After my son’s exam at the pediatric dentist, he was given several choices of shapes the dentist could twist a balloon into for him. He picked a sword. I said nothing as I stood there a little surprised. Not at the fact that his dentist was adept at making balloon shapes (although I wondered where that fit into the dental curriculum) but that my son wanted a balloon sword. He doesn’t particularly like swords and he has never been fond of balloons. So when he promptly handed off the balloon sword to me as we left, I asked him why he agreed to take it in the first place. He said, “Balloon people wear me down.”
It’s true. Ever since he was a toddler, strangers have been forcing balloons on him, whether we’re in a family restaurant, a carnival, or a car wash. He’s never liked balloons because he learned early on that the balloon story always ends badly. They either float out of reach or pop and scare the daylights out of him. Or he spends the entire time anxious that they’ll pop or float out of reach. The best-case scenario is that he wakes up the next day to find it shriveled limply in the corner of his bedroom.
At what point did someone decide a fragile, latex choking hazard was the go-to gift for children? It must’ve been the same misguided person who thought clowns are kid-friendly. I don’t care how many circuses, birthday parties, or fast food restaurants you put them in; clowns are creepy. The only thing worse than a clown is a clown handing out balloon animals. Whether they have big, floppy shoes or wild hair or big grins painted on their faces, in my mind I always see Stephen King’s It version. He understood clowns.
In 2004, when we got on our , we kept our fingers crossed that our happy baby would remain that way for most of the trip home. Just as we settled into our seats, who should pop his head on the seatback in front of us but a clown, dressed in full clown gear complete with a nose that beeped when he squeezed it. Although we had a twelve-hour flight ahead of us, I couldn’t have been happier when our son bawled loudly at the first sight of him. After that, we didn’t see hide nor curly red hair of the clown and I knew more than ever our son was meant to be in our family. A few months later when he rejected his first proffered balloon, our bond once again increased.
I don’t particularly like being anti anything, but I wouldn’t mind starting a movement against balloons and clowns. Let’s put these nineteenth century pastimes in the Smithsonian. (While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the custom of blowing out birthday candles, which always translates to simultaneously spitting on the cake.) We’ve managed to move beyond hoop rolling and Punch and Judy, so why have these other two relics of childhood endured? Maybe balloon people have just worn us down.