At the start, I was surprisingly optimistic.
It had been a hard month, a hard year really, with graduate school and two jobs leaving no time for my daughter, and this sounded like just the thing to make it up, to make it right.
I called in sick to work. I meditated, took a long shower — everything I could think of to suspend my sleepless, burned-out alter ego, if only for a few hours. Finally, I ate breakfast with my wife for the first time in weeks, and together we drove through the bright spring morning to fly kites with our daughter's first-grade class.
The sight of her face when I walked into the classroom nailed me with that combination of guilt and joy only working parents know. She tackled me around the middle, and I spun her back to her feet.
"Bog, log, smog," I said, picking up the rhyming game that was supposed to help her word recognition.
She frowned. "Dog ... frog ... I can't think of any more."
We bumped fists while her classmates gathered their kites and lined up at the door. I should've seen disaster coming then, should've noticed something off in the shape of the line, but I was too happy being with my kid, too excited at the thought of doing the kind of thing good dads do.
Until we got outside, that is. My daughter's elementary school was the poorest in the district, which meant that few parents could afford to take a morning off from work. I turned around and found three or four pairs of arms holding up knotted rolls of string. By the time I sorted them out, my daughter was gone, running along behind two other little girls, dragging a kite between the three of them.
Before I could run after her, another little girl stopped me.
"Will oo hep me?"
It took me a second to understand her through her speech impediment. She help up her kite, the cheapest I'd seen all day.
Sure I'll help, I said, and, taking the string, began to jog, shouting over my shoulder that you just have to run a little to get one into the air, just have to catch a good ground wind before you let out some string, just have to be patient ... and was still repeating this 20 minutes later when my breath was a ragged pant and my knees were shaking and I realized that, at 31 years old, I was too fat and too stupid to get a goddamn kite into the air.
"Ith not fwying," the little girl said.
I wanted to tell her that a boat anchor would catch the wind before this dollar-store piece of shit, that the situation was as hopeless as the education was getting inside. Instead, I looked around for help, and saw my daughter running with the rest of her kite flying co-op only a dozen yards away.
"Why don't we go over there? I bet they'll share their kite."
She nodded, and we headed that way. But between us and salvation was a second group of children, three boys and a girl, all standing over a pile of bent plastic and knotted twine. I looked across the field and saw my wife in the middle of a similar group. Fit, bit, shit, I thought, and they didn't even have to ask — the sight of them was enough.
I bent and tried to sound confident, tried to direct all those little fingers to work at all those little knots, but after 10 minutes the mess was even worse, and my temper took off, and all I could think was I'd lost this day with my little girl and these kites were cheap plastic shit and who's stupid idea was kite day anyway, who plans a family event at a school where mommy's minimum wage job would fire her before letting her off work for an hour and daddy drinks the goddamn lunch money and DUCK SUCK FUCK!
Just then, a shout interrupted my reverie. Another little girl shuffled past, her face slack with absorption, her hands balled into fists around a string. Her kite wasn't flying — it was soaring, so high it was hard to see, a pale yellow dot in the deep blue sky. It was higher than a kite has any right to be.
For a moment, my little loser kids and I, we all just stopped. We all just sat there, looking.
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