You know you sometimes have those pivotal parenting moments? I’d thought I was doing so well with two small children, but a few days ago, I found myself desperately trying to console a sobbing 3 year-old and shoving a dummy into the baby’s mouth while kneeling in a muddy puddle. It was not my finest moment.
So, Tim has done a bit of balloon modelling recently, and has been asked to do it at our church Christmas party. He needed to get a lot of balloons, and, being on maternity leave and clearly having more free time than him, I offered to pick them up. I – naively – thought it would be a quick 5 minute extra job to do after picking up our Christmas decorations from the pottery painting place.
Tim had reserved the balloons, so this shouldn’t have been a problem. I probably left it a bit too late, in hindsight. It was 3.30pm by the time we left soft play, and was starting to get dark. It was also starting to rain, and the wind had got up. Yes, it was December, but none of us had needed coats when we had left the house. I did have them in the car, so I zipped Ben into his, tucked the blanket more firmly around a sleeping Samuel, and we set off.
We collected the decorations first. We’d been in the week before and had decorated baubles for the Christmas tree. I think Ben was pleased with his, but he was also very distracted by the policewoman who came in. Samuel woke up, but seemed happy looking at the lights.
Then we went to the balloon shop. It was dark by now, and felt much later than it actually was (around 4pm). The balloon shop is also a card and party shop, and had a model train as part of its Christmas window display. Ben was happy. The shop-keeper had the balloons ready. When I asked to order two more bags, he suggested that I count out 100 from the already-opened bags and he would give me the cheaper rate.
Ben was still happy. I started counting. The baby was not happy.
A wailing started, telling me that the baby wanted feeding, and wanted feeding now. He wouldn’t accept his dummy, or be placated by rocking the pram back and forward. I counted out the balloons, dashing back to the pram every 10 or so, and finally got to 100.
In the meantime, the shop owner had constructed, in true mesmerising fashion, a balloon penguin. With a flourish, he presented it to Ben, who was delighted.
I tried to pay for our balloons. “It’s cash only, I’m afraid.” Oh. No problem, I thought, the cashpoint was pretty much next door. So we all traipsed out to the cashpoint.
Samuel was still wailing, and I knew I was going to have to do something about it quickly. Ben was so happy with his balloon penguin that I tried not to feel annoyed with the shop-keeper.
Balloons paid for, we headed to Costa. Four pounds, a coffee, a glass of milk and some marshmallows later, the baby was fed. His nappy was changed, we had all been to the loo and I was feeling in control again. We headed out of the cafe.
Pop! Ben had dropped the balloon penguin on the floor, and one of its component parts had burst. The head, to be precise. It still had a white face, but had lost its head. So did Ben.
“My penguin! I want its head back!”
After a bit of soothing, we put the penguin carefully into the basket of the pram and headed outside, back to the car.
The wind and rain had really picked up by now, so I steered with one hand, grabbed Ben’s hand with the other and felt just a bit more miserable.
Then disaster struck.
The wind blew the balloon penguin out of the pram basket as we were crossing the zebra crossing.
At first, it blew the penguin across to the pavement where we were headed. As if in slow motion, I rushed to the other side and tried to reach the penguin. The pram went in one direction, and I was going in the other. I still had hold of Ben’s hand, but I would have to let go to grab the penguin.
Before I made that decision, the wind blew the penguin back into the road.
Into the path of a car.
I grabbed Ben and held him as he screamed and sobbed for his penguin. We couldn’t look as two cars ran over the penguin, but we heard the pops.
Ben’s sobbing rose to funeral pitch. Inconsolable.
In that moment, I really felt his pain. This balloon animal, which had so delighted him, had been taken away from him so quickly. In those few moments, Ben was learning about the fragility of things like balloon animals, and his sadness was palpable.
He cried all the way back to the car, and nothing I could say or do would console him. The moment of the penguin being blown under the wheels of a car kept replaying in all of our minds.
Although Ben calmed down on the way home, the popped penguin was the first thing he mentioned to Tim when he came home. It’s a good thing Tim is such a good dad – and that we had a good supply of balloons. By the following day, Tim had learned how to create a modelling balloon penguin (thanks to YouTube), and everything was right in Ben’s world again. He has learned his lesson though – the new penguin is confined to carpeted areas of the house only.