The big picture

by Wolf Pascoe on March 18, 2011

Every mistake is a new style. — Proverb


“This sucks,” said Nick.

We were standing on a rise in a grassy meadow, the day bright and breezy. He had just thrown his painstakingly-folded paper airplane into a death spiral.

He retrieved the plane, a product of weeks of research, and crumpled it in his hand.

“Who cares about paper airplanes?” he said.

He’d had a big plan. Every year at Fern Hill, they hold a Spring Faire. It’s a fund-raiser for the school where every child above pre-school age can have his own booth.

For the last two years, Nick had a digging booth. Kids shoveled in Nick’s sandbox for gold coins, which they exchanged for prizes. Nick cleared a hundred bucks, which he split with Fern Hill.

Nick had a new idea this year. He’d wanted to sell paper airplane kits.


I was all for it. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve searched for the ultimate paper airplane. The ones I made didn’t fly very far. I would throw them in class when the teacher wasn’t looking. They crashed so quickly I never got in trouble. It was pitiful.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated books and books about how to fold the perfect glider. Unfortunately, most of them have diagrams that can only be understood by an aeronautical engineer.

A few months ago, I stumbled across a paper airplane book you didn’t need a PhD to read. It contained understandable diagrams for folding ten models. Nick and I labored at the dining room table over the next month and made all ten. Some had been tricky, but we persevered.

“Close enough for government work,” was our motto.

We’d assembled the fleet for indoor testing. All of them flew better than the ones I made as a kid. But two were champions. They even had cool names: the Nakamura Lock and The Professional.

“We should take them to the park and see which one to make that’s best,” said Nick.

That had brought us to the grassy meadow. Each of us had a Nakamura Lock and a Professional.

“You first,” Nick had said. “Nakamura.”

I’d let loose into the breeze. The plane glided about ten feet and nosed into the ground. Nick tried his. Same result.

“Professional,” said Nick.

I let loose again. The breeze lifted the plane into a loop. It arched house-high above us, then traveled about twenty yards in a perfect line, and slowly settled down.

“Professional, yes!” said Nick. “Now me!”

That’s when he’d had his disastrous toss.

He sat down and stared at the ground. I retrieved his plane, pinched a couple of elevators into the wings, and threw it hard. It didn’t fly straight, but it flew.

“The Professional is nothing if not resilient,” I said.

“I can’t throw it,” he said. “Looks like no booth.”

Somewhere there must be a book about paper airplane failure, but I haven’t found it yet.

“You know,” I said, “I think you’re a guy who can figure things out. Let’s try looking at the big picture.”

“What’s that, dada?”

Father-Knows-Best I’m not. But Nick has always been receptive to a story, particularly a story about himself. So I grope for stories to tell him.

“You manufactured a whole fleet,” I said. “You found a good plane. You’re learning to use it. This thing is going to sell like hotcakes.”

“You’re better.”

“I’m older. I’ve had more practice. You should have seen the disasters I had. You’re a lot better than I was when I started. I couldn’t get arrested.”

I explained about my humiliation throwing in class, how the teachers never noticed.

“You sat at desks in school?” he said. “All day?”

“It was different then. I didn’t go to Fern Hill.”

“I’m going to throw planes in school!” he said.




Soft-sword making



You might also enjoy:


The Great Paper Airplane Flight:



Failure (It’s an Option) Magazine

Know a kid afraid of failure? Try these two encouraging books on ’em:

Accidents May Happen

Mistakes that Worked

And of course, The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf March 19, 2011 at 11:50 am

Successes and failures. Understanding context. They really need us to frame the breadth and depth of experiencing wins and losses and simply changes in expectation, so they stay motivated, confident, willing to take risk, and able to deal with consequences.

It’s all part of the parenting biz. Funny how we don’t quite realize what we sign for, until we’re smack in the middle of it.


Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Yes, we’re framers for them, we are. My only question is, who does the framing for me?


BigLittleWolf March 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Some combination of “fake it until you make it” and trial-and-error?



Wolf Pascoe March 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Yes, I suppose. George Burns once said this about acting:
“It’s 100% complete, absolute, total emotional honesty and truth. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”


Barbara March 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Learning to look at the big picture is so important! Good job! (Should I hope he gets in trouble or not? Tough decision!)


Wolf Pascoe March 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Unfortunately, in his school the kids are outside most of the day. 🙂


Vicki March 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm

What is important to me is that you are there with Nick while he is having his experience and communicating it. I don’t mean simply physically present but emotionally available as well. You help him hold these painful experiences in ways that allow him not to be stuck with negatively labeling himself. Thanks again.


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