Balloon Animals and Resiliency, or I Totally Got Schooled by my 5 Year Old

Ahh the county fair, or as I like to think of it, State Fair Preseason.  The mini donuts! The pronto pups! The animals! The carnies! The balloon animals!

Oh the balloon animals. Despite my attempts to steer them far far away both my kids zeroed right in. They had to have a balloon animal. But it was free and the line wasn’t horrendously long so I reluctantly said yes. We got in line and the person in front of us handed me a laminated sheet. A balloon animal menu. Ps-THIS IS PROOF WE HAVE EVOLVED, PEOPLE! No rinky-dink swords and  crappy dogs that look nothing like dogs here…this was freaking balloon art.

So I passed the menu to my daughter and as soon as she saw her options she jabbed a sticky finger at the unicorn (I was not shocked). When we eventually got to the front of the line she watched eagerly as the woman’s deft hands twisted and cajoled the brightly colored balloons into their unicorn shape. Delighted, my daughter squealed, “Thank you!” and immediately took her unicorn for a walk by its balloon leash. She was, in a word, ecstatic.

The balloon artist finished making my son his dog that actually looked like a dog (cause artist) and we began our amble back to the car, having saved the balloons for last. It was hot and the kids were tired so when I heard the echoing pop of a balloon from behind me I froze and closed my eyes. I felt like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” Fuuuuuuudddddge……we hadn’t even made it 100 feet past the balloon stand.

I braced myself for the onslaught of tears. For the crying and the whining and the inevitable football hold carry back to the car. But there was silence. Maddy stood there, a bit dejected, staring down at her unicorn. Her lips twisted in disappointed contemplation as she surveyed the damage. It was mostly in tact if you looked at it straight on. The back legs, however, hung in sad, deflated tatters. I held my breath and waited but still, nothing.

“You okay honey?”

“It popped.”

“I know. That must feel really disappointing, huh.” I hugged her closely and she sniffed. “You had a lot of fun with that balloon but balloons don’t last forever.”

“Yeah…” she trailed off, still looking at her unicorn. Suddenly she brightened. “Yeah! And it’s still fun. It’s a seahorse! Look mama I have a seahorse!”

She skipped ahead happy as could be and all I could think was damn. That is resilience. That kid is five years old and she is light years ahead of me in the resiliency department. She never once denied she was disappointed…she sat with her disappointment. She felt it, keenly I imagine, and then when she was done she moved on. No drama. She didn’t dwell. She moved on to plan B and found happiness there.*

That right there is the difference between her and me. See, when my proverbial balloon pops, be it an article that got rejected, plans for the family that didn’t go my way or pretty much any general life disappointment, I don’t take ANY of the steps my daughter does. I don’t want to feel my disappointment. I don’t like it and it makes me uncomfortable. I just want it gone. Immediately. And if I can’t command it to be gone I’ll do whatever I need to numb it…shovel some food in my face, drink a beer, lose myself in mindless internet drivel, it doesn’t matter what I do so long as it distracts. Then, once I’ve sufficiently blunted the pain of disappointment, I vow to do whatever it takes to never feel that feeling again…aka I completely give up. Article was passed over? Throw it away. Pledge to never submit another article again. There’s no plan b, no finding a different avenue to happiness. No seahorse. I give up, toss the broken bits in the trash and ignore what’s still good and beautiful all because it’s the only surefire way of not feeling the pain of disappointment again.

My daughter does none of this. She schools me in resiliency on a regular basis. Where I see a failure, my daughter sees an opportunity. Where I see disaster, she sees a seahorse.

So this week I’m going to take a cue from my kid and work on this resiliency thing. I’m going to take a risk…submit an article, reach out to a mentor, something with a fairly high probability of failure, and then I’m going to bounce back. I’m going to feel disappointed and not tamp it down. I’m going to move on to the next thing when I want to wallow in self doubt. Not because I’m a masochist but because there’s something to be learned here. Something to be practiced.

It’s funny how kids can inspire you, even when it’s something so small as a balloon animal.



*Please note that my child is not drama free or resilient all the time as evidenced by yesterdays 10 minute complete shrieking meltdown over not getting to be a gargoyle** in the car.

**Being a gargoyle involves sitting in her car seat and pulling her legs up so her brother can climb through to his car seat. I don’t know…I didn’t name it. I don’t even entirely know how or why she knows what a gargoyle is. But apparently it’s very very important she be one. Every. Single. Time. All that being said I think she still kicks my ass at the resiliency thing.

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