Sunday, March 4, 2012

On raising children and flying kites

We go to the park while the wind rushes and the sun shines.  Clasped in our hands we have squares and diamonds and angles of colored nylon--a dragon and a pirate--and string.

We've come because this is the kind of day you're supposed to do these kinds of things.
And because they have asked us to.

And as we spread across the field, taking our positions, readying ourselves for the task, we realize that the wind is really strong.

This is harder than it looks.

You would think kite flying would be intuitive.  Wind + kites + running = kite flying.
Not exactly.

And then it hits me.
Raising children feels a lot like flying kites.

On a Spring day, it comes easy.  Just free up the string and away it goes.
That kite knows what to do and with the ease of thought that rides on the shoulder of wisdom,
it flies free.

Diving and darting and dancing.
As if it has been doing this forever.

Except on the days when it doesn't.

Some days the kite seems to favor the ground more than the open air.  Like a crazed dervish it spins and whirls on the wind and then drops like a leaden anchor to the earth.  And no matter how fast you run, or pull, or throw it back up into the air, it refuses to fly.

It is on these days that I can become quite stubborn and simple minded.  I talk myself through the steps, again and again:
Wind + kites + running = kite flying
Again and again and again I try.
Again and again and again it doesn't work.

And I don't seem to understand.

Evidently, kites work for two reasons:
how the air flows over and around the kite and the kite's resistance to that very same wind, which is provided by the string attached to the kite.
When a kite become airborne, it essentially changes the flow of air around it.
When it first meets the wind, it blocks the air, forcing it downward.  This air moves slower than the air that is flowing above the kite thus creating a downward force.
The inevitable outcome of this is lift.

These children come bounding into our lives and they literally change how the air moves.

Before I had children, I think that I believed that I knew how the air around me flowed.  But honestly, I'm beginning to think that I didn't ever actually notice the air around me.  I just breathed in and out.  Sometimes calmly and openly.  Sometimes quick and hard.  But that was all it was.  Breathing.  And that was good enough.

And then I had children.

And, yes, breathing is still very important.  In fact, some days, that is still good enough.

But sometimes, the winds come.  And they blow from the North and they are cold and relentless and they don't even stop to catch their own breath.  And there I stand.  With my kite.

The kite and I, we are connected by a string that, sometimes, seems too thin to be strong enough.  But I am told these strings are made for this job.  The treetops could tell me a lot about their strength, I suppose.

And so I plant my feet and I release my kite into the wind and I watch it do what it was meant to do: change the way the air moves around it.  The kite buffets against the wind and, slowly, it rises.

But it will only continue to rise if I provide some resistance to that same wind.
And only
if I continue to let out the string.

And that is the hard part.
Because the kite can fly right nicely when I keep it close, thank you very much.  In fact, it can be controlled quite easily when I keep that string short.  In a way, it doesn't even seem like the winds affect it too much.  Aside from a few crazy spins from time to time, it seems to stay aloft and righted.

But that isn't really flying.

And kites were meant to fly.

I need to be the towline that tries to balance the airflow around the kite, effectively keeping the kite in one place but simultaneously causing the kite to soar upwards.

And isn't that the dance of parenthood?  Navigating the continual flow of life and events and feelings and challenges so that we can keep our kids grounded on one hand and yet free to rise on the other?  Oh, to continue to let out that string is both scary and exhilarating.  Daunting, yet tempting.  Painful, yet necessary.

Yes, flying kites is a lot like raising children.

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