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First Work then Fun

Story of one of life's lessons, revisited.

By Ben Romero


 I looked up from where I was tilling the soil. My six-year-old daughter‘s face was contorted in obvious frustration.

“What’s the matter?”

 “I don’t wanna fly my kite anymore,” she announced, slamming the spool of string on the ground and stomping toward the house.

 “Oh, Mija,” I soothed, “Do you want me to help you?”

 Tears spilled onto her brown cheeks, running down under her jaw. “No! I wanted to fly it myself. I don’t want it anymore.”

“Why won’t you let me help you? I think it just needs a heavier tail. The wind is too strong right now.”

 “I don’t want that stupid kite anymore. I don’t want it!” She disappeared into the house, slamming the door.

Victoria had always been headstrong, almost as stubborn as the March winds of Madera Ranchos, California, where we lived. She had to master every task on her own or frustrate herself trying. I felt proud and sad for her at the same time. What’s it like to be a child?

I remembered the fun and frustrations of flying kites in Nambé, New Mexico, as a kid. My father believed in work first, then fun. One spring, when he was not able to help, my uncle Romolo volunteered to teach me the basics. My mom bought my brother and me brand new kites that year. String had always been a problem, so she bought four spools for us to share. It was a first. Kites often broke or tore and we’d learned how to mend them. But string was something we could not do without.

By the afternoon, we’d learned how to make tails with scraps of material from Mom’s old curtains, tying ribbon-like knots at just the right spots to give stability. When Louie’s kite reached the end of the string, he asked me to run inside and bring him another spool.

“I’m going to tie the strings together,” he said. “This kite will fly twice as high as yours.”

I didn’t want to worry about reeling in that much string, so I settled for one spool.

At the end of his second spool, Louie asked for a third.

“Mom will get mad if we lose three spools of string on the same day,” I warned.

 “Apúrate (Hurry up)!. The sun is going down.”

Louie tied the third spool to the end of the second and let the kite fly higher. A few minutes later it was a mere speck in the sky.

“It’s up all the way,” boasted Louie, “Nine hundred feet from the ground.”

Suddenly the string went limp in his hand and the kite disappeared in the sky. We reasoned that the knot between the second and third spool had come untied.

I tied my kite to the base of our clothesline and helped my brother follow the trail of his string. We caught glimpses of the kite a couple of times as we ran through fields and across fences, wondering what part of Nambé the kite would land on.

Eventually we gave up looking and returned home. The last trace had been behind Vecina Candelaria’s house.

Much to my surprise, my brother did not mourn the loss of his kite. He just kept bragging about how high it had gone. I decided that I would do the same with my own kite.

When we got home, it was nearly dark. I reeled in my kite, wrapping the string around a carefully selected stick. I vowed that on Saturday I would fly my kite higher than my brother had flown his.

“No more string.” That was Mom’s final word. She’d bought us four spools and we’d managed to lose three of them in one day. No way would she buy more.

There was one solution. I could gather up as much of Louie’s string as I could find on the ground and try to find some left over from prior years.

Anyone who’s ever flown a kite knows that string tends to tangle. The spools I was able to find tucked away in the closet and the remnants I gathered from Louie’s lost kite were a tangled mess.

I put the entire heap next to a chair and sat, carefully untangling and reeling as much string as possible. As I worked, Mom and Dad’s voices drifted from the kitchen table, where they enjoyed their morning coffee. At one point I got frustrated with the knots and decided to cut them out and try to tie the good portions together. I was in the middle of tugging at a knot with the point of the scissors, when they slipped and I stuck myself in the eyelid. “Ouch!” 

Within seconds, Dad was at my side, pulling my hand away so he could look at my eyes. His words almost made my heart stop.

“No sé si pueda salvar su ojo (I don’t know if I can save his eye).”

Normally, Mom would have been the one making a fuss and taking care of me. But for some reason, Dad took charge this time - and Mom stepped back.

Dad sat me on one of the twin beds we kept in the family room and produced cloth and tape. I could see concern in his eyes as he worked tediously on me. When he was done, he asked one of my sisters to bring me a hand mirror.

I had a huge eye patch covered with white cloth. I resembled someone who’d had his eye poked out.

I felt dizzy. My stomach churned, my legs turned to rubber. I tried to walk to the kitchen to wet my face at the wash basin….the floor met my forehead.

“îSe desmayó (he fainted)!” It was my mother’s voice in a far away fog. Dad’s strong hands clutched my arms and I felt my limp body being lifted and carried back to the bed.

“No tienes nada (There’s nothing wrong with you),” he said softly. As I sat in bed, still feeling light-headed, Dad removed the gauze and replaced it with a small band-aid. I learned a valuable lesson that day, and I learned it the way that only a dad can teach it.

 I took my daughter’s kite inside and left it in the entryway. She was sitting in the living room watching cartoons, her eyes red from crying.

“I’m going to plant peas and carrots tomorrow,” I said, sitting next to her on the sofa. “Do you want to help?”

“Can I plant my own?”

“You can plant the radishes,” I answered. “I already promised Andy the squash.”

“What are we going to do after that?”

“Well, since it’s not supposed to be as windy tomorrow, I thought I’d try flying my old kite. Maybe your brother will want to go with me to the big field.”

Victoria lit up. “Can I go too? I wanna fly my kite tomorrow.”

“Sure you can,” I answered, finding myself using Dad’s phrase, “First work, then fun.”