Goodbye Balloon

Today I had to break my daughter’s heart.

We were having a fine day, and everything was wonderful. We were running errands together, but making it fun in the way you have to when you’re with a toddler. We stopped at the hardware store and I let her play with all the keys. We stopped to buy a baby gift, and I let her get a little toy car for herself. Then we met a friend for lunch, and my daughter noticed some mylar balloons with happy faces at a restaurant nearby. She’d been such a good girl that after lunch we went to the 5 & dime (yes, we now live in one of those adorable little towns that still has a 5 & dime) and requested a balloon with a happy face. The only ones they had said “get well,” but it’s not like she can read or anything. I also got her a latex balloon in blue, her favorite color.

Imagine a 2 year old with a balloon tied to each wrist. She was bursting with happiness – it was just steaming off of her. She trotted down the street in a cute little jaunt, with the two balloons whipping around above her. And that’s when it happened.

The bottom tab of the mylar balloon, the part attached to the ribbon, ripped. I only noticed when I heard a woman near us say “oh no!” and look upward. It was too late – the balloon had already floated beyond the awning of the cheese store and was climbing rapidly. I turned to my daughter, who hadn’t noticed yet and was still happily skipping down the sidewalk and singing to herself. “Oh no,” I repeated to that same woman, a young woman, who immediately saw how tragic this was going to be that she immediately turned red and started to cry. Her boyfriend put his arm around her, and they both watched as I went to her.

“Sweetheart,” I said… I stopped. She still hadn’t noticed. I was going to have to tell her. I was going to have to find a way. “Honey, your balloon flew away.” She looked around. She saw the blue balloon was still with her. She was confused that she couldn’t find the other balloon. She looked at me. “It’s gone,” I said. Her face crumpled. The jaunt was gone. The tears began to fall.

“No, honey, it’s okay, no it’s okay. Oh sweetheart – can I get you a new one?” “No,” she sobbed, “that one was mine.” I held her, feeling so acutely this loss. I knew she’d be fine, truly within minutes. But I hated that she had to be sad, if even for a moment. I hated that she had to feel loss in a time when she was so blissfully happy. I hated most of all that I had to be the one to tell her the news, when just seconds before I had been the hero of the day.

And as expected, minutes later and with a kiddie cup of ice cream in her hands, her tears were dried and the balloon was forgotten. But I haven’t forgotten.

It seems I have to break my child’s heart almost daily. Whether it’s telling her a balloon has floated away, or that she’s being naughty and needs a time out, or – truly the worst of all – when I tell her it’s time for me to go to work and we need to say goodbye, I feel like somehow I’m being the worst parent in the world. I know that isn’t the reality. But rarely in parenting do the heart and the mind work in concert.

And for some reason I can’t stop replaying the scene in my mind. My daughter’s silly little dance-walk down the street. The young woman beginning to tear up, with her hand over her mouth. The balloon already so high up in the grey sky.

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