From the Flight Deck: The Pilot’s Mom

From the Flight Deck: The Pilot’s Mom

From the Flight Deck: The Pilot’s Mom

Mothers hold children’s hands for a short while – But their hearts forever.

Dear Mom;

You encouraged our interests, skills and sometimes our whims. Remember the stories you endured while I was growing up? Thanks for the typewriter. I used it to write tales about Boy Scouts, my first solo and becoming a private pilot; I received a B- for my effort on the later. I now write for an aviation magazine, so there, Mr. Buehler. I even wrote an article using that old typewriter. It was a deliberate process, but the sound of keys striking the paper, levering the carriage return, and assembling the embossed sheets of prose, made me feel like a genuine writer. I keep it in the hangar office with the Duke. Topics for my articles seldom wander from the sky and I get really nice mail from readers. I write about flying and about airplanes – except this month. This month, for Mother’s Day, I’m writing about you.

Pilot Psyche

Our readers are experienced pilots and, by nature, investigative, skeptical and clinical–it’s part of how we pilots stay safe in the air. But it’s you and other moms that provided the avenue by which we enjoy and savor the fruits of our clinical behavior. For the moment, let me indulge the analytical facet of our pilot-reader’s psyche. After childbirth, the way a woman acts is caused by what’s happening in her prefrontal cortex, midbrain and parietal lobes. Activity increases in regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction. Feelings of love, protectiveness, and worry all begin with electrochemical reactions in the brain. An enhanced amygdala makes her extra sensitive to her baby’s needs while hormones create a positive feedback loop.

Mommy, Mum, Mother. Motherhood, Mothering and to Mother. The first word of an infant often sounds like ma or mama. This strong association with mother has persisted in nearly every language and every society on earth.

Mom is the female of the species that traditionally holds the primary responsibility for the rearing of offspring. Changing diapers, cleaning up Cheerios and SpaghettiO’s, providing physical and mental comfort and managing the very first time we did – well, everything. Tempering the exciting, adventurous and sometimes dangerous influences of the world–including dad’s hair-brained ideas – can be included on your resume. Mothers are more likely than fathers to encourage assimilative and communion-augmenting patterns in their children.

Mothers are more likely than fathers to acknowledge their children’s participation in conversation.

The way mothers speak (“motherese”) is better suited to help children in their efforts to understand speech. With these assertions and admissions, my analytical readers should now be more receptive to my, less clinically-focused, Mother’s Day thank you note.

We Know

You and Dad raised three boys. The ones that were known throughout the neighborhood, the school and around the airport as long-haired and raucous. We never got into any real trouble, but through multiple encounters with each of us, our small town sheriff recognized us as the “Dingman boys”. We were the ones that made babysitters cry, grandma shiver and you worry. You persevered and gave us the confidence to succeed. We’ve grown up to become a machinist, a chemist and a pilot. And we know that:

We made you cry

You wanted that last piece of pecan pie

It did hurt

You were afraid

You watched us sleep

You carried us a lot longer than nine months

It broke your heart every time we cried

You put us first

You miss those days…. well, most of them

IMG_4745-1Caught it on Fire

You didn’t like me riding motorcycles or flying little airplanes, and you told me so – but didn’t stop me. And you like to tell how, on my first solo, I had a close encounter of the third kind. Well, it was a UFO until it became an IFO; turns out it was a red party balloon in the traffic pattern. I probably shouldn’t have worried you by reporting it on tower frequency. Except for the military airplanes, you have flown with me in them all. Remember the time we crossed Lake Michigan, single-engine, at night, in the weather and in icing? And don’t forget the time dad and I over-primed the 150 that bitter cold morning and briefly caught it on fire. You and dad even went to Oshkosh and Mackinac Island a few times in the Duke. Now that I’m older with lots of experience, I tell people that, whether caused by the pilot, a situation, or by living the experiences of others vicariously, it’s the memory of being properly scared that helps to develop judgment. And it’s judgment that keeps pilots alive. And I scared myself a few times early on.

T. P. (Tepee)

You protected us but didn’t shelter us. I’m sure there are times you saved us from others, from situations and from ourselves. Perhaps even from school officials and our sheriff during one particular football game. There was just one student known for flying little airplanes in our small town and everyone knew that it was one of the Dingman boys. I probably didn’t get away with the football game caper like I thought. Thanks mom, for running interference. It was a nighttime bombing mission. We dropped thirty-some rolls of T.P. (toilet paper) on, but mostly around, the school’s football field. We knew that, like tail-end Charlie, if we attempted two passes, we would catch flak. So, we made up a feeder slide for the little window of the Cherokee, in order to do it in one pass, and we flew high – too high. Bombing accuracy is all about wind and TOF (time of fall). But I wouldn’t learn such things until years later, in the F-16. Because of the inaccuracy, it was not so much as around the school that the T.P. landed, as it was the proximate area of the surrounding Michigan countryside. If you lived in Southwest Michigan in the early 70’s and found some T.P. draped over your farm animals one morning, sorry about that; it must have been some other hooligan.

I sold that little two-seat airplane that I bought when I worked at the paper mill. It was too difficult to move from base to base after I joined the Air Force. And for a long time I didn’t fly anything but military jets. You were glad when I joined the Air Force. You figured it was better than factory work –especially since I lost part of a finger and some of my hearing while working in factories. You were proud that I advanced from enlisted to an Air Force officer. Until you learned I was going to pilot training, and then on to the F-16. Once again you worried about me and airplanes. This time, a stronger and faster airplane – one with a gun, missiles and bombs, but only one engine. It did have an ejection seat, but I don’t think that gave you much comfort. You came out to the airport with dozens of friends and family when I flew one into the base at Battle Creek. You bragged and took pictures; your son was a fighter pilot. Yes, mom, it was dangerous. But the training was good, I paid attention, I was careful and did a really good job. When the Air Force asked me to man a command post in Germany, I left the military in order to keep flying airplanes. My buddies were doing it too – we all went to the airlines.

You must have been accustomed to the worry because you seemed to take it in stride. Maybe you thought that I’d be flying something less risky – until 9-11, that is. I’m sorry to worry you again, mom, but we are still fighting that battle all over the world. And even though an airline pilot’s life is extremely structured and repetitive, I have had more mechanical and passenger issues at the airlines than I had in military and private flying combined. I’ve had engine failures, a handful of generator and hydraulic failures and unruly passengers that I’ve had arrested. Thankfully, the judgment you helped me to develop guided me through it all. But don’t worry, I’ll be retiring soon.

No More Pilots

I raised a family of my own, like ours. Except that I had to learn about little girls – turns out they’re astonishing. I understand now. Even without a neurochemical reaction. None of them had any interest in flying though; the flying bug will end with me. No more Dingman pilots. You’re probably glad to hear that. The moms of pilots are a lot alike I imagine, because we pilots are a lot alike. Somewhere in the lives of us pilots, there is someone like you that felt apprehensive about us flying and about little airplanes. But they saw us through the learning process, the cross-countries and the check rides. Some, like you, worry about us still. The Duke is a very nice, bigger, little airplane. I love it and I’m careful. So, try to relax mom. Thanks for encouraging my writing and tolerating my flying. You did a really good job. Happy Mother’s Day.

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