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Lost Balloon

September 24, 2019

[This is a post I wrote in June 2018, and never published…so here it is.]

It started with a balloon.

This is such a well-known story, it might as well be cliché:  a kid holding an ice cream cone or a balloon has a decent probability of things not going well.

But it really started with listening.  Or rather, not.

It is nose-buried-in-a-book-and-I-called-your-name-three-times.

It is I-asked-you-to-do-this-task-fifteen-minutes-ago.

It is the arguing tone of “Mom, I already know everything and you don’t, so leave me alone.”  (Yes.  It has started.  They’re not even 7.)

Today, it went like this:

Me:  “Don’t play with the balloon you just got at your friend’s birthday party outside, because if you lose it, I can’t get it back.”  [Subtext:  balloons are really bad outside toys and are highly likely to pop or blow away.]

Audrey and Theresa:  “I’ll be careful!”  “I’ll hold it really tight!”  “But we want to play with them!”

Two minutes later:  Audrey wailing.

Balloon:  floating higher than most birds by now.

Me:  Empathy?  No.  Simple compassion?  No.  “WHY DO YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME?”  Yep.

Audrey:  drags herself up front stairs, sobbing and shouting, “I’m so stupid!”

Me:  I really need to be a better person.

Theresa: immediately offers Audrey her own balloon (Audrey refuses).  Retrieves Audrey’s fuzzy blanket and favorite bunny, Munny.  Also finds other of Audrey’s stuffed animals and blankets and surrounds her sister with them in an attempt to make her feel better.

My daughter is a better parent in this moment than I am.

Because it is not about the balloon.

It is about the pain of losing something you love and know will never come back, and the knowledge that I tried to prevent that pain, and it happened anyway.

Alan said this once:  “I don’t want to save them from all pain.  I want to save them from my pain.”


I will not be able to save them from friends who turn on them.  From romance drama.  From deaths of loved ones.

I could have saved her from this loss, and she didn’t listen.

She seemed to move on pretty quickly.  I snuggled with her for a while as she cried, and talked to her about some things we can’t fix, and then she and Theresa got out their Valentine’s book that their amazing teacher put together for each kid filled with personal notes from every classmate.  That made her feel better.  Then it was coloring, and dinner, and reading time, and seeming to be fine.

It is not about the balloon.  It is about my knowing that I might possibly have to witness my daughter experience her first taste of grief, the heaviness and heat in her chest that she described to me later.  It is about my lying with her after bedtime, after she had seemed fine for the rest of the day, while she wept and told me, “Nobody can fix it.”

It is about my not wanting the pain of that witness as much as my not wanting her to experience it in the first place.

Because she will. And her siblings.  But I didn’t want it to be today.  It was avoidable this time.

Of course, it is not avoidable forever.  So maybe it had to be today. Maybe it didn’t have to be the balloon; it might have been something else lost or ruined.

As Megan Devine writes,

“Some things cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.”

So I write this here to remind myself, if nothing else:  to not be the “I told you so” Mom.  To stop fighting the fear of witnessing my kids experience all the parts of Life, even the really, really yucky ones.

Somewhere, a red-and-white swirl balloon is sailing in the sky.  A thing of beauty, and a reminder of loss.

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