Ready or not …

A long time ago I learned how to fly.

Lessons were thrilling, dazzling, mind-blowing and action-packed.

They were also exhausting, white-knuckling, petrifying and hair-raising. My knees knocked together with such precision and regularity, I’m certain they were sending out some sort of Morse code of panic.

But one of the most important lessons I took away from that experience was gaining the true definition of what it meant to fly by the seat of your pants.

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I think, at the time, I would have been fairly confident in admitting that I was not spontaneous. I’d been raised and trained as a musician and had been for many years making a living showing others that I could deliver results because I’d practiced and perfected (or close enough) what was expected and what I’d been paid to do. The shows I performed in were strictly timed and had no room for stepping a toe outside the margin for artistic license. In fact, artistic license was frowned upon. With microphone in hand and speaking to the audience, even the ad libs were practiced.

No surprises.

That was the point. Surprises meant panic—and these were not shows that invited outliers to mess about with the tried and true. Follow your cues, hit your mark, and take a big bow. Remove your makeup, cash your paycheck and wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

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Piloting a plane was incredibly similar. Tick off the checklist, fly the plane, land the craft. Don’t skip procedure or you’ll NOT wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow. You will also not wake up inside the pine box you’re now residing in.

Easy peasy. Simple and safe.

Accompanying my daughter to one of her shows is an entirely different experience. She too had been fed on the same diet of stable, steady and straight, but at some point, she spat that bunk out like it was a mouthful of cat hair.

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From then on, playing the part of parental roadie has been like riding a roller coaster without a safety harness, and knowing somewhere you missed the sign that said, “Temporarily shut down for repairs.”

I’m a planner. If I’m doing a road trip, I’m going to make sure my car is in tiptop shape, I’ve got gas, I have directions to the destination, I’ll have packed my bag, and I have emergency supplies for every conceivable calamity mankind has had to face.

My daughter will grab an armload of clothes off her bedroom floor, a jug of eyeliner and rely on a bra strap to use as floss before bed.

My computer copied directions turned out to be less than reliable as a split second after seeing the Google Map displayed beautifully on my screen and clicking the word PRINT, all the numbers seemed to have gone missing. I was told to turn left or right, but not onto what and never after how long.

But I’ve got a great sense of direction. So we fly by the seat of our pants, right?


Rule number 792 of flying: Never trust the seat of your pants.

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Trust your instruments. But only after you’ve checked your backup instruments to your instruments. And only after you’ve checked and double checked your original instruments and backup instruments.

Speaking of instruments. Do you have your violin??

The answer was: Probably.

We had to rely on my daughter’s iPhone, as mine is working better as a thick bookmark and a paperweight these days than it is as anything with intelligence—artificial or otherwise.

The problem with the above scenario was that the smartphone’s voice for directions only occasionally worked because the gadget was being overloaded with text messages from a hundred other teenagers and the necessary ‘study music’ needed to accompany somebody who was finally cracking open a few chapters for a massive physics test in 36 hours.

About 30 minutes before we arrived for sound check the question, “I wonder what I’m playing tonight?” floated through the car.

Flicking back through several weeks of old text messages revealed the set list: a few songs she sorta remembered, one she would wing, and two others she vaguely recalled performing nearly a year ago.


My ‘panic and puke now’ bells were rapidly firing off. I was only an audience member and I was beginning to hyperventilate, but the person riding next to me just pulled up one of the tunes on YouTube and started air violining her way through it.

“Oh my godfathers, you had better hope they’re going to let you Milli Vanilli the performance tonight.” I envisioned catastrophe.

“Chill, Mom—and shush.”

Fast forward to showtime and a last minute text that came before the lights went down.

MOTHER! Hair up or down?

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I thought about what could save her future. Down. Definitely down and see if you can’t hide most of your face.

And then I added, Which dress will you wear?

Her response: All of them.

The lights went down, the show began, the numbers flew by. There was no panic on anyone’s faces—no sign of distress—my child did not leave the stage amid a flurry of booing and tomato throwing from the audience—no crashing and burning of aircraft because she forgot to do a fuel check before takeoff. She got fuel from applause. She got inspiration from the whooping and hollering. She got chord progressions from the guitarist beside her.

