Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Balloon boy

Yesterday was rainy and cold, the kind of day that's perfect for slamming your head against the wall, which is what you'd do if you couldn't find a way to escape staying inside with a hyper child. That's why I decided to take Kyle to the sing-a-long happening at a cafe about a block from our home. Of course, nearly everyone in the neighborhood had the same idea, so it was packed inside. A man with a guitar and a woman with a puppet sat on a couple seats in the corner, leading the sing-along. They were pretty good, but the crowd's own singing was a bit muffled because it's hard to carry a tune when you have someone else's elbow in your mouth.

The event was a nice little distraction for us, up until the last song. Kyle had just scored himself a chair and was planning to watch the remaining act from there, perhaps with a cup of espresso and a crumpet. But then, out of the blue, a one-year-old girl who was standing on the adjacent chair tumbled onto Kyle! She immediately started crying. I looked down at Kyle and saw his face crumpling, his eyes squinting, and his lower lip growing. Then came the wail. I grabbed my son, and the girl's father grabbed her. We both tried desperately to console our screaming children, rocking them and trying to distract them by pointing to objects or funny-looking people in the cafe. Through it all, we looked helpless as the wails drowned out a happy song about fish and bubbles. We did not exactly disprove our gender's reputation for not knowing how to handle children. But just as my son's face turned a deeper purple, he noticed something that instantly changed his mood: a balloon! A bunch of balloons, in fact. Red ones, hovering at the ceiling! Kyle smiled and grabbed one of the balloon strings. He was euphoric.

For the rest of the day Kyle held tight to that balloon, up until the evening, when the string had to be surgically removed from his fist. He did not want to let go of his new best friend. He held onto it as he played with other toys. He held onto it as he colored our apartment with his crayons. He even held onto it through lunch, since nothing goes better with grilled cheese than the sweet taste of latex.

Kyle's new best friend had, in fact, replaced a recently-deflated balloon he received at a local street fair on Sunday. Kyle loved that balloon incredibly. Sure, he enjoyed the fair with all its street vendors, music performances, puppet shows, and five - that's right five - bouncy rooms. But all the lights, noise, and bounciness still left Kyle rather unfulfilled. Instead he, like many kids his age, was attracted to a small fold-out table covered with several coupon books and a small sign touting the 7-Eleven chain. There were no frills, but there didn't need to be. 7-Eleven was giving out free balloons, and that's all that mattered. Kyle's face beamed as soon as he received one, and after that he gladly walked around with his floating advertisement for 7-Eleven stores. 7-Eleven knew exactly what it was doing by giving out free balloons to future patrons. Because of this clever marketing ploy, there's little doubt that Kyle will be drinking Slurpees and eating beef jerky by the time he turns five. Maybe if all these health-nut groups had their act together and took a few tips from 7-Eleven, they'd give out free balloons instead of the usual kumquats. Now there's a cure for our obesity problem.

Meanwhile, as I continue my brave march towards delirium (thanks to my child), I am actually starting to view balloons as valuable objects, just like Kyle does. I've been surprised more than once to find that people are actually giving these things away. People at the fair and the coffee shop must have been taken aback by how startled I looked when they told me I didn't have to pay anything or sign up for a credit card to get the balloon. I think they could have charged me up to 20 bucks and gotten away with it. Heck, I'd probably pay even more just to get that reaction from Kyle.

I'm glad, though, that balloons are insanely cheap. You can be sure I'll be getting lots of them for his birthday next month... so many that we might lose our dining room in the process. Believe me, it'll be worth it.

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