Friday, July 22, 2011
Balloons: a rant
Children love balloons. It's a wonderful feeling for a parent to see their little faces light up at the mere sight of the brightly-coloured, bobbing amusement. On a superficial level, balloons are marvellous things: cheap, easy to hold and they charm children so.
Then the hatred sets in.
I hate balloons. They're my most hated thing, ever. That includes noisy toys that have no off-switch and only shut up when you get a screwdriver and take out the batteries. It also includes the Zingzillas, and my bile towards those prancing mutants is a matter of record. It even includes Brussels sprouts which, as any right-thinking person will tell you, are the Devil's testicles.
I hate nothing on this Earth more than I hate balloons.
Up, up and away
Part of it is the guilt. Children are so very delighted by balloons, and a small child will wave those little arms so enthusiastically at the prospect of grabbing one. But that's when the problems start.
Don't get too close to a child who's burbling with excitement and flapping around with a newly-acquired balloon. It is definitely going to hit you in the face, again and again. It doesn't help that fast food restaurants - yes, you will end up in one sooner or later; resistance is futile - often tie the damned things to the high chairs. Just getting a tot strapped in safely will lead to at least 10 whacks in the mouth.
The balloon will then be the sole focus of attention throughout the meal, party or public event. Efforts to persuade the child to co-operate with pretty much anything sensible will be ignored, because the balloon must be worshipped. Occasionally, it will be used to attack a nearby adult. Often, it will escape from little fingers, ironically leading to a mad dash to rescue it from the ceiling. It may even burst suddenly, inspiring myocardial infarctions and tears in equal measure. Balloons are evil.
Free as a bird
Now the stress levels are properly high, there arrives the most dangerous moment in any balloon's life cycle: the transfer to the car.
If you are at a party or a restaurant, there is a good chance the balloon is helium-filled. There is also a good chance that, for safety, it is attached only loosely to the string it is bobbing at the end of. This is a fatal combination.
The balloon is definitely going to try to escape. It is going to slip off the string or out of slippery fingers, or it is simply going to encounter something fatally sharp. As someone whose daughter lost a balloon at the top of an extinct volcano - amid cruel laughter from passers-by - I can confirm there's nothing like the sight of its escaping shape to induce heartbreak in a small child. Only the sight of a burst balloon in the gutter can compete for sheer pathos.
Even if you can get the balloon into the car - while being hit in the face even more, and trying to keep it inside the car and on the string as you strap the child in - the pain doesn't end there. The balloon will bob around the inside of the car and try its hardest to get into your line of vision and cause a terrible, terrible tragedy. A huge, intimidating shape in the rear-view mirror is the least you can expect.
Back down to Earth
Once the balloon is back in the house - again, a process fraught with danger - that should be mission accomplished, right? Nope. That's just the start of the once-loved balloon's descent into decrepitude.
As the thing starts to deflate, it will bob around the floor. It will trip you, confuse you and generally get in the way for a surprisingly-long time. As I type, I can see four balloons. They are orange, green, pink and white and in various states of deflation. They are also in the way constantly.
That doesn't matter to children. They will happily throw the things around the room, shouting, "Yay!" in sheer pleasure. They tend to pick their moments carefully, particularly targeting any adult passing with a hot drink and/or sharp implement. Then it's time to get the defibrillator out again.
Wake up, Champ! Wake up!
This story has a sad end. So many of them do. Little Andy grows out of his toys, Old Yeller dies and Bambi's mum turns out to be delicious when pan-fried. Balloons are no exception. Sooner or later, every child must say goodbye.
Sometimes it is a quick end. There are tears, of course, but they only last until the appearance of something with sugar in it. Sometimes it is a slow, sad decline as the balloon gets smaller and smaller and eventually is found in the bin by an indignant brat. Sometimes it is mysterious and unexpected, and a parent may look a little shifty. Just shut up and eat your cookie, child.
Then the stress and hatred can abate a little, at least until the next time a balloon is acquired. Then, depressingly, the battle against the evil of balloons is renewed. Will it ever end? Not until icicles adorn Surtur's fiery realm.
Well, no - let's not be hasty. The good news is the world's supply of helium is running out. That's understandably sad for people who need an MRI scan, but for a dad who's only had five hours' sleep and has to wade through four balloons on the way to the precious, precious caffeine, it's a cause for celebration. Let's have a big party.
Just don't bring balloons.