A few months after my fourth son was born, my in-laws came to visit so that I could get “some” sleep and my other sons could get some much-needed one-on-one attention. As always, Grandma Catherine and Grandpa Richard brought a car full of activities for the boys. There were supplies for a teddy bear picnic, books from their travels out West, toys that used to be Daddy’s and last but certainly not the least, there were three brightly colored kites shaped liked parrots.
“Oooh! Oooh! Take out the kites Grandma, take out the kites!” they squealed.
Even though my oldest was five at the time, for whatever reason, my boys had yet to fly a kite. As Grandma and Grandpa started unwrapping the kites, my boys’ eyes widened and widened until I swore they were going to pop right out of their sweet, little heads.
“You know boys, Grandpa used to fly lots of kites with your daddy when he was just your size. He’s an expert kite flyer. He knows all the tricks,” said my mother-in-law lovingly. She put her hands on Grandpa’s shoulders and gently turned him towards the front lawn. Placing the kite strings in his hands, and showing a mix of both hope and worry, she said, “Here Richard take the strings and show the boys how to fly a kite.”
Her worry stemmed from the fact that my father-in-law had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few months prior to that visit and everyday talked less and got more easily confused. Some days he remembered how to do basic things, other days not so much. We always hoped his memory would work though because we all desperately wanted to create as many “interactive” memories as we could before well, before we couldn’t. My father-in-law took the strings and started to walk forward, my boys following in a perfect little (miraculous) straight line.
There was just the perfect amount of wind that day; not so much the kite got swept away and not so little that it just kept nose-diving to the ground. With few words spoken, Grandpa successfully (phew) taught the boys to fly their kites. As they ran around the yard laughing and squealing, their parrots watching from above, Grandpa stood next to me watching with the biggest, grin ever. He spoke not a word to me, but he need not have. His proud and joyful smile said it all.
That moment was everything that kite-flying should be: beautiful, joyful, peaceful.
Not one or two days later, as I brought the recycling out to the garage, my feet got all tangled in the tails of the kites and I became so frustrated that I picked the kites up and threw them into the recycling bin, along with everything else. “ARGH! I knew we didn’t have room for these things; they are just more hassle than they are worth,” I said grumpily and rather “Grinch” like. The next day, my boys asked for their kites because they wanted to fly them one last time with Grandpa before he and Grandma drove home.
“Where are the kites?” they excitedly asked me.
“Oh, I don’t know. They must have gotten lost?” I said, feeling really crappy inside as I saw the sadness take over their eyes. “I’m sorry, guys. Why don’t you have another teddy bear picnic with Grandma and Grandpa?” My answer and I were total disappointments. Sigh. Luckily for me, this story hadn’t crossed my mind once until a few weeks ago.
While shopping at the toy store one day, my boys had spotted some huge parrot kites and insisted I buy them. Being the more relaxed, “yes, let’s go fly a kite today and forget the to-do list” person that The Orange Rhino Challenge helped me to become, I joyfully bought them and we immediately hit the park because the wind really was quite perfect. I am so grateful that I said, “yes” that moment for the afternoon of kite flying was one of the most incredible afternoons I had had with my boys in a while.
We all ran around together for at least an hour, laughing and smiling as we successfully got the kites up and learned how to make them do all sorts of tricks. Seeing their faces light up when they did it on their own, hearing them scream, “Mommy, LOOK! LOOK! Look how high my kite is,” and “Mommy, I do it! I do it!” and “Mommy, this is soooo much fun!” just melted my heart. I was so incredibly present and focused at that moment that I readily absorbed every single belly laugh and squeal. In fact, I had such fun that afternoon that according to my husband, I told him not once, not twice, but three times in the same night how much fun I had that day flying the kites with the boys. I guess I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm and joy; it was just that awesome of an afternoon.
So kites, and the awesome memories they bring, were still on my mind when two days later I learned that my father-in-law’s Alzheimer’s had gotten so bad that it was time for him to go into a nursing home. That night, when the kids were in bed and I finally had enough peace and quiet to really process the news, to no surprise the memory of my boys learning how to fly a kite from their Grandpa hit me hard, really, really hard. Did I remember the joy they had shared with Grandpa during that visit? Oh, yes.
But do you know what I remembered even more?
The fact that during that visit my uptight, irrational, and impulsive tendencies triggered me to throw out my boys’ kites, depriving them of one more precious kite flying memory with their Grandpa. This memory stung and then crushed my heart to pieces as I suddenly realized that the kite flying memory was literally the last major “interactive” moment my kids shared with their Grandpa Richard. After Grandpa and Grandma drove away that day, things went down fast, really, really fast, and all that Grandpa could do on future visits was sit next to my boys as they cuddled with him and talked to him, desperately seeking a smile, laugh or conversation; a smile, laugh and conversation that never came.
Yes, the last smile, laugh and conversation my boys shared with Grandpa was the day he taught them to fly kites. And while that interaction was absolutely wonderful, because of me, I kept it from being even greater. And while I am so very, very thankful that they do have that memory to hold onto, that we all have that memory to hold onto, that night I felt such immense guilt about “depriving” my kids of one more memory with Grandpa that I crumbled down to the bathroom floor in a big pile of tears.
Thankfully, somewhere between my sobbing and my self-ridiculing that I am too uptight and too easily frustrated, I had a moment of much needed clarity.
“You can’t get every moment ‘right’; it is impossible and it’s okay.” I thought to myself. “It’s okay that you ‘missed’ creating one moment, because the boys had a great moment before and had many snuggly, albeit different, moments after with Grandpa. The good memories with their Grandpa far outweigh the missed moments and that’s what matters. You are going to miss opportunities to create good moments in the future, for all sorts of different reasons. Don’t worry about those moments; instead put your energy into grabbing the moments that you can and be as present as you can to make those moments so kick-ass that the ‘missed’ ones get pushed so far down in your mind that they don’t even register.”
And then, in this deep, heavy moment, I actually smiled. I smiled because I realized that the “new” revelations I had just had weren’t new at all, but instead were just a version of what I had been writing to fellow Orange Rhinos for a while. I frequently write to discouraged Orange Rhinos, “Yells will happen. But one yell doesn’t discredit all the other moments you didn’t yell. The goal is more loving moments; to have the number of moments where you don’t yell to be greater than when you do so that the good moments take over the bad ones.” And I write, “The goal isn’t to be perfect at every moment. It is to do the best that you can at any given moment and to then forgive yourself for moments you aren’t so proud of.”
I smiled because once again, something I learned on The Challenge didn’t just apply to yelling situations, but also to greater life situations.
I smiled because thankfully, these old/new revelations helped me forgive myself for throwing out the kites years prior and filled me with an inspiring new life mantra:
“Just go fly a kite and get carried away in that moment instead of held down by a moment missed.”
Learn more about the many ways The Orange Rhino Challenge enhanced my life – and how much it changed me – in my book, “Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids.” Part memoir, part parenting guide, my book takes you on my journey to stop yelling while leading you on your own. Each day shares a personal story from my experience, top revelations (i.e. the cliff notes for those busy days when there is little time to read!), suggested actions for the day and 3 tips to yell less. Pre-order “Yell Less, Love More” today by clicking here.