We were in the meat department of the grocery store. I was trying to find the cheapest cut of beef possible, and my kids were eyeing the St. Patrick’s display. Green and yellow balloons were tied in front of a suspicious rack of “O’Garlic”sausages that I doubt anyone in the old country had ever tried. Just as I was about to reprimand them for playing with the balloons, a man burst through the door pushing a tall cart of tightly wrapped packages of chicken thighs with which to replenish the shelves. My youngest, being slow to react and directly in the path of the cart, was instantly bulldozed.
In typical protective mother fashion, I reacted by yelling his name much too loudly, causing a look of horror to cross the young employee’s face. My son looked startled, as seems just when you have been knocked down by a cart three times as tall as you. The employee, desperate to make amends, offered him a balloon. To a child, this is far better than never having been knocked down in the first place. Understanding the fraught nature of sibling dynamics, he offered my other son one as well.
The employee began tying the balloon to my younger son’s wrist, causing the older one to yell, “I don’t want it tied to my wrist!” My protective mother bear instincts having subsided, I returned to my typical sub-par parenting skills and for some reason agreed to that plan, noting, “If you let go, then it’s gone.”
He let go.
I had just turned back to the meat case when I heard wailing and saw a yellow balloon floating to the top of the ceiling. It should be noted that these cries far exceeded those of the son who was actually knocked down by the cart of meat. A second employee offered to get a ladder to retrieve the balloon. He returned with someone who had been stocking shelves, and with another man that I can only assume was the tallest person they could find in the store.
It was obvious that the balloon was still well out of reach and any attempt to retrieve it would result in far greater injuries than being knocked over by a meat cart. I told them to please not worry about it. At that point, my younger son had already grown tired of his balloon and offered it to his brother. He accepted, although noting that it was somehow, imperceptibly inferior to his own, which was still floating over the frozen fish display meant to entice culinarily inclined Catholics.
We continued shopping, wandering the aisles and forgetting half of the things we had come into the store for. I felt bad for my son, despite that other maternal instinct of wanting to point out, “I told you that would happen.” There are few things more joyful for children than a balloon, that small, brightly colored defier of gravity.
I know how he felt watching it float away. I get that same sinking feeling often now – whenever I hear a news story about melting glaciers, animals disappearing from the earth, or when I realize how quick they are outgrowing their shoes. We are steam rolling to my children’s future and, as in any home, the voices of mothers begging us to slow down are ignored. Childhood is short, and the future is unknown. I want keep the good moments – the ones where my children are basking in sunshine and watermelon drips down their chins – but try as I might, I can never quite hold on.
The employee tracked us down in the cracker aisle, offering one of the fancy balloons from the floral department, the kind that I never would have ponied up the cash for. He pointed out that this one had a weight on it, so it couldn’t float away, but my son was far more enthralled with the StarWars characters that adorned it. I prodded him to say thank you, and he eventually took a break from grinning ear to ear to do so.
At home my kids took turns pummeling each other on the head with their balloons. “Be careful!” I hollered from the kitchen. “It will pop if you do that and then we really won’t have any more balloons.”
My oldest weighed his options. “How loud will the sound be?” he asked, enthralled by the possibility.
“Loud,” I promised. “But then there won’t be any balloon at all.”
This time, he managed to surpress his desire to find out what would happen if he diverged from my directive and hold on for just a little bit longer.
I’m going to try to do the same.