For the Love of a Balloon

“Oh no!” An entire van full of children gasped as two-year-old Daniel’s green balloon escaped his chubby fingers, bounced its way over seats, and ducked out a partially opened window.
We watched in silence as the balloon floated freely past a nearby tree and then rode the wind, bobbed in the breeze, and climbed ever higher into the sky. Within seconds, it rose above the tree line and disappeared from our view.
Inside the van, a balloon-less Daniel took a deep breath and we all waited for what was to come.
Surely it would come.
It did come: He screeched. He wailed. He sobbed. And we leapt into action.
“Here, have my balloon!” many children offered at once. An older sister even handed him her green balloon — an exact replica of the one that had just wormed its way from the clutch of his tiny fingers.
Such a replacement would have satisfied any reasonable person. But, of course, even on his best days, a two-year-old is not any sort of reasonable person.
“Noooo!” came the predictable protest. “Dat not my balloon!”
I am unusually sensitive to balloon-related tragedies. When I was a little girl, I suffered from severe balloon angst myself. I loved balloons. And when I say that, I don’t just mean I loved them. I mean I really loved them.
I didn’t play with balloons often, but when I did get my hands on one, fear gripped my heart. I clutched the balloon and tied its string to my wrist. I checked the knots, tightened them, and then checked them again. When I envisioned my precious balloon freeing itself from its tethers and floating away into the sky, I had to catch my breath.
And so it was that though I truly loved balloons, I never did enjoy them. Who can enjoy that kind of anxiety and pressure? Who can be grateful while suffering that kind of fear of loss?
God, the Creator of balloons and every other blessing on earth, intends that we should enjoy the blessings He gives us — not obsessively secure them, protect them, shelter them, and fear their loss. As every mother knows, though, this is a difficult thing to remember.
One recent afternoon at my parents’ house, I found myself sitting on the concrete front steps as I watched my smallest children ride bikes and scoot cars in the driveway.
These were the steps where my own mother sat and watched me ride bikes and scoot cars years ago. This was where she likely watched her children play and, as all mothers do, wondered and worried about whatever might become of them.
As I sat on those steps, I pictured my long-ago mother there, too — the sometimes weary, often taken for granted mother of nine — and I hugged her in my heart.
It’s going to be alright, I assured her. That little girl on the tricycle will grow up to not only appreciate all that you have given her, but to experience much of it herself so that she might understand motherly love and sacrifice in as intimate and real a way as possible. She will be forever grateful to you for your gifts of faith and unfailing love.
When I consider my own children’s futures, I still sometimes allow myself to fear just a bit. I do sometimes have to stop myself from checking and re-checking my “balloon strings.”
I know from experience that one of the greatest gifts I can give my children is the example of loving without fear. It takes a special kind of strength and discipline to not spoil the gift of this exact moment with fears for the future or laments of losses we have not yet experienced.
I shared these thoughts with my imagined long-ago mother as we sat on the concrete front steps together. We kept each other company there, watching toddlers on trikes and basking in the sunshine of our perspective.
Holding on too hard or holding back out of fear are not love at all, we agreed. Love is embracing each fragile, fleeting moment for the blessing that it is — free from fear, and growing in gratitude.

Danielle Bean

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Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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