The Motherhood Balloon

I’m afraid of balloons. I have a visceral response of ducking at the sight of one. I’m not a freak like those phobics who need an inhaler when given a red balloon, but I can relate. I really, really, really don’t like balloons.  

Helium filled ones are hell. And the sadists who twist balloons into different shapes, a giraffe or a poodle or an Earthworm? Don’t get me started on those clowns! I don’t like balloons in any form that isn’t mylar. Even then, I find those suspicious, like shiny hand grenades, all dressed up for a celebration, pin already pulled. 

In the baggie they come in, balloons aren’t scary. They’re limp, airless, and predictable. It’s the preparation of them becoming full-blown balloons that makes the hair on my arms raise. 

It’s when the stretching of them begins when they’re plucked from a pile and then pulled in one direction—long—and then the other—wide—that an overproduction of sweat, saliva, and heartbeats incapacitates me. 

I despise that sound as air fills a balloon. That squealing hum ascends into pitch, making it’s growing plastic skin taught, round, lively, and combustible. 

However, the worst part of a balloon is that in a group, at least one will burst at random. 

When confronted by a balloon bouquet tethered together by long tendons of string, I begin to blink too much. I shrink and shudder, my lungs constrict, my head bends down, my body convulses. Still, I watch them, waiting to catch a sign as to which one will explode before it does. Boom! 

As ridiculous as my phobia is, I’ve started to connect my fear of balloons to motherhood. Besides the obvious connection of kids and balloons, I’ve discovered the total destruction angle of parenthood. Parenthood seems fun and playful. It feels as if it’s a good idea at the time. It’s not, it’s a balloon twisted into a child form. Stay with me, I’ll explain. 

For me, I got married, and within a short time, wanted children. It was as if my marriage was the beginning of adulthood, the emblem of the beginning of my life, and my own personal party. However, I couldn’t just say I was throwing a party, I had to decorate it, make the event stand out beyond food or paper streamers, I needed children, I required balloons.

First, my daughter came. She was this small thing, not too scary, a little limp, and almost as if she was airless. She cried when she was hungry, wet, cold, hot, or tired. She came harmless and predictable. I could pack her around with me, designate where she went, whom she was with, and what she did—see? Not scary, not scary at all!

My son was nearly the same, a different color, a different shape, but still similar in most ways. Easy. It wasn’t until the stretching started that my fear began.

Each child quickly became an individual. On hamburgers, she wanted the works plus cheddar cheese. He wanted plain, save for ketchup, maybe some bacon, nothing else. 

They developed their own thoughts, abilities, and opinions, which were different from each other, but also different from mine. Soon, they didn’t want to stay stretched long, they yearned to try more, do more, see more, be more! They willingly stretched longer and then stretched wide.

With every new experience, my kids filled with more air. They grew. As I watched, I heard that ascending hum, changing them, making them well-rounded and livelier. 

Since then, I’ve been waiting for them to combust. I’ve held my breath, sure that the bigger they got, the louder they’d explode. I’m petrified!

There’s a misunderstanding about phobics. Simply put, for example, an agoraphobic sees an open wheat field as too big. A claustrophobic will feel an elevator is too small. Non-phobics don’t look at the big, big picture.

I’m hyper-focused on, not the balloon, but on the explosion—the buildup of air to the point beyond capacity. I fixate on the loud pop coming. What that means to me is, I’m not worried about the moment the plastic globe bursts, I’m terrified it’ll take me with it. 

Next week, my son is going away to college, and he’s leaving me. I’ve known this day was coming. Isn’t that the goal of all parents to raise children to become independent, capable adults? 

I’m surprised at my reaction to him leaving. I’m sad and depressed. I don’t want to get up in the morning, and I don’t want to go to bed at night because once I fall asleep, it’ll just make the next day come sooner. 

My daughter, already going to a college, moved out and has been on her own for a while now. Still, besides refusing to go into her old bedroom for several months after her absence, I wasn’t as upset as I am about my son leaving. 

I suppose I’ve been hyper-focused on the wrong thing, again. My daughter left. Pop! Then it was over, the sound disappeared, and I changed my focus. My son was still in high school. He still needed my signature on homework assignments and help in scheduling extra-curricular things. Not anymore. 

That’s my problem. Without my kids, without those strings tethering me to their balloons, I don’t know what I am anymore. I don’t know who I am anymore. 

I miss my little kids. I miss dressing them up like animals for Halloween or wearing knitted hats with little furry bear ears on top when it snowed outside. I miss my daughter at the grocery store wearing a paper tiara she made. I miss my son going with me to Home Depot wearing his Batman cape in July.

I miss the excitement of sharing new experiences with them, like learning how to ride a bike or the countdown to Christmas. I long for the intimacy of the mentor-mentee relationship. 

I miss the moments at the start of every school year, measuring their heights marked on the door jamb inside my kitchen pantry. 

I miss the sounds. My daughter having sleepovers and overhearing her, and friends giggle about the latest crush—like chirping finches. Or the prepubescent yelps erupting from my son and his friends while playing video games—like the mating call of seals. I miss that. 

What happens now? I dread the hollowness of the next few years and knowing only silence will consume my house. Suddenly, my phobia is no longer the bouquet of balloons, but being left holding nothing but strings.

I know this is the circle of life, the point of parenthood. I know I’m supposed to build a nest, nourish my hatchlings with food, knowledge, and experience, and then push them out to learn to fly on their own. But what happens to that momma bird? Where does she go once there are no more beaks to feed? Is the only evidence of her existence that empty nest? 

On the horizon, in less than a week, I will pack up my car with my son’s things, and I will deposit him into his new life, his own adulthood. What happens next? I don’t know, and that’s the scariest aspect of it all!

LoLo telling me how to apply “Princess Makeup” for Halloween
Natey on his first birthday with me helping him drive

One comment

  • Loved this essay! The biggest, bravest sacrifice a mother makes is letting go and making the best of that empty nest!

    Liked by 1 person

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