My child experienced her first truly painful life event today, the loss of her red balloon. It just floated up, up and away getting further and further out of reach until it was just a small red dot in the sky. My poor daughter was first shocked and then completely heartbroken for quite a while after. No offering of another balloon could replace the one she had lost, the one that was hers. This is one of the first experiences for her and I where there was absolutely nothing we could do to get it back. This lesson was hard for both of us because as child, she still has the notion that her parents can solve any problem, and I, as her parent, still believe I can.
There was a loss of innocence when that balloon floated away. A child does not understand that things cannot be undone, that mommy cannot fix every problem, that magic will not bring the balloon back. My daughter asked me, between sobs, to become a fairy and fly up to get her balloon. If there were any possible way to do this, I would have even strapped on some dress up wings and tried. The magic and wonder of childhood is so fleeting that my husband and I do everything we can to preserve it. We encourage magic, imagination, pretend play and anything that lets our children feel awe and wonder on a daily basis.
My child’s loss of her red balloon coincided with a close friend’s experience with a resurgence of painful childhood memories. The connection between these two events seems significant. When a childhood lacks this fleeting, yet ever important innocence and wonder, it seems that something else takes its place, something that is dark and sad. While there are so many memories that can fill a person’s mind in their lifetime, over and over again, adults talk about their childhood. Even when we cannot specifically remember events before a certain age, we know more what was not there. While we may have memories of fun times or loving moments, the moments that seem to make the most impact when present or worse, when absent, are the moments of awe and wonder.
My husband has an ongoing game with my daughter where a fairy drops gifts in our backyard when she is well-behaved. These gifts have been from little trinkets to some wanted toy and they are hidden around our yard. The look in her eyes when this fairy visits is a look that I wish I could bottle. The fascination and curiosity in a child’s face is something so beautiful that it gives us hope that there is beauty in the world, that optimism abounds, that it is worthy and good to be idealistic. To imagine a child’s face without this look is tragic.
Parents make mistakes, life events happen, and we cannot keep life perfect and pristine for our children. While I am an eternal idealist, I do understand that at some point, the magic will wane and we must be literal with our children. I, for one, do not believe that encouraging the magic is lying. There is a lifetime of truth in the world and an enchanted and charmed childhood is a gift to embrace while it lasts.
My daughter’s red balloon was a symbol of innocence and childhood. It was just one red balloon amongst the many, many she has had and will have in her childhood. I told her stories as to where the red balloon might be going and whom she might be making happy as it floats to their continent. She, between sobs, seemed to accept this. However, to our amazement, after lunch, we looked outside and noticed a red balloon tied to our fairy statue in the yard. While the balloon may have floated away, we did not let it get too far.
As I put my charmed daughter to bed tonight, she was almost asleep when she opened her eyes and said, “Mommy, I don’t want my red balloon to pop…will you not let it pop?” As I walked out, I said, “don’t worry babe, we won’t let it pop” to which she asked, “ever?” I told her “no, we’ll take good care of it.”