Home > General, Surveys > Another Post About Balloons – What Would You Do?

Another Post About Balloons – What Would You Do?

After reading this post make sure that you weigh in on the newest poll, posted in the right sidebar. I’m really curious about this one because even though I feel okay about how we handled it, I thought through several different scenarios and still feel like there was more than one “right answer” here.

Last weekend at the Natural History Museum sprinkler meetup we were busy having a good time splashing about when other people showed up. The nerve. Not just other people, but other people with balloons. Seriously, can we escape the freaking balloons for one day? One woman, whom I shall refer to from here on out as The Ringleader, brought a pump-your-own-and-let-it-squeal-through-the-air-deflating balloon kit, and was sharing it with any interested child. Including my 2 yr old. At first James didn’t notice – I thought, maybe this will be okay; these balloons look a little different and they are sailing through the sky, no chance of popping. Then one popped.

All hell broke loose, James started screaming and ran out of the sprinkler area. I corralled him onto our towel and offered him books, snacks, cash, but all he wanted was for me to “tell that lady to put her balloons away!” Though he was 20-30 feet away from the action, he was impossible to calm down and continued screaming loudly with his hands over his ears. Damn, people were starting to stare at us. I started having Central Park Zoo flashbacks (see Balloon Vendors post). I offered for James to sit on a nearby bench, about 20 feet further away, and read a book. He tearfully complied but another %$#@ing balloon popped and he went crazy on the bench, still perfectly audible to the growing crowd of curious onlookers.

At this point my 2 yr old daughter raced down from the sprinkler area with her hands over her ears to comfort James. Watching them both “sit out” on the bench with their hands over their ears, one voluntarily and one empathetically, I felt like I should be doing something. I watch The Ringleader gleefully leading children around like the Pied Piper. I said irritably to my husband, “What is she thinking bringing balloons to the sprinklers? Couldn’t she be a little considerate of other people’s situations?,” to which he said something about balloons outside and it being a free country and blah, blah, blah. I didn’t have time for reason – my kids were missing out on sprinkler time! We were having a meetup for special needs children, for crying out loud! Come to think of it, where were all of the other balloon phobes?

I thought about explaining our situation to The Ringleader and asking her to put the balloon pump away for a bit. Though many other parents were openly staring at my blubbering 10 yr old, she had not so much as glanced in our direction – too focused on her balloon magic, I guess. But then I looked at the crowd of excited children she had racing around behind her and I felt my indignation deflate (pardon the pun). My husband hustled James over to another bench, about 50 feet further away and out of sight of the balloons. I mean, why should everyone else’s fun be ruined so that James could play in the sprinklers balloon-free, right?

Then I watched my 2 yr old chasing the balloons, her hands still clamped firmly over her ears in silent support of her brother. I could tell she was torn between sharing in the same carefree exhilaration as all of the other children and comforting her very upset brother, who was far, far away from the balloons.

All joking aside, this is not an easy thing to watch your toddler struggle with. In fact, it makes my heart ache a little that she is learning this kind of empathy at such a young age. I don’t want her to see balloons  and feel a sense of panic, anxiety, unhappiness, worry or tension. I don’t want her to step on a sheet of bubble wrap at home and be chastised as James runs into his room hysterical. At 2 years old she should be able to see Curious George floating in the air with 50 balloons and not think he is scared because the balloons might pop!

We are not “soft” on James’s phobias – just last week I was bragging about how many he was able to overcome on our beach vacation, with a little coaching (and some neat props!). But balloons, popping, potential popping, things that sound like popping – this phobia has only gotten worse over the years and there seems to be no stopping it. It’s right up there with blood pressure cuffs and taking the elevator alone. Does it affect our daily life? Not really. Did my 2 yr old accidentally pop a plastic bag today and send James into a panic for the rest of the afternoon, in which he hid under the covers and cried every time he heard a noise (a book dropping, broom handle hitting the wall, toys crashing into a box, door closing too loudly)? You betcha.

So I’m passing the buck this time. What would you do if it was your child at the sprinklers? I know, you’ll need to use your imagination in a big way. But seriously, I’d like your opinion. Vote for what you think is the best answer in the poll to your right, or check Other and leave your potential solution in the Comments section.

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  1. Karel
    July 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    My first reaction would be to attack the balloon lady..but I think hubby was right, the world can only adapt so much.
    I also think empathy learned at any age is not a bad thing.
    Finally, is it possible to offer James some escape the minute it happens – for example, if (among the millions of things you carry around) that you had noise protecting headphones so that when it happens, James can put them on and not have to hear the noise for a few minutes so that he can learn to self calm? This would be something he would have to be responsible for (carrying the headphones, getting them on, removing himself). This might give him some control over the situation…and help him to learn to control his own reaction — BUT not having had a balloon a phobe child, take this advice with a very large grain of salt.

    • July 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      I think that’s a great idea worth trying – the earbuds we got worked wonders during fireworks but bc James’s ears are kind of a weird shape they kept falling out. I might opt for the bulkier headphones and make him carry them around. That being said, we travel with so much crap already, 2 babies and James worth – might as well buy a donkey at the rate we’re going!

  2. July 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

    My first reaction would involve violence, I think, and a swear word or two. But in the end I’d probably just leave all together; find another sprinkler to play in. It sucks, though, having to inflict the other children with the consequences of an issue completely out of their control. Empathy, however, is a very important character trait to instill.

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