Prompt: What is the most important lesson you learned as a child, and who taught it to you?
At my elementary school, all third grade classes participated in “Kite Day.” Kite Day was the precursor to “Field Day,” which was all about making kids be outside all day running around, eating junk food, getting horribly dehydrated, and allowing their teachers to (slightly) relax for a day. The only difference was that Kite Day had more kites. The amount of running was about the same.
By age eight, I had already learned some things about my family dynamic. One was that my dad, despite the fact that he wasn’t home during the day or present during any of our major childhood events, was still the Ultimate Authority. Whatever he said went, and there was no appeal process. The second was that he would usually say no to whatever you wanted to do, especially if it involved any small amount of money. Gymnastics, tap dance, and summer camps had all been nixed. The third was that if you really wanted something, you could try to ask my mom, who might feed you false hope before eventually crushing your tiny, fragile dreams. She always tried to be kind, but there’s really no way to let down a child. They crush too easily.
So when my third grade teacher Mrs. Smith announced that we would be doing Kite Day and everyone who wanted to participate needed to bring a kite, I immediately knew that I would not be participating. Sure, I could still go and maybe my friends would let me play with their kites temporarily, but I wasn’t about to have one of my own. Asking would only mean either getting in trouble or having my hopes dashed. I opted to not ask at all.
Being what seemed like the only kid on the playground without a kite was hard. My friends swiftly abandoned me to run around the field trailing their kites, fighting with them, comparing them, and trading them, leaving me to wander from group to group as an onlooker. I don’t remember if I even got to touch a kite that day. What I do remember is going home, going into my room, closing the door, and crying loud enough to be heard through my pillow, door, and down the hallway. I was still crying when my mom came home from work, and I was still crying when I managed to tell her the whole sad story.
Much to my shock, she told me that she would have gotten me a kite. I’m not sure if that was true as my mom said a lot of things that never happened, but I do remember how adamant she was. Whether or not she would have followed through in this hypothetical alternate universe is up what debate. What matters is that, in that moment, she was absolutely going to get me a kite. There was no doubt in her voice.
This was the first time I realized that, if you want something, you have to ask. I suppose other little kids grew up knowing that, but they didn’t grow up in my house. Asking for something was tandem to asking for trouble, so I never learned the virtue of asking for what you wanted. It wasn’t until that day, which was the most miserable day of my young life, that I learned that the responsibility of getting what I wanted was up to me.
The lesson doesn’t always stick. More often than not, asking for something makes anxiety coil up in the pit of my stomach and I opt out of the whole messy scenario, certain that I won’t get what I want anyway. But every once in a while I remember how unhappy I had been, how much I wanted that kite, and how there is still hypothetical universe in which eight-year-old me had gotten it – and I ask.