Monday, 12 July 2010

The world is full of burst balloons

"You can't always get what you want, Darling."
"Why not?"

Little C charged into the room, breathless with excitement, proudly clutching a huge sausage-shaped balloon. "Look, Daddy, a balloon! Let's play with it!"

The extent of her delight at having said balloon in her possession seems to have no bounds. It was a gift from a magician at the end-of-term party at her nursery - and it seems to be a three-year-old's equivalent of a Lottery win.

So we throw it and bat it about for a minute and I look forward resignedly to an evening of balloon-based entertainment. I nip out of the room and hear a high-pitched wail of distress. I return to find that the cat - with that nonchalant sense of spoiling other people's fun to which they were born - has prematurely ended the evening's entertainment with a well-aimed claw, before charging away in gay abandon, or more likely shock. Little C is utterly inconsolable.

Maybe I need to get a grip, but a feeling of heartbreak descends as I watch her simple joy so abruptly crushed. And it makes me realise again that every disappointment she feels is going to hit me in the guts like this. As another blogging parent said recently, having a child is like watching your heart grow arms and legs and going walking down the street. Every time it gets hurt, physically or emotionally, you feel it so deeply that you'd rather it was you. If a burst balloon can cause such distress, imagine what the wider travails of childhood and adolescence might bring. Because the world is full of burst balloons, of little disappointments, harsh judgements and lessons learned. At what stage in life do you look at your latest delight, your new balloon, and wonder at what point it will burst?

I learn later that the balloon itself was a consolation prize for Little C's horror at not winning the dancing competition at nursery. To make matters worse, two boys shared the prize, which is clearly a travesty. Little C's mum consoled her by explaining that you can't always get what you want - except that her simple response of 'why not?' reminded us both that she is not yet at the stage as looking at balloons as potential disappointments - and thank goodness for that. So Jo taught her her first Rolling Stones song, and she thought it was funny and was happy again, until the cat intervened.

"Why does cats spoil children's games, Daddy?"
"Because they're mardy little bastards, Cara" is the obvious answer, but I try instead to explain that the cat doesn't understand and didn't do it on purpose. I am convinced can hear it chuckling in the other room. It's been a strange evening.


  1. As much as I am reluctant to buy into the parenting school of hard knocks, learning to deal with the disappointment of a burst balloon at three with grace and humour, is how she'll develop coping strategies for the bigger disappointments in her life ;)

    I was pissed off about the dancing competition though - she was easily the best freestyler on the floor x

  2. Oh Rory, you're so lovely. I'm ashamed to say may patience has long been frayed to the point of 'oh for goodness, it's a balloon- get a grip!' which is the mummy I swore I'd never be. I am inspired to be more patient and understanding x

  3. While life *is* full of disappointments, the inability of 3yr olds to put things into context or perspective means that it a burst balloon is probably the adult equivilant of something pretty horrific, like having your house burnt to the ground, which is thankfully rare. Still, there is nothing sadder than the sight of a single helium balloon floating in the sky or an almost complete ice cream cone dropped on the pavement, since you imagine the anguish caused.

    Molly had a similar dance experience recently at an event where the guy on the PA said 'lets have all the kids down here for a disco and see who is the best dancer' Molly extravagantly danced like she was auditioning for Fame for about 30 minutes before he moved on to the next event. She was devastated as she had interpreted his words to mean it was a competition which she had clearly won. Poor kid. Couldnt even console her with an ice cream since bizarrely she doesnt like them.

  4. Ah, that's exactly how I feel Bee - stray balloons and spilled ice creams are aching symbols of a crestfallen small person. I still remember losing a football sticker of my favourite player when I was much older than Cara and being devastated. (Maybe at 26 I should have known better.)

    Charlie - you are also right: it's only a balloon. But that is like someone telling me football is only a game.

  5. i love the burst balloon analogy and i get exactly what you mean. as mine got older, it wasn't balloons so much as friendships, computer viruses, missed opportunities and girlfriends. but it amounts to the same thing... some things we can't fix. and even if they do bounce back, we dwell on the heartache they've endured. and that's how i know parenting isn't easy.... *sigh.
    nice post. x

  6. Thanks Cat Lady - exactly my point - one year it is a burst balloon, the next being rejected by a friend or dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend. And their letdowns and disappointment hurt, don't they...even if at C's age she has forgotten it within the hour!