Elizabeth Willis Barrett
When my kids were little, I would often trade days with a friend. I would leave my kids with her so I could go somewhere childless and on another day I would take her kids so she could have some freedom. Since my two and her two were in the same preschool, our responsibilities included letting them play, then getting them fed and ready and taken to preschool.
Any mother knows that when children and deadlines coincide, there is a potential for volatility. Since most days did bring these two in proximity, I allowed tension to get the better of me. “Hurry!” was my mantra. “Get in the car, NOW!” was my war cry. On my “on days” with two extra children, my edginess sharpened and those words were raised an octave. Preschool waited and dawdling children meant we would be late and the teacher would be upset and her upset-ness would affect her classroom and that would make me feel guilty and my guilt basket was already filled to capacity. (On second thought, guilt is much like Jello–there’s always room for more.)
One day, one of the girls, Carly, came to my house with a helium balloon that she wanted to take to school. That was fine. However, in my impatience to get the kids in the car for school after many flustering minutes of un-cooperation, the balloon came off her wrist and floated into the great beyond. It’s graceful beauty was lost on Carly and she howled all the way to school. A kind benevolent caregiver would have taken her straight to Walmart to get her another balloon so she wouldn’t be disappointed. But not this one. I wanted to get those kids to school quickly. I was done.
About thirty years later, that particular lack of compassion came back to teach me a lesson in empathy. Several of us were giving a gift card to a friend and I was put in charge of its presentation. I thought it would be nice to give the card with a helium balloon that said, “Thank You.” Sadly, helium balloons that say, “Thank You” are very difficult to find. But I was earnest in my quest and after four non-compliant stores, I finally found the perfect balloon. It was blown up for me and I made the somewhat pricey purchase.
Transporting helium balloons can be tricky since they tend to bounce around and ruin one’s driving view, but the balloon and I made it home and I tied the card to it. I was feeling quite pleased with myself for going the extra mile to make our gift distinctive. That is not my usual M. O.
I drove to the recipient’s home where the other “givers” were meeting. They would be glad they had given the gift-giving responsibility to me because I had prepared so well.
However, as soon as I got out of my car, the quote, “Pride goeth before a fall” quickly ran through my mind with a variation: “Pride goeth before a rise.” As I opened my car door, the balloon that should have been very stable, came off its ribbon and rose, rose, rose into the same great beyond that Carly’s had risen to so long ago. I felt the same way she must have felt when she lost her balloon. I was sad and I wanted to howl. No one even got to see its beauty or my hard work before it disappeared. I wanted a kind benevolent caregiver to go get me another balloon before I walked into our friend’s home. But there wasn’t one available.
I gave our friend the card and told her about the balloon which, of course, didn’t do it justice.
It’s been a while, but I still feel the disappointment in losing my balloon. I wonder if Carley remembers and still feels the disappointment in losing hers.