Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Back Story: Children Flying Kites Provokes Mameau's Picnic Meltdown

There are always back stories behind big life events, 'goings-on' that we shove aside. For the time being, we tell ourselves. 'Goings-on' are complicated and certainly not what we want to intrude on a memorial celebration or a three-generation family picnic. So during those four full days of family happenings in Seattle, I remained delighted that all 29 of Mom and Dad's progeny were together in one space. And when scheduling and to-do lists and frustrations arose, I carried on, but as in a fast moving current for which I felt often ill-prepared. The back stories took their toll because I took them seriously.
A very BIG kite day for Mameau, much of it centered on tangled kite lines.
Mind you, back stories are not just a family thing. There are back stories to every business or board meeting I've ever attended, every gathering of good friends, every altercation with spouse or significant other. There is the story 'above the fold', and then there are the other stories.
Last night I received an email from a friend who read the post  about our three generation family weekend in Seattle. She expressed amazement, as she has done before, that "what your family experiences together is so far from my own family experience that it's hard for me to know how so many people can come together so happily, so gaily, so artistically, on a perfect day on a perfect hill. All the babies are precious."
Parents with kites. Thank heaven.
Today, I hope to finish this post that I began the day after our picnic. I never published it because it was truly snarky. Needed toning down and it certainly needed some humor. So here is the rewrite, or the reframing, of my own back story on this idyllic picnic day.
First off, for seven years, I've worried about securing the picnic spot in Discovery Park. After all, there is only one picnic table on that hill. For me, 'making sure' that we have possession of that table overlooking Puget Sound is fraught with the remote possibility that, on our annual family picnic day, someone else may have claimed the spot.  Just possibly, they will have arrived earlier than we, before we plop down extra tables, folding chairs and coolers, before we hang the San Antonio fiesta streamers from tree to tree and stuff the lower branches with Chinese parasols.
MMH affixing San Antonio fiesta streamers to tree branches, marking/decorating the picnic territory.
It's never happened, but I always fret. For the seventh time, we successfully commandeered the site by mid-morning. If I'd followed my habit of the previous six years, securing the site would have been enough. I'd have settled into the day and waited for family to arrive, because the rest of the picnic is always a breeze.
Until this year, when I went into meltdown just after the grandchildren and cousins arrived. Three had the immediate wish to fly kites. Without parents to supervise, because parents were busy greeting one another and putting food on the tables.
These three children grabbed the bag of kites, emptying individual kite pieces on the ground, rushing off with their kites of choice. They had only their trusty/intrusive Mameau for guidance.  I didn't call for help.  Nope, I just followed those kids with kites out on to the hill. And apparently lost it.
Two of my three daughters came up to me during the first hour of the picnic to say, "Mom, what's the matter with you? Everybody is having a good time. It's working. Enjoy the day."
And what was I doing instead of enjoying the day? Instead of conversing, smiling, eating and watching the proceedings? I was having a fit over children flying kites.  Just tipped me right over the edge. Probably because we'd had so many other events before the picnic and I was overwrought? Perhaps because we'd been so busy on Friday, that I felt unprepared for the picnic on Saturday? Too many loose ends. Did I need to tie them? Probably not.
Kelan and Lulu both got their kites up HIGH.  Job well done. But those entangled strings….
Instead, I fell into 'crazed and irritated', dismissing that fact that kite flying is not going to happen without kite crashes and crossed lines, and irate because of the compelling need for children to be in close proximity to those picnic tables and tree branches.
From this paragraph on, you can read some of the original post that I wrote the day after the picnic - unedited - just so you can feel the causes of my distress.
"Heaven forbid, the children should seek the wide open space of the downward slope of the hill. Heaven forbid, they should be aware of their cousins' kite lines. And so, their Mameau was there, unhappily untangling lines and offering instructions. Ignoring words of wisdom from my daughters, "Mom, they have to learn to fly kites. They'll do it."
"Instead, my train of thought went like this: "I need to step back? Even if they demand a kite that is not age appropriate? (We have kites perfect for the skills of 5-7 year olds and kites that are perfect for 8-10 year olds.)  Even if they pull kites from their packages and the sticks that support the kite's wing span become lost in the fray? Even if one cousin tangles with the kite string of another cousin, again and again? Even if a grandchild runs straight toward a tree, catching the kite in a branch forty feet in the air? Even if the kites are in such terrible shape at the end of the day they must be thrown in the trash?" In the moment, all these 'even ifs' were incomprehensible to me.
"I stayed close to those kite flying grandchildren overlong, struggling with twisted kite lines and mumbling about never bringing kites to the annual picnic, ever again.  OK, now, a week later, I am somewhat over it. My brother John eventually walked me back to the heart of the picnic and away from my craziness." So, enough of the original prose.
Later on, I realized that I'd not once thought about gathering those nine great grandchildren of Dad's for a photograph on the hill. After months of contemplated taking such a picture, it never entered my mind at the picnic. Opportunity gone, just like that lost kite 40 feet up in the pine tree. Or maybe, because in the moment, I was still focused instead on that lost kite up in the tree?
I did eventually join the festivities to play a game of bocce and I heaped my plate with brisket and salads and leftover salmon patties from Dad's memorial. Also scarfed down a bowl of my sister Kate's blackberry cobbler. And there is another crazy-making story. I watched silently as three grandchildren emptied an entire can of whipped cream into their bowls. Where is my voice? I'd spoken up more than necessary about kites. Why not speak up about the need to share whipped cream with 26 other people? I am 72 years old and I can/should use my voice, albeit with some common sense.
Instead, I told Kate that next year, we'd hold on to the whipped cream and wear tee shirts that say, "I am the whipped cream dispenser." Or we'd bring an entire case and let them cover themselves with cream, becoming snowmen for several sticky minutes. Well, I've just done it again. I've written enough about whipped cream to enterpost-meltdown snarkiness. I'll stop right now.
This is my picnic back story. I love my family and my sadness is that I was so caught up in kite lines and lack of whipped cream that, this year, I forgot to enjoy the picnic, moment by moment. I won't let it happen again. I told Caroline I was handing over the organizing to the next generation and she was OK with that.
One thing I will do again next summer is secure that spot on the hill. I will go early and I will not carry extra tables, chairs and coolers. Only streamers and parasols. I will sit at that picnic table, read a book and survey Puget Sound. Looking forward to it already. Paraphrasing from my friend's email, "All will be perfect and the babies are precious."
Sending love to my family.
Drinking a blackberry toast to my Dad with brother-in-law Denny. Photo, Heather Maher.

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