a grandmother tells her grandson how to endure a long plane ride

A man in the row ahead of them looked over the top of the seat and glared at Milo. “Quit kicking the seat, okay?” he demanded in the form of a question. “This is a thirteen-hour flight…” he added through lowered brows and a pointed glance at Clarissa.

Her twelve-year old grandson focused on the fold-down tray in front of him until the man sat back down. The boy loved nature and animals and was thrilled by the chance to go on a game-drive safari in Tanzania with her. Her daughter had warned that the boy was a bit hyper and could have problems with prolonged restraint. What to do? she wondered. He had his iPad and games. There were movies he could watch. He could take a nap…ha! Let me try something else. “Milo,” she began, “I’m not going to do this a lot on this trip…or maybe ever again. But I need to tell you how I cope with difficult situations. Maybe it will help you.”

The boy petulantly kicked the seat in front of him twice but quickly stopped when he saw the man’s head start to turn. He was trapped for sure, like in church or the principal’s office or waiting for the doctor to give him a shot. He hung his head—go on if you must.

“Do you know how long a woman is pregnant…how long it takes to have a baby?” Milo shook his head, shrugged. “Nine months,” Clarissa said. “And it’s not easy or fun and it gets harder as you go along. Your body keeps getting bigger and bigger and you can’t get away from it. It’s not like being stuck in a place you don’t want to be…something is stuck in you and it wants to get out. Your dad was a wiggler. He kept kicking and bumping me till I wanted to yell at him to stop.” The boy stilled, stared out the window at the lumpy floor of sun-blasted clouds. So far, so good. She wasn’t sure how much he knew about gestation or how much his parents would like him to know, but then she wasn’t about to give a biology lecture. At least he seemed willing to listen quietly so she continued in a soft-voice with measured cadence. “Sometimes he woke me up in the middle of the night…tossing and turning. Sometimes he reminded me he was there in the middle of church when Father Burns was giving a sermon or while I was trying to enjoy dinner with grampa. He wouldn’t let me forget he was there…as if I could forget.”

She was gratified to see her grandson turn from the window and make eye contact. That was better. “I don’t know if you can imagine this, but the bigger I got the more little whozit kicked…” In response to her grandson’s furrowed brow, she added, “That’s what we called him. In those days we didn’t have ultra sound to find out the baby’s gender. It wasn’t until the baby arrived that we knew it was a boy. You see?”

Milo nodded—got it. “So, the more your dad rolled and tumbled inside me, the more I could hardly wait for that little wiggler to be out.” Milo grinned. “Partly I wanted him out so he would stop keeping me awake and partly I really wanted to meet him, to see what he was like. But what could I do? I was stuck until he was ready to come out.” Milo pursed his lips in thought. “I tried reading to whoszit. Sometimes he would settle down for a few minutes. But not for long. Sometimes I would sing to him…him because I was pretty sure it was a restless boy inside me. Again, he sometimes calmed down. But then I finally realized that it wasn’t the baby that needed to calm down. It was me. This whole thing was going to take a long time and I wasn’t going to be able to make it go any faster than it was going to take. Period. So, I remember looking out the window one cold, snowy night and thinking about bears and how they would be hibernating. Hibernating. Do you know what that is?”

“Sure, Gramma. What do you think?”

“Well, that’s what I did. I pretended I was a bear, hibernating. I slowed down my breathing like when you’re sleeping. Then I slowed down my thinking—tried not to think of anything, especially not about whozit and what he would be like and when he would come out and what we would do when he was in our family. I just made myself be still inside, to be here and now and nowhere else. And that’s how I got through it with your dad and your aunt Cheryl and your aunt Mary and your uncle Jerry. And whenever I get worried or stressed like when my father was dying or Jerry broke his arm, I make myself hibernate. And that’s what I do on a long airplane ride. That’s how I get through it.”

Milo nodded slowly and folded his hands on his lap.

One thought on “Hibernating

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