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Lessons from a little boy and his octopus

October 28, 2015

Lessons from a little boy and his octopus

(As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, October 28, 2015)

Closing the beach house is bitter sweet. Typically, it’s a time for chores, chilly weather and long good-byes. This year, warm, sunny days and a special guest offered a fitting farewell to the season.

During the annual deep cleaning of the shed — when enough stuff to fill a football stadium is unpacked from an 8-foot by 8-foot space — our kids, Zoe and Adam, were reunited with kites they had not seen since spring. They squealed with delight and made plans for the season’s final flight.

After lunch we headed to the beach. Zoe’s rainbow colored triangular kite launched with ease. After a few technical adjustments, Adam’s multi-colored octopus kite, with eight long tentacles acting as tails, took flight.

Not to be outdone by big sister, Adam spooled out string with reckless abandon and soon his octopus was halfway to the moon. He wondered aloud if a sea gull or small plane might crash into it. His tone suggested both concern and pride.

I remember watching Adam the first time he flew this kite, his tiny 2-year old body zig-zagged across the beach, gripping the spool with all his might. I was certain the winds would lift his little body away and I chased after him, just in case.

Now at age 6, his hands and arms much stronger, he capably piloted his flying octopus. His joy — pure delight — was every bit as sweet, and this time I sat content in a beach chair and admired his confidence.

Finally, he started reeling in his friend, but the wind tugged in a way his hands did not anticipate. The handle escaped, bouncing across the sand then up and away. Miraculously, the bright, blue handle wedged between the spindles of a railing on a third-floor balcony two houses down the beach.

Adam shook and sobbed inconsolably, “I want my kite. I want my kite.”

I marveled at the lucky catch, certain the kite was recoverable.

Approaching the house, we could see the hurricane shutters were tightly latched and a dated piece of junk mail hung from the door, suggesting the owners were gone until spring.

I assured Adam, and myself, that eventually the wind would stop and the kite would fall to the ground. We set out to locate the spot in the adjacent neighborhood where we thought the kite would eventually land.

As we walked, I recalled how weeks earlier, feeling some overwhelm, I said to Adam, as we snuggled into his lower bunk for story time, “Daddy had a rough couple days — with work and home projects not going well. What do you think I could do that would help me feel better?”

Without hesitation he responded, “You should just forget about it until you have to deal with it.”

His wisdom had hung with me and so I gently served it back to him as we stood on the street, looking up at his flying octopus.

We headed back to the house and climbed the ladder to the flat roof where I had scraped and primed siding and trim that morning. Much to our delight, framed within the arc of two colorful maple trees, we could see the octopus hanging high in the sky — three blocks away. Throughout the evening we ascended the ladder to check on our friend. Darkness arrived, the winds increased and we hoped for a calm morning.

Before breakfast we climbed to the roof. The kite was no longer visible.

Excitedly, we descended the ladder and raced down the street. But the kite was not where we anticipated, and after searching the surrounding neighborhood, twice on foot and once by car, we returned home to comfort ourselves with pancakes and maple syrup.

We joined family for the final cleaning and packing chores, both feeling a mix of hope and despair. By late morning we all decided it was time for one last trip to the beach — both a farewell to the shore we would not see until spring and the moment when Adam and I would need to accept the loss of his kite.

Adam, Zoe and I decided to take one last look at the railing where the kite had tethered itself. We approached the house from a slightly different angle. The sun, nearing its mid-day arc, brightly illuminated a white string that stretched across the rooftops of four houses. We cheered and ran for the street. Moments latter, we found the octopus resting aside the road.

Adam grabbed the kite, pulling it to his chest. I grabbed the string and pulled until it broke, leaving about 50 feet still attached to the kite. Adam grinned and said, “Let’s go fly it!”

And as we did, I recalled his sagely advice: “Just forget about it, until you have to deal with it.”

John Engel of Florence is an organizational consultant and Director of the Healthy Men and Boys Network. He can be reached through his website

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