This Guest Blog comes from my friend, Dr. Ted Klontz, co-founder of Your Mental Wealth and Klontz Consulting Group. You can learn more about Ted and his work on his website http://www.yourmentalwealth.com/. I think you will enjoy Ted's story of playing with his young granddaughter and his reminder about the importance of showing up and being as willing and present as possible. That works everytime with grandkids. And, it's a wonderful formula for interacting with adults, in and beyond our family circle. I can't wait to "Kite Play" with my grandkids come springtime. In the meantime I'm going to look for other opportunities to stretch my playful muscles when I'm around them.
Wow, the Windy City was living up to its reputation. 20-25 mile per hour gusty winds showed up as ordered for “Community Kite Day”, sponsored by the local Department of Parks and Recreation. However, the warmth that was imagined for this didn’t make an appearance. 33 + degrees, snow spitting periodically, the sun playing peek-a-boo with us, along with the aforementioned stout winds made for a perfect day to be a kite. Not so much the kite flier.
Not to be deterred by the weather, six-year old granddaughter Morgan was game and so was I. Bundled up more like we were going cross country skiing than kite flying we walked the two blocks to the park where we joined four other brave adults (out of a city of 14,000) and their little munchkins to do the deed.
But I had a secret. I didn’t know how a grandfather was supposed to play “kites” with his granddaughter. My most typical role as grandfather is fixing things around mom and dad’s house like broken toys, and cooking. I had been enrolled once as a prince marrying the princess, but didn’t have to know much, because I was told very directly what to do and not do. I also was good for a book reading now and then at their request.
Though I had two grandfathers growing up, playing kites (or anything else) with them, never happened, and I only remember playing with my father one day. There never seemed to be all that much time for playing. So, finding no instruction book on the subject, I thought I would just wing it.
We quickly put the pre-fab kite together. Footnote: when we were kids, we used to try to make our own kites with newspapers, string, glue, sticks, and ripped up rags for tails. Not with any great degree of success, by the way. Trust me. Prefab kites? BETTER.
Morgan was actually jumping up and down with excitement as we readied the kite. With her holding the string, we let out about 10 feet; I tossed the kite into the air, and she took off running. The kite immediately popped up in the sky. The look on her face was an “I can’t believe this!” What she did say was “Look Pappy, look!”. The wind was incredibly cooperative. She ran around the park for a full 10 minutes, jerking it around as if it was a fun-loving, unruly, untrained puppy.
When she tired of that, I showed her how to let the string all the way out so the kite could go higher. As she did that the kite went straight up as if it was a thoroughbred released from the starting gate. She soon discovered that if she just loosely held the stick the string was wound around, the wind took over and within 20 seconds the kite shot up over 300 feet in the air. Pretty much straight up. I was amazed myself. I have never seen such a perfect wind for kite flying. Morgan couldn’t contain her excitement. Her grin was wider than her face. Her shrieks of “Look, Pappy!”, “Watch!” echoed through the park, causing some of the other adults to look at us, perhaps wondering what in the world I was doing to this child. I was focused on Morgan’s face and saw a look of total mastery. A rare moment for any of us, especially I’m guessing, for a six-year old who lives in a made-for-big people world.
Once the kite had reached its terminal altitude, things calmed down and she handed me the kite. I showed her a couple of tricks she hadn’t thought of yet and we shared what little “generational knowledge” I had about kite flying. She discovered that the kite would dance and swirl, or pitch up and down, as a result of what she did with her arms as she ran around in giant circles. It seemed as if she was experiencing pure unadulterated delight, totally present in the moment. Nothing else seemed to exist for her. Such innocence. Such simple joy.
All this had taken about 20 minutes and I was secretly thinking, “Ok, it’s cold; we’ve done the kite thing, now she’ll probably want to go, and I will pretend to not celebrate the decision.” But she had another idea. “Pappy go stand under the kite so I can see how far away it is from us.” A football field away, I waved to her. She was impressed by the distance. She screamed “I CAN HARDLY SEE YOU!”,or at least that is what I thought she was saying, not being able to trust my decades-old ears as well as I used to. I do know she screamed in delight, right after she said it.
When I got back to her, in my indirect way, I said “What would you like to do now?” She took a few winds of the string around the stick to begin the process of bringing the kite back to us, then handed me the stick and said, “Wind this up for me”. With that order, she went a few steps ahead of me and grabbed the string and followed it the entire 100 yards as I rapidly wound the string up. Essentially she was “flying” the kite in a different way, while I wrapped string. Thinking (praying is more like it; I was C-O-L-D) this was it, I said, “When I get this string all wrapped, let’s go to Amelia’s (a neighborhood diner) and get some hot chocolate.” She was excited about that possibility. I sure was.
It took about 10 minutes for me to wind the string up. As I got finished she asked to hold it, and proceeded to let the wind unwind the entire 300 feet of string, again………
She looked at me with a big grin and said, “Pappy, wind it up again,” as she took off with her hand around the string following it all the way to the kite, eventually bringing it to the ground yet again. We played that ritual out six more times. Carpal tunnel was a growing risk factor.
I could tell that it was an incredibly pleasing thing for her to know that she was making the kite go up and that she could make it come down. She was enthralled. Mesmerized. Such power. So much control over what happened next. So much mastery.
I have a suspicion that we would still be there, if her father hadn‘t come to check on us and let us know that the agenda needed to move forward. We wound the kite up for the last time, took it apart and put it away. Dad gave us a ride to the diner. We ordered and each had the biggest hot chocolate I’d ever seen. I asked her how she liked it; she looked at me and gave me a silent “thumbs up.”
She later reported to her mom about how much fun we had playing.
As I reflected on my fear of not knowing how to “play kites,” I realized that perhaps not knowing how to do it, opened me up to just allow it to happen. No plans, no preconceptions, no directions to her about how it was “supposed” to be done. She invented and developed the experience. It was fully hers, I simply assisted.
I was reminded once again that my showing up, being willing and as fully present as I can be, might just be the best playing skill (make that living skill), I can have. Perhaps I don’t need to know anything else.