Was she lucky? Was she good? I think maybe both.

And now she wants to learn to fly.

Well, I may sit with her in a car using nothing more than the sun and a few shadows for directions, and I may sit in the audience for her holding my breath and hoping for the best, but I will not sit in a cockpit with her and be offered nothing but a wing and a prayer.

That is one flight of fancy that I’ll just have to ground.

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Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the Pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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28 thoughts on “Ready or not …

  1. Mt Dad was a pilot and taught me to fly a small plane when I was a teenager. I remember landing on a grassy strip and bouncing-hitting the ground twice before the wheels clung to earth – a bit scary! Another time sleeping in the back on a long trip, with my seatbelt undone, and hitting an airpocket that had me on the ceiling (literally) for what seemed minutes. That was a rude awakening. Dad, ever cool, says “Where’s your seat belt?” I quickly buckled in the moment gravity regained its hold on me and dropped me back into my seat!.

    • Or maybe it should be St. Dad? I can only imagine the patience and virtuous attitude that goes along with teaching your child how to fly. Yep, saintly, indeed. ^^’
      I hope you’re still up there revisiting a few airpockets now and again. Wahoo!

  2. It is not in my nature to be disciplined. I rarely even follow a recipe exactly. I wouldn’t even fly with me piloting a plane, so hats off to you!! Please warn us if your daughter becomes a commercial pilot, will you?

  3. This was an awesome post! It’s interesting how different the two of you are, yet have so much in common, too. I wouldn’t sit in that plane either, haha.

    • Genetics are astonishing, aren’t they? Somebody’s got to make a power point presentation for me to understand how it all happened despite my heaving efforts.
      And I I’ll save a seat for you on the bus. 😉

  4. The post made ME want to hyperventilate! I’m a planner 100% and have virtually no spontaneity in my life, so I’m in awe of your ability as a mom to let your daughter be herself while you quietly panic. I hope I’m able to do the same if my kids turn out to be as cool as your daughter. I played the flute in band and in marching band and I Milli-Vanilli’d my way through a number of performances! Great post:))

    • Quietly panicking nails the feeling perfectly. Any leaking of your true emotions will have your child visibly upping their efforts to head in the direction that is the antithesis of the one you prefer. Keep shtum. Drink heavily. O_o

  5. Great post. I definitely hyperventilated at the words “Do you have your violin?” “Probably.” As a big-time planner myself who has nightmares about being given a surprise party, I have trouble seeing the upside of spontaneity.

  6. Shelley,

    I remember SOUNDLY (and with the aid of a few allowed photos), when I was in Iceland with the DOD that I was given a ride in an F/A-18B Hornet. Out of the many military planes and choppers I have had the pleasure of flying in during my tours, none brought me to the feeling of ripping my stomach inside out as did this flight.

    To reach speeds nearing well over mach 1 (for a rookie)… and they could have gone further… even the G’s they “shared” with me was enough to make my youthful dreams of being a fighter pilot extinguish itself to the fact that my gifts were to be shared on God’s green earth… and solid ground.

    One has never seen the heavens closer or more clear than going 100% vertical at speeds and a feel that your chest is now being pressed behind your vertebrae.

    Would I do it again? You bet! I recall your first days of driving lessons with Cleo and always wonder how Pops did it with his chiltlens without having a bottle bourbon in the car to keep calm; you survived. Now, with Cleo’s interest in flight… take it on. Continue to give her the gift of Motherly belief, at all costs as we all know life is short enough. As for the stage thing… she’s a natural so let her go.

    Believe, as you always do and carry a blue bag in your back pocket at all times. (I’ve gained that knowledge from my work in the hospital).

    Sorry again to ramble… much love,

    Stoshu 🙂

    • What an amazing experience! I don’t recall ever hearing about it, but it sounds unforgettable and obviously left a huge impression on you.
      I would have to politely decline, as I like all my internal organs to remain in place, and I’d not fight with the years of research and study evolution put into deciding what works best for right now.
      Still, good on you, buddy! ❤

  7. God – I totally respect, admire and love your daughter!!! Ahhhh, totally loved reading this, relating to you growing up the way you did, and of course being in the KIDS with you (that was scary enough for me, performing THAT way – where everything was practiced and rehearsed, for me anyway!!), but to just wing it? I couldn’t imagine. Your daughter is GOOD to (1) be able to do that and (2) to be confident about it. Go Chloe!!

