April 21, 2010

Let's go fly a kite

While I still haven't written about it or downloaded the photos, Thomas had a lovely 4th birthday celebration several weeks ago. At one of his parties - the one with cupcakes and classmates literally bouncing off the walls - he received a kite as a gift.

This kite really captured Thomas' interest and he asked almost daily about the possibility of flying it.  I explained, almost daily, that the weather had to be just right and we needed some time to devote to the project.  He had patiently endured that answer several times but dared to ask again a couple of Friday afternoons ago. My almost immediate reaction was the same as the days preceding. I began to hear the voice in my head that streams a list of things I should accomplish at any given moment and then that voice started to seep out of my mouth, almost against my will, explaining why we just didn't have time right then. 

"Grandpa Butch is out on the deck waiting to see you and we need to feed the dog and get dinner started and check the mail and it's pretty windy..."

And then I reconsidered. 

It was a warm, gusty Friday afternoon. If not now, when? The look on his face when I told him to go back to the garage and get the kite was almost one of disbelief. I realized that I had told him no enough times that he had perhaps, in his barely four-year-old reasoning, come to think that maybe we weren't ever really going to fly it. He reappeared on the deck seconds later, fingers itching to tear into the plastic packaging.  He could hardly wait to show Grandpa Butch his treasure and he explained with his animated Thomas hand gestures that we were going to fly it HIGH.

We quickly got it assembled and confirmed that while it's a cute kite, it's not a built-to-last kite. It's one of those toys that smart merchandisers place strategically on hanging displays in grocery store aisles, specifically to grab the attention of children who are about three-feet tall. Those toys are always entertaining but are also always disposable. Butch and I both explained that it was kind of flimsy and we needed to be careful with it. I was trying to manage expectations because I had my doubts about the ability of a kite-shaped trash bag, held taught with plastic coffee stirrers, to fly. 

Thomas was undeterred; he was elated.  His elation drew the interest of his brother who decided to come check out what we were doing.  At first we tried to fly it from the deck but figured out that the gusting wind wasn't going to cooperate that close to the house so we all trooped into the yard. The first attempt was a total bust. Not only was it not airborne, but it had lost a tail streamer.  My hope was fading but Butch untangled Thomas from the streamer and we got it reattached. After a few more tries and some very clear directions from Butch, we got it off the ground.  Success!  Butch and I were both a little surprised and we were all excited. 

All of us except Andrew.

As I struggled to let out more string from the flimsy spool, and the kite soared higher, Andrew became increasingly hysterical. What started as faint complaining from him cautioning me not to let it go too high escalated like wild fire to complete pleading with tears.  He was beside himself with fear that I didn't know what I was doing.  Butch tried to reassure him that it was fine but that didn't even put a dent in his hysteria.  I tried, as I also tried to manage the kite, to convince him that it wasn't too high and that, with Butch's help, I knew what I was doing. He was not convinced.  He was screaming and begging for me to bring the kite safely back to the ground.

As I wrestled a bit to keep the kite out of the trees and in the air, I realized that he wasn't really worried that the kite was too high or the string too long. He was really worried that the string would break and the kite would fly away.  I was simultaneously trying to prove him wrong, comfort him and realizing that his fear was a distinct possibility. He eventually ran inside, and even after Butch came in to try and talk him down, refused to come out of the house while the kite was in the air.  He had decided he would rather miss out entirely on the experience than risk watching it go bad. He couldn't cope with the risk inherenet in flying a $3.99 kite on a windy spring day.

I was reminded in that moment that with young Andrew, I'm raising myself in so many ways. I'm afraid he's come quite naturally by that risk aversion, that need to know what's coming next, that inability to take a leap, that inability to just let the string go and see what happens.

"Grandpa Butch is out on the deck waiting to see you and we need to feed the dog and get dinner started and check the mail and it's pretty windy..."

Predictably, while Thomas had been so very excited by everything about the kite and the process of flying it, he began to question our plan once Andrew expressed such vehement doubt.  We eventually brought the kite safely back to ground, but not until after it had taken two adults to navigate it out of the trees in which it had become tangled and not until Thomas was, at his brother's urging, now also begging me to bring it back to the ground.  We put it back in its handy ziploc carrying case and it's hanging safely in the garage - right where Andrew likes it.

I've thought about this incident a dozen times since it happened and it bothers me a little more each time. It bothers me that Andrew went from zero to sixty in his panic and wasn't able to calm himself down. It bothers me that Thomas picked up on his terror and, before it was over, was having doubts about something about which he had been so excited. It bothers me that I couldn't talk Andrew down once he was on the edge. It bothers me that something that should have been fun was in some way traumatizing. And? It bothers me that he learned it all from me. Apparently risk aversion is either genetic or, more likely, a virus that you can spread unknowingly to others in close proximity.

"Grandpa Butch is out on the deck waiting to see you and we need to feed the dog and get dinner started and check the mail and it's pretty windy..."

It's been a somewhat trying spring here and in light of that, I've been making a conscious effort in recent weeks to chip away at my New Year's resolutions. I think they were sound goals for me. But, as I reread them the other day it occured to me that while they don't spell it out, they all tiptoe around a desire to loosen my grip on the day-to-day just a bit.

That kite is cool hanging in its bag, all neatly folded. It's full of promise there, but it looked much cooler soaring 75 feet in the air. Flying it was a calculated risk and there probably was a better than zero chance that we were going to need to replace it afterwards, but it would have been worth it. It was worth $3.99 to watch Thomas' exhilaration and it was worth a slightly delayed dinner to see him hold the empty spool like he was holding a million dollars. 

I'm sorry Andrew missed it. I'm sorry I haven't taught him that sometimes it's possible to hold onto people and experiences by just letting go.

The good news is that we have a chance to vaccinate ourselves around here - a little hair of the dog, if you will - and try to rally our defenses against the virus. We still have the kite and we're going to give it another whirl.


Rosemary said...

You've inspired me! What self-teachable moments have I ignored? What "kite" can I look at as a reminder that I can keep something by letting go & experiencing the possibilities & trusting what will be? Thanks!

Stephanie said...

I just love you.

Mom said...

Gulp! And I have to acknowledge that cautious nature sure didn't come from the Schmidt side of the family.

Maria said...

Love it!