[The following post was originally written when I was an undergrad for a creative nonfiction class taught by the lovely Lisa Coffman. It was initially published in the July 2007 issue of The Rogue Voice.]
“A kite in the sky is a smile of the wind.”
—Unknown Tao Master
Friday, April 27
While waiting for Sage in the passenger-loading crescent curb of the Del Mar Elementary parking lot, I notice several of the other children flying white kites with personalized marker pen designs as they walk to their parents’ cars. It’s kite festival day. I’m so glad I talked Sage into going to school when he thought maybe he was too sick to make it through the day—feigning sneezes and begging me to stay home from work with him; I knew it had to be a case of I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed-just-yet-itis. And there’s my little second-grader now, flying his own kite—beaming a camera-ready smile as he sees me noticing him. Three mommies give him compliments on his “beautiful kite,” all in succession. Now I share in his radiance. That’s my baby who made that special kite.
Three boys and four girls waiting for their parents to arrive stand on the lawn beneath the flagpole, all eyes and hands tethered to their newly-designed kites swaying over the parking lot, as I coax Sage to wind down his kite. The boys’ kites look like they were in a contest to see who could draw their design the fastest, and from the looks of it, it was a three-way tie. The girls’ kites oppose the boys’ minimalist scrawl in every way; not a hint of white shows in their elaborate designs of blue sky with rainbows and smiling faces.
“Did you see my kite I made, mommy?” Sage tosses in the kite through the passenger-side window, laying it flat over a pile of textbooks I’ve amassed on the car seat, so I can see it better.
“Yes, I did, Sage. And I love your design, too.”
I go inside the house to make a smoothie, but Sage frantically shouts “MOMMY, COME HELP ME!” from the front lawn. Naturally, I run outside, thinking the kite is caught in a tree. I find him standing over a tattered ball of tangled twine.
“It got knotted,” he says sadly. “Can you fix it, mommy?”
It doesn’t look good. The tangled layers of string await me, and I can’t help but wonder how it got this bad so fast.
“How did this happen? You were just flying your kite two minutes ago!”
“I know, but then I let out a lot of string, and the wind went away, and the kite fell down and…I don’t know! It just happened.” He looks to me, flustered, like he wants to cry or feel hopeful, depending upon my answer to his resounding question: “Can you fix it, mommy?”
“I’ll try my best,” I say with the minimum muster of hope it will take to reverse the woven entropy, “but I may have to cut the string.”
“NO!” He wails defiantly.
We sit on the lawn together as I carefully loosen the knots in the string. Sage holds the red plastic spinner by the handles, winding it slowly as I work my mommy magic. I get a good look at his design now. There’s a large black X—symmetrical, yet convoluted—centered on it, dividing the kite into four sections. Sage tells me that the top and bottom sections have orange suns, the side sections each have pink and yellow stars. I tell him it’s a beautiful kite with an original design, and launch into a knee-jerk lecture on the importance of not tangling string, and avoiding the trees and power lines by staying in the front yard until we take it to the beach later on. He listens tacitly, just happy that my hands work detangling miracles.
Sage sounds the distress call again. I managed to get all of the string untangled, and now he’s managed to get it caught in the eucalyptus tree in our neighbor’s backyard. It’s nestled snugly in the branches as Stacey, my boyfriend, gingerly tugs at the string from the back porch; he shimmies it off the branch after a few minutes of sweating while Sage watches intently.
I’ve made a smoothie, and bring it outside to share. I find Sage across the street in the back of Stacey’s brown Toyota pick-up truck, Stacey standing beside the truck talking with him about kite flying. I hand each of them a smoothie, and discover Sage tethered to the kite string. The kite is now poised for imminent disaster between power lines on both sides of the street.
“This is not a good place to fly your kite, Sage. You should get it down,” I say.
“I told him that already, but he won’t listen. What did I tell you, Sage?”
Sage slurps smoothie through a straw and mutters without looking away from his kite, “I know. I know.”
“Power lines are death to kites, Sage. That’s what I said. And if you were listening, you would be reeling it in right now,” Stacey says, crossing the street back toward the house.
The wind shifts. The kite taunts the power line just above us, touches the wire and jerks away, touches the wire and jerks away, getting closer to locking on each time. I grab the line, pull it away from the wire, and command Sage to reel it in. He nervously gropes to wind the string. Thinking the kite is almost out of danger, dancing in the wind just below the power line, I let the string go, and it promptly wraps around the wire once, twice, seven times before it stops and looms over our heads.
“Say goodbye to your kite, Sage,” Stacey says from across the street. “I warned you that was going to happen.”
Sage pulls weakly at the string, and I tell him to let it go. “We can’t pull the kite down. It’s not like getting it stuck in a tree. It’s gone, Sage. We can’t get it down now. I have to get the scissors.”
