Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Balloon

Today, Ben let go of a balloon by accident. We were heading back to our car after a stop at Trader Joe's in the Grand Lake area of Oakland. It happened at a busy intersection with a lot of bustling and distractions. He had demanded to hold it all by himself.

Yes, in case you're wondering, there was a loop tied in the string. No, he would not keep it around his wrist.

It happened so quickly and was so utterly unfixable.

Ben broke down immediately, completely, more intensely than I've ever seen before. It was a real, honest-to-goodness tantrum (rather than the aforementioned Robot Rampage). The kind with screaming and yelling and crying, where people up and down the block stopped and stared at us, and perhaps pondered calling Child Protective Services.

He did a couple of interesting things during his meltdown. One is that he used a lot of language and sort of narrated the experience while he was crying.

The other thing is that he asked - pleaded - that he be able to call his cousins on the phone to tell them about what had happened. (We had just said good-bye to them before the Trader Joe's stop.)

Language, plus wanting to reach out to others to tell them about something difficult seemed like a positive development. Although it was difficult to keep this in mind while walking down a busy thoroughfare carrying a flailing, out-of-control child.

In the car, he asked several times about where the balloon had gone. At one point he offered an idea of his own:

"Maybe it went to Balloonia."

I think that "Balloonia" is from a story at school, since I seem to remember him referring to Balloonia before, but I'm not certain. In any case, it's a lovely idea.

"Is Balloonia a happy place?" I asked.


"Is the balloon happy in Balloonia?"


When we got home he said, "Wow. That was so sad and scary."

He asked about the balloon several times during the night. Remembering that his teacher once had him dicatate a letter to me one day in school when he was sad, I asked him if he'd like to write a letter to the balloon, a letter that we could send to Balloonia. He liked the idea a lot.

Here's the very poignant letter that he dictated to me:

Dear Balloon:

I got you at Trader Joe's. And I held on tight to my balloon when the light was red. But then the balloon lost control and went into the sky and I was sad and mad.

I missed my balloon and it went to Balloonia. And I love my balloon. And sometimes things happen. But sometimes when they leave you could feel sad or mad.

I love my balloon. And I love the sky. And I like the clouds.

So, whenever you hold tight to a balloon, it could leave up in the sky. It could make you sad or even mad.


He read it back to me after I had finished writing, choking himself up a bit at "I missed my balloon..."

Now, here's the question: Should the balloon write back?

Stay tuned, perhaps, for tales of adventure from Balloonia.


Rebecca said...

An interesting idea, having a correspondence with a balloon, but I'd consult with Hugh Musick before engaging in extended imaginitive correspondence with your child. Sometimes it can bite you in the backside.

Korta said...

I wouldn't have the balloon write back... that will lead a path for constant writing back and forth, and you don't want this to go too far.
If he asks, you could always tell him balloons can't write (certainly true enough!)
My daughter was devastated the first time she lost a balloon, she insists on tying them to something huge and heavy...even if I have to go buy something from a dollar store to tie it to.

Anonymous said...

What a charming story that I loved reading! I would say to follow Ben's needs, as you always seem to do so well. If the balloon needs to write back, I doubt there could be lasting emotional damage. Does Hugh argue against promoting belief in Santa Claus, Easter Bunny & Tooth Fairy? A little magic and make believe is part of childhood.

Anonymous said...

oh wow...that is a dilemma! I can see both sides of this and don't know what I'd choose. I know whatever you choose, it will be FOR Ben and you can't go wrong!

jaki said...

that was me...I goofed and hit the wrong key!

Susan said...

Christa, that was amazing. Ben's processing his emotions, understandably intense at that age. The story is great. No need to have the ballon write back, but if he brings it up again it's definitely an opportunity to extend the conversation a bit. He's already demonstrating some real emotional maturity. Hard, but so so good.

Anonymous said...

Really fabulous from Ben. Really.

Chee lost a balloon at a parade on the 4th and had quite a meltdown. An older boy saw it happen and gave her his balloon. Through her tears she said thank you but kept pointing to her balloon in the sky.

By the time we got home, she had moved on.

However I'm going to try the letter writing thing next time the occasion presents itself.

Certainly it bodes very well for his future how he is learning to process and communicate his feelings/emotions. Bravo!

Stephanie said...

Sounds like you made a good decision, not to add insult to injury, as you said. This story made me teary. Your writing is eloquent, Ben sounds amazing, and he is incredibly lucky to have such brilliant, caring, & creative parents.