I kept hoping that one day I would up and be the mother from the greeting card picture.
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In my garage there used to be a tired kite leaning against a wall. More than tired: It looked depressed. It was blue, with a white dove in the foreground, flying over a rainbow. In the seventies it served as a wall hanging, back in the low-budget days when it shared wall space with album covers and the living room table was a large wooden spool. At the next decorating stage, when I bought da Vinci and van Gogh prints for the walls and picked up an actual table at the thrift store at which to eat meals, I put the kite in the garage. It had never flown.
I had a vague picture of one day flying it with my children. That vague picture was lit with gold and it had blurry edges. It was a greeting-card view of motherhood, where you have small children but you’re not tired or irritable, and you have energy for educational and stimulating activities, and the sun shines on these motherly activities but it’s not hot, and there are no bugs. Unless you and the children are on a bug-catching expedition—then there are colorful, friendly bugs waiting to be caught and examined with calm delight.
Years later I had actual children.
We had a neighbor we called the kite doctor. He could make a kite out of a red bandana, a shopping bag, a bed sheet or a Styrofoam plate. His passion for kites knew no bounds. He built a two-inch by two-inch kite that his elderly mother flew at the Spoleto Festival Kite Contest in Charleston, South Carolina. The sticks were made of broom straws he had split in half, then split again, and sanded. She flew the tiny thing from her wheelchair and won first prize in the Smallest Kite event.
My boys cornered the kite doctor at our house one day and asked him to fix the kite in the garage. He spent the next forty minutes, cheerfully and with good grace, sewing, stringing, and testing the kite. During the test runs he would call out to my six-year-old son “Run now! Let it go! Stop. Run now. . . .” The kite looped wildly, ignorant of how to fly.
Finally the kite doctor decided to attach a longer tail. He unhooked some six-foot rainbow streamers that were fluttering from our front porch and attached them to the kite. When my son ran with the kite after the tail was put on, it took to the sky. My spirits rose with it.
My children were having a perfect day like the ones I had pictured when being a mother was still an abstraction.
After the kite doctor went home, the kite was hung back up in the garage. It didn’t look depressed any more. My children wanted to fly it again after a week or so, but I realized a terrible thing. I was not a kite-flying mom. I loved the idea of flying kites with my children, and it was wonderful on that day, but I didn’t want to do it again and again.
I kept hoping that one day I would up and be the mother from the greeting card picture who had sweetness and creativity and sat for hours with her children making models of indigenous villages and building a real canoe that we would have taken down the Amazon together as we learned about the rain forest. I would wake up and want to bake fresh bread and serve fresh vegetables at every meal and fly kites with my children. Some days I reached that ideal. We went on great hikes, and I liked to draw with them.
I had a dream that we drew a picture of the kite doctor and his mother sitting by the sea with the wind in her hair. She was flying a two-inch kite from her chair. In the picture it was perfect weather and there was a large colorful bug sitting on one of the wheels of the chair. Into that perfect picture my six-year-old son drew flaming bombs dropping from the lady’s tiny kite. I laughed and clapped for him.
I woke up knowing that he and his brother are not blurry and golden. They are sharp and tangy and real, and that’s the kind of mother I was. With rainbow streamers. Yeah, that’ll fly.
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The Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a UU World online columnist, is senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas, and the author of several books, including Broken Buddha. She is also a humorist and singer-songwriter. (Author’s website.)
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