BY TABATHA RENEGAR
It’s an expression that gets used a LOT lately. From exotic travel destinations to facing-your-fears experiences, almost everyone has a list of “must do” things.
Skydiving was never, ever and I mean NEVER on mine! I don’t love to fly, even after a happy and travel-filled decade working for an airline. I get on an airplane to get someplace, not because I enjoy it. And heights? Not technically afraid of them but certainly not in a hurry to be high above anything where there is even the tiniest possibility of coming down a different way than I went up!
So obviously, skydiving, the combination of a tiny aircraft and jumping out of that same aircraft, is best left to more intrepid souls.
As a young woman, motherhood was also not on my “must do” list. I loved kids, always have, but I had decided that I was going to travel the world and be in control of my own schedule, my own plans, my own choices, ALL the time!
And yet, here I am: a mom who jumped out of an airplane on her son’s 18th birthday! How the heck did that happen? Well, both were very simple really – I met the right partner in life, and suddenly my heart simply flipped and becoming a mom wasn’t only a desire but a deep passion that seemed to have clearly been there all along, just hiding.
As for skydiving, after watching my husband and mom enjoy it SO much when they went together in 2017, I opened up my big mouth and said, “OK, I’ll do it on Beau’s 18th birthday with him.” I was absolutely certain this pronouncement would be forgotten over the next two years and that nobody would actually hold me to it. To that I now say this: never underestimate the memory of a teenager who has been promised something crazy!
The weeks leading up to our August 7th skydiving date were emotional ones. My only child graduated high school with plans to attend college out of state and he was about to turn 18. My husband and I were being asked almost daily about our preparedness plans for the “empty nest.” These were draining and fabulous days! And I began to see how that skydiving plan on the calendar was a metaphor for motherhood.
In both cases, once I had made up my mind, I was all in! Pep talks to myself became a common occurrence.
“You can do this!”
“Many have gone before you and succeeded.”
“It will be over before you know it!”
(That last one there, fellow parents, it stings a little, doesn’t it? 18 years. What seemed like an eternity lying ahead of us when we were holding a screaming baby at 3:00 a.m., is now behind us in a blur of laughter, anxiety, joy and fear. What is now ahead is a big, fat, huge question mark!)
August 7, 2019. My baby turns 18, and together, we are both going up in the sky in a tiny plane and then we will jump out. (Side note: tandem jumping is how all first-time skydivers begin so we were both to be strapped to professionals who had 1,000s of jumps on their resume). As the Cessna 172 ascended, a strange sense of calm came over me. Either way, in 30 minutes, this was going to be behind me. I remember a similar feeling during the last few days of pregnancy, too. This is happening, there’s no turning back, and you will be fine.
On this day, I was going first.
When we reached an exhilarating 2 miles above the earth, the door beside me opened. All reasoning and assuredness got sucked right out that door, and I felt sheer terror. Yet, I didn’t panic and I tried to remember the steps our instructors provided for this moment. And I looked at my son’s face. In it I saw confidence, enthusiasm, and joy. He couldn’t wait to get out of that airplane! He had absolutely zero fear when that door opened – it thrilled him! He was that much closer to the adventure. Quite simply, he was ready.
Once again, I see the metaphor of that moment and the last 18 years – me hoping to do it right, trying to remain calm, trying to remember the steps. My son, enthusiastic, challenging in the best ways, rarely worried, and as the moving date for college loomed – very, very ready.
Before I knew it, I was on the outside of that airplane moving at a rate of speed that isn’t normal for the human body. After about 45 seconds, the parachute deployed and the freefall ended and we began to float. I immediately looked around for Beau’s parachute, expecting it to be behind me because I had gone first. Instead, I spotted it below me. Beau and his instructor had chosen to spin on the way down for an extra thrill. Extra thrill? I am skydiving for crying out loud; this is all the thrill I need, thank you!
I looked around, taking in the amazing beauty of the blue sky, the clouds, the landscape below me and the bold red of Beau’s chute making its way back to the planet. I made a concerted effort to take it all in and appreciate it, knowing it’s a moment that I’ll never experience again. If only I had done that more these last 18 years. If only I had known then how fleeting the thrills would be. But I know it now and each day forward, I will do my best to take it all in and appreciate every second because really… every day is a bucket list!