“Watch out, here comes a dragon! And look - over there is a castle. Do you think that’s where he lives?”
When I don’t respond right away, she follows with, “Can’t you see it, Daddy?”
But lying on a thick blanket of fluorescent green grass, all I’m able to do is squint at a sky as blue as my little girl’s eyes, admiring the sporadic puffs of white cotton candy.
Then, with just a touch of her hand, I am transported back in time and the shapes spring to life. The heavens are transformed into a lighter-than-air menagerie from some faraway land that can only be seen through the gaze of a child. There are tigers about to pounce and damsels ready to be rescued, all played against a backdrop that would make Dr. Seuss smile.
Alas, we are adults, which means there is only so far our imaginations can carry us. What can pass as fascinating entertainment for hours on end for children typically engages us for mere moments. Reality soon sets in and I am again left to simply enjoy families of inanimate clouds as they joyfully bound along their invisible trail. It’s one of those days you wish would move in slow motion, as you’d give anything to stretch it out just a little longer.
A brisk breeze sneaks between the trees and through the swings before wrapping around us. With just enough of its teeth dulled by an early spring forecast, it battles the sun’s warmth for our skin’s attention. These gusts are one of the reasons we’ve decided to venture outdoors to greet a glorious afternoon. For today we hope to not only admire the friendly sky-creatures, but to join them in the fun. And we’ve found the perfect spot right here in Fort Mill, as Walter Elisha Park offers an open area that stretches like poppy fields leading to the Emerald City.
In a few minutes, our own kraken springs forth with life. Like a mad scientist, I carefully assemble its synthetic skeleton, smooth its translucent, brightly-colored wings and unfurl a slithering tail. My daughter Taylor is in awe as she oversees the action, completely oblivious to the limitations of her Dad’s do-it-yourself skills. Sure, she’s been delighted by a new car or kitchen set, but doesn’t realize the wheels may be on backwards or the cabinet doors installed upside down. Shhhh – I want to keep my SuperDad image in her eyes a little longer if possible.
Finally, it’s time to unleash the beast! So it’s actually a frog and not a mythical sea monster, but hey, they both like water. I ask Tay to hold up our plastic amphibian, who she names Jumpy, as I unroll several yards of string. Just a short run produces a successful liftoff, with Jumpy heading straight up to the heavens at breakneck speed. Soon he is slicing up the Carolina blue with graceful figure eights in a whirl of color. The sight is bested only by Taylor squealing with delight as she mirrors his movements and jumps in hopes of snagging a tail that’s now 100 feet above her!
I’m not sure how long Jumpy played hide and seek with the clouds. I was just glad to be outdoors with my girl on an unforgettable day. My hope is that she forever keeps that sense of wonder about games that play out across an endless sky as opposed to a 17” LCD screen.
As for you Moms and Dads out there… if you want a little help spotting those dragons, don’t be afraid to grab hold of your children’s creative coattails - they can’t wait to show you the way. Just hang on tight, because it can be a wild ride!
Derick Wilder is an Area Manager for Playball, an international child development organization. He is a public speaker on children’s issues, presenting at schools and conferences around the Carolinas, and a freelance writer. Phone: 803-487-4687