    • I think you sell yourself sort, Jen. You of all people could easily wing it – or at least fake a good winging of it. Cool as a cucumber on stage as I remember.
      I hope you’re still making some marvelous music way down south. I can imagine Scott Joplin doesn’t get a lot of play in that neck of the woods, so you might be in high demand. 😉

      • Well, you are sweet. I guess I could maybe fake it a bit, or fool a few (but I was totally shaking in my mary janes the whole time!)….

        We are on the “search” for a specific type of keyboard for me… we’ll find it soon, I’m sure, although I have little time these days for playing! Not sure what my Costa Rican neighbors will think of my ragtime… lol – but can’t wait. 🙂


  8. Shelley, I think you and I were twins in a past life. Even for a simple overnight trip, I must do an inordinate amount of planning. I actually make a list so I don’t forget anything. My sister and I are as different as night and day. (I’m night; she’s day.) She can pack for a trip and leave at a moment’s notice. Her ability to tolerate stress astounds me. I admire her just as I’m sure you admire your daughter’s ability to shrug off the small stuff. I’ve often thought that I would like to be much more of a Type B personality, but I know that’s never going to happen. I have mellowed out–just a bit–with age. But I can’t imagine ever being so mellow that I can travel anywhere without making a list beforehand. Sometimes we just have to accept our limitations. And since you love quotes, I’ll share this one that came to mind while reading your post (I don’t know who said it): “Don’t tell me that worry doesn’t do any good. I know better. The things I worry about don’t happen.” Who knows how your daughter’s show would have turned out if you hadn’t done all that worrying! 😛

    • It could be that we’re actually related in this life, Miranda. I’ve got three other siblings that look and act nothing like me, and Lord knows there was a different postman every year while I was growing up. Just sayin’.
      And I agree a thousand percent with your quote. It could be our mantra, yes? I see worrying as a form of exercise. Surely it burns a few calories, right?

      • I’ve always said that if worrying burned calories, I’d be wasting away (which I’m obviously not), so I’m afraid we’ll have to exercise the old-fashioned way. 😦

  9. Great stuff..I’m a big sucker for anything to do with flying, though sadly I wouldn’t know how to fly a plane myself. Pretty inspiring post, though as it neatly combines two of my great passions (music and flying)…Could we trade places for a while? You could live in the Caribbean and do all sorts of Caribbean stuff (i.e. nothing, relaxing in the sun, relaxing in the sun while doing nothing, etc.) while I fly around your neck of the woods? I never trust the seat of my pants…heck, where I live I often don’t even wear pants, so that should make me a decent pilot, right?;)

    • Oh my godfathers, what a visual.

      And trading places sounds like an excellent idea, although I’m afraid you’ve found one person who tends to stay well away from island life. It sounds crazy not to be drawn to warm, sunny beaches where palm fronds are your friends and everyone hands you a margarita, doesn’t it? If you could just switch islands, I’d pack my bags in a heartbeat. Move to Scotland — off the coast, to one of Western Hebridean islands. Preferably Islay. I’m drawn to misty, sheep-strewn, peat-bogged places where men in kilts keep a hip flask of whisky in their sporrans.
      Now we’re talking. 😀

  10. Hi Shelly, thanks for the follow. I do like your blog style, as it seems others do. I dance ot the beat of my own drum when it comes to discipline. If the grandchildren stay with me then it’s their drum I dance to but I am the one who dictates the beat. Does that make sense? Otherwise I will spend hours tinkering with something I am writing and not worry about how I look, when it’s time to eat or sleep. Are you like that?

    • I love your motto of being flexibly rigid – their drum, but your beat. That’s fantastic.
      And yes, the writing thing pushes all of life’s other obligations to the back burner which I’ve conveniently turned off. I think we writers are in a whole different orchestra from much of the rest of the world, but it’s certainly not a lonely one if we wish it not to be.
      Look forward to reading many more of your words, Talia. Cheers!

      • Thanks Shelly, yours too. I also agree it’s not a lonely life. I can spend up to three days writing and editing a blog post and it is only when I have finished, that I realised how much time has passed.

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