Mom, Dad, my older brother Earl and I are taking advantage of idyllic spring weather on the grounds of a local park. In addition to devouring a homemade picnic lunch, today’s agenda includes teaching me to fly a kite. At the advanced age of 5, this is my first time flying a kite—a sure sign of having led an obviously-deprived childhood. With bellies full of Mom’s cooking and baking, kite pilot ground school begins.
Earl stands down-string while my small hands cradle the spool, waiting for the commands from instructor Dad. Dad’s ability to thoroughly instruct is blocked by visions of being illustrated in a Norman Rockwell graphic. He envisions the next cover of the Saturday Evening Post as a depiction of the little Missus on a picnic blanket, adoringly watching her husband’s prowess as a father while he flies a kite with their young son and daughter.
Cherry blossom petals flutter by; Dad uses them as a windsock, letting him know we are a go for sending his parenting artistry aloft. Unsure of when the next breeze might be, Dad skips the pre-flight brief, usually involved in ground school, and we fly ahead to the takeoff.
The line between my spool of string and the kite in Earl’s hands is now taut as Earl waits for the launch sequence to begin.
I know now—applying lessons from several college aerodynamics classes and actual pilot ground school—that kite flight is controlled by lift, gravity, and drag. The lifting force of the wind overcomes the downward pull of gravity and the drag of air resistance. The small amount of tension on the line allows the kite to rise effortlessly upward.
As the breeze evolves into a gust, that small amount of tension increases into a large amount of straight-line force… enough to torque the arms of a five-year-old girl.
Dad’s excitement also increases as the impending kite launch brings definition to the Saturday Evening Post cover drawing. He sees the resistance in the kite line between me and Earl and in the arm line between me and the spool. And from the kite launch control center of his mind, he starts barking out commands.
Had I not skipped ground school, I might have understood the action required of the commands. Had I flown a kite before, I might have understood the intent of the commands. Had I been older than 5, I might have been a more independent-thinking student. But as a 5-year-old, first-time kite flier who never went to ground school, I take Dad’s commands literally.
I say “commands,” but there is really only one command that Dad issues repeatedly: “Let it go!”
Earl obediently lets it—the kite—go.
Had I not skipped ground school, I might have understood “let it go” means to release some of the line from the spool. Had I flown a kite before, I might have understood the intent of “let it go” means releasing enough line to allow the aerodynamic structure of the kite to gain lift from the wind. Had I been older than 5, I might have understood “let it go” does not mean let go of the entire spool of string cradled in my small hands.
But like Earl, I obediently let it—the entire spool of string—go. And go it does.
The string once stretched between me and Earl, tethering the kite to the ground, is now merely an additional tail doing little to assist the real tail in keeping the kite’s nose up and balanced. The tether-turned-tail grows longer and the spool of extra tether smaller as the gust-turned-sustained-high-wind pulls more string from the spool. The spool of string continues to fuel the wind’s demands, hijacking the kite’s flight.
Unaware that this isn’t proper kite flying, I stare skyward as the colorful diamond shape disappears into the heavens. It seems a bit anticlimactic, but I’m 5, what do I know?
Life back down on Earth quickly becomes hell for five-year-old me for sacrificing a kite with my direct disobedience of Dad. Hell for 5-year-old me is having my dad yell at me, “What are you doing? Why did you let it go? What are you thinking?”
I would have answered: “Flying a kite. Because you said to,” and “I’m thinking this isn’t how you fly a kite.” However, that response is obstructed by the sound, “WAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH,” which is accompanied by tears. Lots of tears.
Dad doesn’t understand where the breakdown in communication is, because he knows what “let it go” means. I don’t understand the yelling, because I’m old enough to know what “let it go” means, and I did that correctly.
We don’t have time to bicker over intention and interpretation because we have a kite to catch. Brother Earl is on it, so Dad continues to loudly explain what “let it go” means to him.
I say “explain,” but there is really only one explanation that Dad uses, and that is: “I said let it go!” This is like looking up a word in the dictionary, only to find the word you’re looking up used in the definition of the word you’re looking up. So for now, I just let it—my tears—go.
My tears modify Rockwell’s cover drawing to that of a mother laughing at the sight of her well-meaning, poorly-executing husband yelling at their tearful youngest while an older son sprints after a dwindling spool of string across the picturesque lawn of a county park.
Later, we do get an image worthy of Norman Rockwell’s utensils—the resolution of the kite-losing, Dad-yelling exhibition. Here, we see a father and daughter in a loving, apologetic embrace with the little Missus on a picnic blanket, adoringly watching her husband’s prowess as a father, all while the tiny speck of a kite disappears high over the head of their son.
Sometimes in the heat of flight, we get tethered to the intention of our words without realizing there might be another possible interpretation. When the miscommunication is identified, it’s best to just let it go and start over.
That’s just the way the kite flies.