Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Go Fly a Kite: Finding the Balance in My Quick n' Dirty Philosophy

Several weeks ago I saw this great idea for a DIY Kite in the Good Housekeeping magazine. All it calls for is contact paper, tissue paper, drinking straws, and string. It seemed dead simple, and with my eldest in a mildly obsessive kite-flying stage, a no-brainer for a summer activity. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my contact paper. Anywhere. Eventually I decided to get a new roll, but was irritated because it was nearly $10 at the craft store. Weeks later I discovered not one but Two brand new rolls in my supplies - I obviously bought one, immediately forgot about it, and then bought another.  Needless to say, I then found my old roll. (On top of my refrigerator, underneath the cabinet. Of course! Doesn't everyone keep their contact paper up there?!)

So I was already predisposed to be irritated when I Finally dragged out the supplies for the project yesterday morning. Of Course, it was a lot harder then it looked. The paper always wanted to roll up. Managing the sticky side without getting it folded over or fouled somewhere was really tricky. I got short tempered as many small fingers tried to get involved Before I Was Ready For Them, Darn It! James was pretty interested in the whole process, but when he realized most of the tissue paper for decorating was pink, he got frustrated and started asking if He could make another kite of his very own. When I said "No way, not today!" he got angry and went off to build his own kite out of whatever materials he could find and whatever assistance he could wheedle, con, or whine his way into. Finally, we (I) finished the stupid thing, manhandled the straws into place, tied some string on, and took it outside. Where the wind was completely failing to blow.
Not that this stopped Grace from running up and down the cul-de-sac with it quite gleefully for some time. Still, the straws weren't strong enough, and I'm pretty sure the whole thing was too heavy. But both older kids messed with it for a long time, trying new and inventive ways to get it off the ground and basically having a blast. Well, for a while anyway...
Me: "Flying that kite while riding your bike seems like a really bad idea."
James: "Don't worry, It'll be OK, Mom!" 
But, far from discouraged, James was eager - nay, Demanding - for his turn this afternoon. Lucy was taking one of her rare naps, so - after once again burning 15 minutes searching for the pieces of the project I'd had Just Yesterday! - it went a little more smoothly. As in, it took only around 45 minutes, and (slightly) less irritable grumbling from yours truly. Of course, when we got it outside, we found the air once again to be almost perfectly still.
At this point, I backed up and realized that Grace had been occupying herself for the entire 45 minutes of construction running up and down the sidewalk holding the tiny store-bought kite we recently received from an aunt. Its frame was now snapped in two places, reducing it to little more than a bundle of fluttering ribbons on a stick. I pointed this out. Undaunted, she headed out for another lap. And that's when it hit me: She really just wants to run around holding a bundle of fluttering ribbons on a stick!

I walked over to the lawn dead grass where our lawn used to be. I grabbed a large, sturdy stick I'd trimmed off some wild tree a couple of weeks ago in a fit of cathartic yard maintenance. I snapped about 18 inches off the bottom. I went back into the craft room and grabbed a handful of colorful pre-cut ribbons we recently inherited from an aunt. They were held together with a pipe cleaner. I twisted said pipe cleaner around the bundle of ribbons and then around the end of the stick. "Mommy, can we put this snowflake on it?" asked Grace, holding up a foam flake that had escaped the Christmas box 8+ months ago.  I walked into the dining room, punched a hole in the flake with the hold punch standing ready to hand, and used a piece of kite string to thread it in to the bundle. I handed Grace the stick.
Total time consumed? Possibly five minutes.

So, yeah, I have strong current of annoyance underlying this entire experience. Why in the world did I waste 2 hours and probably $10 on kite construction when what the kid wanted was a five minute bundle of ribbon on a stick?! (Hey, anyone need a roll of clear Contact paper?) It's more or less the same emotion you get on Christmas morning when you spend 30 minutes assembling the stupid toy and the kid is gleefully playing with the box long after you're done. And it's definitely the same emotion that is at root of my entire "Quick n' Dirty Philosophy." Which, I apparently, have yet to entirely internalize.

But by the same token, I need to be careful not to take it too far. While four-year-old Grace may not have much appreciation for the process of kite construction, six-year-old James really Does. And no, the darned things didn't work very well, but there was joy in the process. Indeed, neither kid was really particularly concerned at the basic failure of the silly things. Most of the angst and anger was firmly in My camp, and primarily relating to stupid stuff like missing materials or the kids trying to get involved in their own project. (The Nerve!)
Besides, while working on his own (even quicker and dirtier) kite, James was asking important questions like "Does it matter what shape a kite is?" I think he might really benefit from sticking with the project through a few more iterations where we examine other ways to make the struts, what sort of tail works best, and the like. As they say, we learn more from failure than success.

Which goes not only engineering projects, but also for parenting projects.
Many of which seem to be dirty, and few of which are very quick, but that's OK. You can't Always go for the easy fix, the instant answer, the lazy solution. Sometimes I think the real trick is identifying the ones that Can be solved easily and getting them out of the way so you have time for the angst and iterations surrounding the hard ones.

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