It’s not about the balloon

It’s not about the balloon

It’s not about the balloon 150 150 JJ Landis

She proudly wore her “high heels,” her new sandals with an elevated heel that she’s not allowed to wear to school because the backs are open. Atop her hair, stringy after a long day in the third grade classroom, sat a brilliant pink flower. Earrings that matched neither the flower nor her clothing dangled from her lobes. Completely confident of her fabulousness, she held my hand as we set out for the fair.

She squealed when she saw friends – some playing on the monkey bars, others standing in line for cotton candy. I nodded knowingly at fellow parents who wearily chomped on French fries from the food truck, looks of resignation in their tired eyes as they shoveled grease into their mouths, while trying to balance jackets, tickets, prizes, and books so their kids would be free to run.

After we zigzagged through crowds to see her mosaic rooster in the art show, visited her classroom to greet her teacher, and bought a Baby Mouse book at the book fair, she decided the next thing on our agenda was a balloon animal.

This was her night. The rest of our family was busy with other obligations and I had been looking forward to this indulgent evening with her, where I would say yes more than no. She often wants me to spend more time with her, but I often push her away because I’m busy. Of course, I’m pushing her away so I can make dinner and wash her clothes, but still…

Even though we were in the longest line around, I didn’t mind. It was a pleasant night and waiting in one place was just as good as another. My skinny-legged, straggly-haired fashion model watched with me as balloon creations emerged from the hands of the ridiculously talented artist (seriously, he’s an artist!). Two-foot tall penguins, dinosaurs, flowers. Most were made from multiple balloons of many colors and some had faces drawn on with a Sharpie.

When it was her turn to receive a balloon animal a lifetime later, she chose a monkey. Her first choice of a manatee was not in his repertoire. He took the time to chat with her while his hands twisted the balloon this way and that. His calm demeanor and patience with children was no doubt why the line moved slowly.

When he handed her a small, yellow monkey (with no face), she thanked him.

We invested an hour and came away with a squishy, twisty glob of yellow.

As we ambled across the mulch to the monkey bars (appropriate since we did have a monkey with us now), she said, “I feel weird, but I don’t know why.”

I knew. I asked, “Disappointed?”

“That’s it,” she said.

She didn’t want to complain about her balloon, because it was free and made just for her and she got what she asked for. But yet. It was nothing like what the other children received.

Her disappointment was mine too. It was her night, after all. Remembering that I was the parent and the mature adult, I preached gratitude and perspective.

She knew it already. She’s heard me before. And of course, it was just a balloon.

And then she handed me the balloon and ran off to show me her skills on the playground.

I’ve had that weird feeling though. Disappointment when I had no reason to feel sorry for myself. Being let down even though I was given a gift. I know it’s wrong, but I wallow sometimes.

On the drive home, the monkey came untwisted and pent up tears exploded from her. She choked, “This is the worst day ever.”

Rational me wanted to tell her to knock it off and quit being so dramatic. Some children in this world blah blah blah.

Emotional me felt like crying too.

It wasn’t about the balloon. It was about

We pulled into the driveway, and I chose the kinder response. I hugged her in my mommy arms.

I wiped away the tears from her dirty cheeks and told her I understand.


JJ Landis

JJ Landis is the author of "Some Things You Keep." She is a librarian in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and three children. She blogs about parenting, marriage, and getting through the day at

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1 Comment
  • Yes yes yes!!! Welcome to ALTARWORK, JJ!! Such a beautiful mind and heart like yours belongs here! I am so excited to read more and more!!