Posts Tagged ‘balloon phobia’

Monday Minute: James Takes On The Dang Balloon Man

Perhaps you remember my memoir on Central Park and its amazing assortment of balloon vendors from last year, aka The Day James Ran Around Screaming For 4 Hours. Well yesterday, the kids and I went to meet the very same friend in the very same place, almost 2 years later. Though we’ve been to the Central Park zoo dozens of times since then, it has often been sans-James because we usually go while he’s in school.

From the moment I mentioned that we were going to the zoo the following morning he began campaigning hard for a different one – Brooklyn, Bronx, the Coney Island aquarium. “The Central Park zoo has the most balloons,” he was able to clearly explain when I asked why he was so worked up. “I think there might be less balloons in the Spring than in Summer,” I replied carefully. “Besides, we’re not buying any balloons and the zoo doesn’t allow balloons inside because the animals could choke on them.” With that information in hand James perked up a bit and we were able to get to the zoo the next morning with fairly little issue.

The day was sunny and beautiful, just warm enough not to need jackets. We exited the subway and followed the windy path toward the zoo entrance littered with vendors – the Nuts for Nuts cart, a hot dog and soft pretzel man, and the obligatory half a dozen stands with peddlers trying to convince me that they could sketch all four of my children before they got restless. James cheerfully announced, “No balloons! You were right, mom!” I was feeling rather exuberant about how smoothly the day was going until I finally spotted him. The lone balloon animal man, stationed right at the southern entrance to the zoo, offering “free” balloons animals to passing children for a token donation.

I hoped that by enthusiastically noticing each and every vendor on our left, James would be able to ignore THE ONE to our right, but no. That’s not the way this works. Behind me I heard James mutter, “that dang balloon man.” And before I knew what was happening: Read more…

Another Post About Balloons – What Would You Do?

July 13, 2011 3 comments

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.

There are more balloon vendors in Central Park than Starbucks in Manhattan

June 1, 2011 1 comment

Let me start off by saying that most of the weekend was great – beautiful weather, lots of outdoor time, picnics with friends, sprinklers, sand, tired but happy kids – overall a lot of fun and time together as a family. But, as often is the case on Monday holidays, my husband went to work yesterday and I decided to adventure out again with the kids. After all, Saturday and Sunday had been so pleasant and I was feeling optimistic with the sunny warm weather.

Below are the two emails that I sent upon my return from Central Park on Monday.

To my husband:

Subject: There are more balloon vendors in Central Park than Starbucks in Manhattan

Finally back from our hellacious trip. Amazingly hellacious. I never want to see a balloon again. But we made it to Heckscher park come hell or high water and played for 20 minutes to make the surrounding hours of misery seem more worth it. And I got a good workout with both babies strapped on in 90 degree heat. And the kids are exhausted so bedtime should be quick and painless tonight.

How is your day going? I’m making taco salad for dinner.
Love you,
To the woman I was meeting for a day at the CP zoo and playground:
Subject: today
Good evening,
Things have finally calmed down around here and I wanted to send you a note before bed. I’m sorry about earlier – I don’t know what I was thinking bringing the kids into such ridiculous crowds, heat and chaos by myself today!
It was really hard to stay in one place for too long with all three kids – each of them wanted to get moving to a new section of zoo at a different time and they were hot and hungry to top it off. Then getting something quick to eat at the cafe turned into a noisy mess thanks to some screaming, tantruming kids at the table next to us. After James was on edge about all of the noise (with his hands over his ears the entire meal instead of eating anything), we kept running into balloon vendors on our way to the playground, several who approached us and tried to get us to take free balloons. James totally lost it by the 3rd vendor, and there were at least a dozen more on our windy trip through Central Park. It took over an hour to navigate a way from the zoo to Heckscher that didn’t involve balloons and by that time the kids (and I) were sweaty, stressed messes – James from the balloons and the rest of us from James’s terrified screaming. We played at Heckscher in the water for 20 minutes to cool down, calm down and for me to rest my back since I was carrying both babies – plus, I wanted my hours of heavy labor to result in something pleasant for the poor kids at that point. Of course afterward it took another hour to walk to CPW and hail a cab – on the way M found a little balloon and she and James fought about it all the way out of the park. So, meeting you at the next playground wasn’t even a remote possibility, though I would’ve liked to visit and catch up!
I spent the day alone – much of the trip very unpleasant though none of my kids were being “bad.” This may sound crazy to some of you, but I am actually glad I was by myself. Would it have been easier with my husband there for company, to help carry a kid or man children at the zoo or playground? Of course. Am I glad he was spared the stress of the “epic balloon frenzy?” You bet. Would it have been easier to seek help from the friends I was supposed to be hanging out with in the same park? Perhaps. Was I worried about offending my friends or making them uncomfortable with James’s behavior? Actually, no. By method of natural selection we tend not to have friends who are made easily uncomfortable by a disabled child. In fact, I was probably more likely to have offended them by leaving without any notice. But, as I always say, having kids is not just a way to be popular.
The truth is that James needed the smallest audience possible if we were to leave Central Park alive. Balloons, or anything that could potentially make a popping noise (bubble wrap, plastic bags, fireworks, bonfires), are the number one phobia on James’s rather extensive list. And they are number one by a landslide – in fact, this phobia seems to be getting worse as James gets older, though many other fears have gotten a lot better. Now I know some of you are probably wondering why I brought him to the zoo if there are so many freaking balloon vendors. I swear, I have never seen anything like it, and we go to the zoo all the time. Usually there are one or two guys at the south entrance of the zoo and one to the north – I know to move quickly while distracting James and my toddler, one from flipping out and one from wanting a balloon very much.
On Monday there were clusters of them, every 10 yards or so. Several of the balloon-wielding lunatics approached us despite my death stares (I guess I need to brush up on that) and offered us free ones, which just about killed my daughter every time I turned them down. In between vendors, there were all of the kids with balloons – squeezing them, hitting each other with them, wearing them, improperly holding them – James pointed each child out by crying, telling me loudly about the balloon crime taking place, or my personal favorite, yelling at the child holding the balloon to “get away from me with that balloon, you!” and then crying. Sometimes his scream would be so loud and sudden that he would scare one or both babies, and then they would join him in crying.
Two hours after the zoo and many, many, many windy paths later, I gave up and decided to get to a street, any street, and find a cab – there is truly no place like home. I felt so bad for my children that the day had so little fun in it for all of our effort, felt sorry for James, felt frustrated with James, felt exhausted and hot and sweaty, and felt no small amount of loathing toward those balloon-wielding, plotting, devious maniacs that seemed to be more present than Nuts for Nuts carts. This is of course when we walked by Heckscher playground, our original destination.
James perked up. “Oh, good, we found it,” he said tearily. My daughter was sleeping on my back. After a moment’s hesitation, I woke her up and sent her and James racing into the playground sprinklers. 20 minutes later, wet, dirty and happy, we headed for home.
When I heard James scream this time, I turned around just in time to see my daughter gleefully running down the path with, what else. It was a very small, squishy, half-deflated purple balloon that she had apparently picked up off the ground and in her effort to keep it she was squeezing it very hard, sending James into a total frenzy. But she wasn’t ready to give up her prize without a fight – ironically my daughter just loves balloons. I thought quickly about how to best diffuse the situation without one of the kids totally flipping out.
Thank goodness for vendors. Two ice creams later we finally made it out of the park and into a taxi, where James talked about the fun sprinklers and my daughter talked about the penguins all the way home.
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