the decline of the kite

May 14, 2010

I recently had my students read a book about kites.  It included a history of kites, types of kites, and instructions on how to make your own kites.  So naturally, I had my students follow the instructions to make the kites by hand.  I scheduled a tentative field trip to the park to fly our kites; I watched the weather religiously for a few days to find a day that was potentially windy and not raining.  (This proved much more difficult than I anticipated; Kansas City has had a very rainy Spring!)  On the day with the most promising weather, we gathered up our kites made from lunch bags, garbage bags, straws, and twine and marched to the park just a couple of blocks away.

There was little wind.  This did not surprise me.

The sky was overcast.  Naturally.

The kids had fun running back and forth in the grass, trying to generate enough lift to fly their marker- and sticker-adorned kites.  Of course.

Several–and I’m talking more than five or six–of my students said this was the first time they had ever flown a kite.  SHOCK.  DISMAY.  DISBELIEF.

Really?  You who have access to video games, iPods, skateboards, and remote-control toys?  You have never flown a kite?!? I felt sad inside, realizing that these kids have missed out on what was a valuable part of my childhood.

However, I didn’t realize how valuable it was until I met these kite-less children.  My mind was immediately flooded with my childhood memories of flying a kite.  They are some of my fondest.  My dad–never one to do something halfway–bought a large, sturdy, nylon kite when I was about four or five.  In my memory, its span was twice my height and the string was at least five miles long.  It didn’t have any fancy designs on it, nor did it carry the sentimentality of being handmade, but it was our kite. It was somehow magical, enchanting.  And it could fly high.

On windy Spring days, my dad would take my sister and I to the big field behind our elementary school.  I am sure my mom came many times, too, but it seemed that my dad was the kite expert.  He knew how to let out just enough line so that when my sister or I ran and tossed the kite into the air, it would catch a gust of wind on the first try.  He would let the line out, little by little, until it was high enough to catch the strong, constant winds and stay aloft on its own.  My sister and I would beg him to let it go higher, higher, until I was sure it was at the threshold of atmosphere and space.  He taught us how to do what he did–to let the kite, string, and wind do the work rather than getting the kite up by our own efforts.  He taught us what seemed like the magical maneuver of pulling the string down in order to make the kite go up. He taught us that the winds that blew across the tops of the trees were much stronger and unpredictable than the winds near the ground.  He demonstrated patience when the wind did not cooperate with our aviation efforts.  And we learned that an hour shared trying to get a nylon kite in the air created strong familial bonds and precious memories.

I took that same kite with me to college.  It became a favorite way for my friends and I to take study breaks, particularly before finals during Spring semesters.  We would carry it to an open field near our apartment complex, take turns flying, and enjoy the freedom of being able to think about nothing but a kite, some wind, and an open, blue sky.

Apparently, flying kites are no longer a staple family activity.  Kids read about them in books, but they have never flown them.  As I quipped to someone today, perhaps they are experts at flying kites in video games, but they have never flown one in real life.  Kites are hard to find in stores these days, and they are usually the flimsy plastic ones that get thrown away as soon as the line tangles or a dowel breaks.  I am saddened by the decline of the kite, and it makes me want to start a kite club at the school, or raise kite awareness in the community, or something.  At the very least, I plan to someday teach my own children how to fly a kite.  And now that I’ve made kites by hand myself, perhaps I’ll start a family tradition of making kites each Spring.

It’s amazing how the simplest things make for the most meaningful childhood memories.


One comment

  1. I remember going with you guys to Arcado some, too! I’m sure you gave your kids a great experience & you helped make a memory for them.

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