I dread this moment: searching for the scissors while imagining him sitting out there in the truckbed staring at his beloved kite and praying for mommy miracles. I have no solution for this. I want to rewind time and keep my hand on that string a little bit longer, for us to wipe our brows and say whew, that was a close one. But not this.
Suddenly all of the kites I lost to trees or wind rise up from their forgotten graves and mesh with this moment. He’s going to remember this day for the rest of his life. What will he remember?
Sage sits beside the neighbor’s mailbox, directly across from the twisted kite on the wire. Tears well in his hazel-brown eyes. I sit beside him, attempt to embrace him. He’ll have none of it.
“Can’t we just call the power company, and they could come and get it down for us?”
“I already told you that they can’t get your kite down. It’s too dangerous. Like those shoes on the power line in front of the grocery store, remember? They’re not going anywhere and neither is your kite.” I want to come up with a better answer than this. Something profound. “Maybe god thought your kite was so beautiful that he turned it into a flag.”
Upon hearing these words, he turns to me and grimaces hard before running into the house to keep vigil from his bedroom window.
Calmer now that our neighbor John has assured him that his kite just might detangle itself over time, Sage confidently tells me that the rain will bring down his kite. “The rain will break the string, and the kite will be free,” he says.
Because I know I cannot rewind time to salvage his kite, I search online for a suitable kite kit to buy, and Sage launches into a song about how much he loves me as he thrusts his arms around me, and kisses me with emphatic smoochie sounds on my cheek.
I purchase a kite kit that looks just like the one he made at school, a Frustration-less Flyer, which comes in a pack of twenty. I always wanted to give Sage a themed birthday party just like the other mommies with more time on their hands. Why not a kite-making party? I tell him my plan to let him make a few of the kites and to save the rest for his 9th birthday party next year. He’s thrilled with the idea, but continues to insist that his lost kite will return to him.
Saturday, April 28
After planting sunflowers most of the day with Sage, occasionally glancing up at the twirling kite on the wire across the street, we drive to Ace Hardware for some supplies at the end of the day. As we’re checking out, the cashier at asks us if we went to the parade. What parade? Apparently the kite festival wasn’t just at Sage’s school. It’s all over Morro Bay, and there was a parade this morning, and a festival down on the beach next to Morro Rock all this weekend.
Sage looks to me longingly with the feigned expression of a perfect little angel. “Don’t worry, kiddo. We’re going tomorrow.”
Sunday, April 29
Sage roams the beach in gape-jawed amazement. We find ourselves repeating, “Look at that one!” The expert flyers launch gigantic wonders mounted to the shore, and I realize that this is the beginning of an obsession for Sage and for me.
There is something about seeing a kite floating in the air that brings me back to the giddying and simple sensations of youth, like the feelings of lightness I receive when I vicariously absorb my child’s joy and wonder with the world.
Wednesday, May 2
Last night I dreamt I walked outside and saw Sage’s kite, still clinging to the power line, tethered on each side. On the right, the kite was connected to an array of unfortunate shoes which one might see from time to time weathering away on power lines. The shoes dangled down from the wire, tugging on the kite, trying to pull it back down to earth. On the left side, the kite was linked to a bunch of colorful balloons soaring above the wire and tugging the kite towards the sky.
Monday, May 7
The fact that kites defy gravity by harnessing the power of the wind amazes me. I stopped flying kites when I was 10 years old, and didn’t take up kite flying again until I had Sage. He received a durable, high-tech box kite for his birthday a few years ago; sometimes we take it out to the beach on windy days. I’ve wondered how long families have engaged in this frivolous ritual. According to The Creative Book of Kites by Sarah Kent, kites have been around for more than 2,500 years, and their exact origin is debatable; The Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese all flew kites about 500 years before Jesus made the calendar shift direction. Long before power grids were erected, kites soared in the sky.
If kites can harness the wind to fly, might it be possible to use them to generate wind power? I was asking myself hypothetically, but my answer came on the front page of this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle; scientists are indeed seeking funding for experiments in generating wind power from kites they plan to launch six miles up, into the jet stream, where winds reach speeds of up to 310 mph. In the article, atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira said, “My calculations show that if we could just tap into one percent of the energy in high-altitude winds, it would be enough to power all civilization.”
The twenty-pack of Frustrationless Flyers I ordered arrived in the mail today, but Sage already stopped asking when they would arrive. It rained all day on Friday, and, just like he said it would, the kite came loose from the wire; it came back down to earth the very next day. And though he had kept his diligent vigil for a whole week, watching as the kite nearly unraveled from and then wrapped around the wire several times each day, he didn’t even notice that it was missing from its perch on Saturday morning. As I pointed this out, we bounded across the street to search for the kite that became a flag that became an obsession in the dry grass beneath its former place on the power line.
Kites defy gravity, and may one day, after ample funding and research, harness enough energy to sustain the world. Until then, we can feel the power of the wind in our hands. No wonder Sage and I feel so light when tethered to something so powerful.