After dragging all four precocious tots through the checkout line of a craft store today, the lady looked at my children lovingly and asked me with a cheerful smile,
“Would they each like a balloon?” She gestured to the other side of her spacious desk where an Andy-sized helium tank stood at attention and another mom tied long nylon ribbons onto each of her toddler’s wrists.
Years ago, I would’ve answered yes. I would’ve loved to see my children get all wide-eyed, incredulous that they were receiving their very own floating globe, an orb that seemed to defy all laws of natural physics. How magical. How exciting! And for free!!?
But life in the trenches has sobered me up a bit. I know the truth about balloons. The real truth.
“All balloons end in sadness.” I repeated for the upteenth time in my life after my children protested my polite refusal.
I’m sure the young mom next to me thought I was one terrible grouch of a mother, or perhaps twenty minutes down the road she too came to see the exquisite, cruel truth of my statement. My guess is both.
No really. Did you ever witness the short life span of a balloon in the hands of a small child that did not end in tears? It’s not like other cheap toys that wear and tear over time, or better yet, get lost without the child’s notice. Balloons die dramatically. They float up into space in the blink of an eye. They taunt and mock your teary eyed children from the corners of vaulted ceilings. They get caught up into full-blast ceiling fans. They explode.
If you’re lucky and your balloon survives the first 12 hours of fragile life, by morning it is a mere carcass of it’s former, glorified self. And it continues to wither and die in an agonizing process for your toddler. He’s unable to understand why Balloony can’t float anymore. Why can’t he pull the ribbon taut? Why is he so small, so shriveled? Why mommy? Why? That’s when I feel like a callused ranch hand, or worse, Dr. Krivorkian, and take a pin to the laytex contraption just to get the whole grieving process over with already.
It’s a simple risk to benefit ratio. If the benefit were really high and long lasting, I could deal with the tears and disappointment that would inevitably follow. I don’t want my children growing up afraid to love, afraid to take chances. But a balloon offers what? Thirty seconds of smiles? Just the time it takes for us to walk out to the car and get buckled up? I wonder how many balloons are floating in space right now?
But once kids are a bit older and the balloon can offer at least five whole minutes of talking like Alvin and the Chipmunks, that risk to benefit ratio changes. Dramatically.