Take kid. Give kite. Back away. Marvel at the joy.
Emmeline received this enormous Tinker Bell kite that pleased her to no end but freaked me the hell out.
Looking at how big and complicated it appeared — we’d never get that monstrosity aloft, I thought — I promised that when the winter weather turned to spring wind, we’d take it out. And then I stuck that thing in the back of the closet and forgot all about it.
That was three years ago.
During an impromptu spring cleaning, Emme rediscovered her long-lost kite and demanded that we finally take action.
“Sure, sure,” I promised, “As soon as it gets windy.”
She stomped to the front window, scouted out the bent trees and falling leaves before throwing back the curtains and gesturing in a way that reminded just how quickly she was growing up. It takes maturity to say, “You mean like today … liar?” with only your thumb.
That settled it. For the first time in decades, I was going to fly a kite. The last time, I had taken my younger cousins to the top of a wind-swept hill with their birthday present and watched as the line spun out to the end of the spool and the kite drifted untethered across the heavens. My cousins scanned the horizon until it disappeared.
“You … lost it,” they wept.
I was never the best kite flyer. So I admit I wasn’t too excited by this Tinker Bell contraption.
It measured across about the same size as a car and came equipped with endless pull lines, streamers and all these … things that must have been designed for superior kite maneuverability but in unskilled hands made it appear as if the enormous fairy had one too many at the tinker bar for all the drunken, lumbering grace of her flight.
“Hey hey hey, here I come!” I imagined her belching, “Ouch! The ground again. You don’t know me!”
If Disney made that movie, I’d see it for sure: “Tinker Bell, the belligerent fairy princess with a … special problem.” (Then the movie trailer would slam shut when she turns to the camera and sneers, “I don’t have a problems. (Hic.))
I have given this way too much thought.
But you know, when you’re flying a kite, what else can you do? It’s like reverse fishing — you throw a line into the sky, instead of the water, and even if you don’t catch a fish or a wayward bird, you still learn a whole bunch of new things about yourself. And one of them might be that you’ve become so hardened that you think woodland movie fairies are really just helpless drunks.
At the park, we assembled the kite and then Emme held it firm in her hands while I waited for the wind and then tried to get it aloft. We tried maybe 5 or 6 times with no success before Emme wanted a turn at the controls. I shrugged, figuring she couldn’t do any worse.
The thing is, she wasn’t really better. She was just more pleased.
I knew a kite was supposed to sail among the clouds, bobbing and dipping and hanging somehow flightless. From her perspective, getting the thing simply 5 feet off the ground was an act of some joyous springtime god.
“Look at it go!” she shrieked, “I’m doing it. I’m doing it!”
I looked at Tinker Bell and her enormous, outstretched arms, her dangling streamers and her wind-battered, broken face. She was probably 10 feet off the grass, staggering and ready to plunge at any moment. Bolstered by wind and then sagging from sudden luff, she looked confused and wounded. But then, there’s my daughter, absolutely screaming with delight.
“Run!” I shouted, “Just run!”
Emme bolted across the field and the line unspooled behind her and the kite somehow climbed to 15 feet and then 20. It never really hovered among the clouds and I think an adult or an older kid would be disappointed by this sad display of kite performance. But it occurred to me that my daughter had never really seen a kite fly, never really knew what one could do. The trivial displeasure of adults is not yet written into her code, and it’s still worth shrieking at the sparkling miracle of sudden flight.
I watched her jump with delight, her face breaking into a million smiles, and I watched the drunken kite wretch and howl in the wind, and suddenly the cynical images of a besotted fairy were gone.
“I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”
There’s a Japanese sentiment, mono no aware, about taking wistful joy at the transient beauty of things, and I couldn’t help thinking about these momentary flights of fancy and this short time we have together and all these new experiences we share and when and why and how the world clouds these innocent joys with age. Not yet, I thought, not yet, and I listened to her laugh and watched her jump again as the kite fluttered so proudly just feet off the ground.
On the way home, I promised to get her a kite that is easier to handle.
“It is so wonderful, isn’t it?” she asked.