that.

And you’ll get over it. Yes, you’re probably not ready for this, but you’ll figure it out. You’ll learn to tolerate it, and even take satisfaction in it. The sense of fulfillment that comes from taking on a responsibility like this makes it all worth it. It’s striking to think of your memories of your childhood, and then realize that this is what they’re remembering right now – and you’re a part of it. There is so much joy to be found in making them laugh, watching them learn more and more words every day, and teaching them everything you know. It’s like watching your life grow beyond yourself.

This has been a radical change for me, and I’m sure there’s plenty more to come. But from what I’ve seen so far, I can get used to this.

How I overcame my fear of air travel

Hello, everyone! I’m here in beautiful, sunny Florida, and I’d like to talk about my recent change of scenery. In particular, there was a certain anxiety I had to overcome in order to make it here. Until last week, I had never been on an airplane that was actually in the air. The prospect of flying was not panic-inducing, but it was still so intimidating to me that I considered it practically unthinkable. So, with my girlfriend’s help, we worked out what I needed to do and developed some strategies to make this completely thinkable.

The first step was examining and understanding the exact nature of the fear. In my case, this was not limited to the potential hazards of the flight itself, and also extended to other aspects of travel. Before now, I hadn’t usually traveled a great distance from home on my own, and I had some concerns about potentially being stranded in a far-away place. Obviously it makes no sense to be afraid of missing the plane as well as getting on the plane, but this was an irrational fear, after all. I was also worried about any possible difficulties with the TSA after hearing all of the complaints about their conduct.

Most of these factors were completely out of my control and dependent upon the weather, the plane being on time, and the whims of the TSA, so the best I could do was prepare myself for any contingencies. I made sure to get to the airport early, follow all the directions, and ask questions if I wasn’t sure about anything. That’s pretty much the most that can be done about this. Instead of mentally regarding the process as a single, imposing, monolithic event, I focused on breaking it down and taking it one step at a time until it was done. I just reminded myself that millions of people manage to navigate this system successfully every day, so it can’t be that hard. And it wasn’t – everything went smoothly. All you have to do is pay attention and listen to everything they say.

As for the more central fear of something happening to the aircraft with potentially fatal consequences, I simply had to reason my way through this and do some cognitive restructuring. One of the things that helped me the most was just making the decision that I was going to do this, and accepting it as a foregone conclusion. One way or another, I was getting on that plane, and whatever happened in the meantime was up to me. I could either make this into a struggle, or I could make it easy on myself.

I made myself understand that the integrity of the plane was not dependent upon my personal anxieties. Whether I was tense or indifferent would have no effect on the ultimate outcome, so worrying about it was actually unnecessary and pointless. Given the choice between getting there while being stressed throughout the flight, and getting there without being stressed, the answer was obvious. This anxiety was only causing me trouble, and so the best choice was to stop worrying.

I also asked myself why I should worry about my particular plane being involved in an accident any more than all the other planes in the air that day. On the one hand, this was obviously the only plane with me on it, but on the other hand, I was forced to realize that I am not special. We all tend to perceive ourselves as the center of the universe – from our perspective, that’s where our self-awareness and subjective experience is always located. Our own direct perception of the world is the only firsthand viewpoint available to us. This makes it easy to think that you’re somehow exceptional, and therefore more prone to exceptional events. Clearly, this is not the case.

If there’s no reason to think any other planes are in danger, then all else being equal, there’s no reason to think that this one is. If anything, it takes a tremendous ego to believe that you’re special enough to be so unlucky. I am not unique, and nothing is going to make the universe conspire against me specifically. Whatever happens to the plane is going to happen whether I’m on it or someone else is. Truly understanding that I was not at any greater risk was a very reassuring thought.

As for what I could expect during the flight, I talked to various people who had flown before, and had sometimes experienced bird strikes or severe turbulence, even to the point that the oxygen masks were deployed. I made a point of recognizing that all of them survived. Once I got on the plane, I paid attention to the people around me, and noticed that none of them seemed to be worried about what was going on. If they were alarmed, I would have considered that cause for concern, but they weren’t, and so I wasn’t either. It is a little bumpy, but no more so than driving on an uneven road. I also acknowledged that their own expectations that the plane would land safely were statistically far more valid than any expectation of disaster. They were much more likely to be right, and so that was the more accurate belief for me to hold.

It also helped for me to try and conceptualize the aircraft as just being another area of space, even if it is a great distance above the earth. For most of the flight, you can barely tell where you are, so it’s easy to imagine that you could be almost anywhere. Even now that I’m in Florida, it doesn’t feel any different from home. Florida and home are just areas of space, none of them being intrinsically special.

Finally, I did my best to forget all my preconceptions and pretend that I was a person for whom flying was completely normal and routine. I just acted like I knew what I was doing, and tried to approach the experience from a standpoint of detached curiosity. This actually worked for me, and I hardly felt a moment of apprehension throughout the entire process. I expected that I would be somewhat on-edge throughout the flight, but within minutes after takeoff, it became intensely boring. And by the time we landed, I was someone for whom this is normal and routine.

I realize that for some people, their fear of flying may be much more severe than mine was, and these techniques might not work for everyone. But I do hope that this can help people examine their fears in a new light, and deconstruct some of the underlying causes. All it takes is a little self-awareness, a lot of self-control, and the conscious application of rationality. This is not insurmountable – and once you’re in the air, it’s actually really cool. Happy travels!