Balloon Night!

Balloon Night!

My great weakness as a stay-at-home parent is not, as one might think with a dude, cleaning or laundry or pigtails. It’s cooking. 6pm rolls around and… Scratch that. 6pm never “rolls around”. When 6pm arrives…like a snail, coached, begged and prodded to the finish line… my thinking usually goes something like this:

“I don’t feel like making dinner. God, I seriously don’t feel like making dinner.” Then, naturally, I start thinking of an escape plan. My thoughts linger for a moment on previous lives when dinner was good and easy: Living in Manhattan… the kitchen is a cupboard you pass on the way to the bathroom, so you order in. Living in Berkeley…Kate leaves work at 6, picks up some farm-fresh veggies and arrives home at 6:20, and begins making a delicious dinner. Now…this. Alone. Isolated. Kate doesn’t get home till 7:30. Delivery is frowned upon in the suburbs. It’s awful.

To boot, the kids’ designated ‘sour hour’ is from roughly 4:30 to 6pm (they throw in the extra half hour for free). It’s probably related to hunger but since brains at this age haven’t developed a connection between hunger and logic, it’s never really been proven. Sure, I could’ve started making dinner earlier and possibly prevented the meltdowns. I could’ve thought ahead. I could’ve let the previous two thousand nights of doing this help guide me. But I didn’t. And I don’t.

I like to keep a few frozen items buried in the freezer –some aces in the hole, if you will—just in case of emergency. And each night I’m driven to that corn and peas strewn freezer bottom. But then I remember… Oh wait, Kate won’t let me have a microwave. She doesn’t believe in them. And then I consider our old-ass oven, which, operating at roughly 37% efficiency, takes about twenty minutes to reach the desired temperature, which, by this point, is only a few degrees hotter than the area surrounding the oven. By that time, the kids will have devolved from ‘sour hour’ naughty chimps to ‘shit show’ asshole rats.

My thoughts then travel to the ‘bargaining’ stage of grief management.
“Are you guys hungry?” I’ll ask. As if getting a ‘no’ or ‘not really’ means I’m off the hook for making my children dinner. And they’ll often say they’re not hungry because Louisa is addicted to snacks and will do anything within her power to steal them for her and her brother. She will climb un-climbable counters, stretch across great crevasses, and balance on teetering bread bins…all for a few stale Pirate Booty’s. She’ll slit your throat for Annie’s gummy bunnies.

(Side note: The fact that her belly is full of salty and sweet snacks of various kinds somehow does not preclude her from participating in the sour hours or shit shows. She reserves rights to those. It’s in her contract.)

But Mondays are different. Because on Mondays, the balloon guy comes to Tinga. I don’t take them every Monday but every Monday I take comfort in knowing balloon guy is there if I need him. And he’s always there. Every now and then you get his brother, who’s sort of the Beau Bridges to his Jeff Bridges of balloon artists. (Louisa once asked him for a penguin. “Penguin? No, I can’t make that, how about a flower?” George, back at the table, whispered to me, “how does he not know how to make a penguin?”)

So, we’ve become Monday night regulars at Tinga because of the balloons.

And it’s taken me this long – a year or so—to realize how terrible this night actually is for us. Balloon night at Tinga is like childbirth. Somehow you forget how painful the drive home and subsequent meltdowns over popped feet, ears, arms are and you find yourself, the next Monday asking the kids, “Hey, you guys want to go to Tinga!? Balloon guy will be there!”
And this balloon guy… he’s diabolical. As your kids leave with their ornate ticking time bombs, he says to you, with kids intentionally within earshot, and as sweetly as you could imagine “…and if something breaks, just bring it back and I’ll fix it, OK?”

And every single time I think, “wow, that’s so nice.” And every single time, twenty minutes later, I hear a POP from the other room and I wince and wait for it. “Daaaaaddddy! My balloon popped!” Crying. Tears.

“Honey, you know this happens, right?” I try to reason with them. Then I say something like “they’re balloons, that’s what balloons do.” Amazingly, this doesn’t quiet them. “We need to bring it back to get fixed RIGHT NOW!” Crying. Tears. Spasms. “No, honey, we’re not taking it back.” I say as calmly as I can. “But he said if it broke we could bring it back and he’d fiiiiiiiiiiiixxxxx it!” Crying. Kicking. At this point I hold the balloon up and say that I think it almost looks better now with only one leg or no head. With this, of course, I just get more crying.

The absurdity of my Sisyphisean return to Tinga each Monday was hammered home the other day on a stroll around the neighborhood with the kids collecting dandelions –not the yellow flowers but the seed ball ones that ‘break’ with the slightest breeze or jostle. I found myself holding about twenty stems, each far apart enough so that the seed balls could stay in tact while Louisa screamed and tried to bite my leg because one of these twenty dandelions was losing it’s perfect roundness to a slight breeze.

There are some supposedly fun things that just cause more harm than good. Dandelion collecting is one of them. So are balloon animals. Some parents catch on to these facts quicker than others. (Strange, I’ve often thought, we hardly ever see any of our friends at balloon night.) Some parents probably just know –before crashing and burning– that things won’t turn out well when a three year tries to collect really really delicate things.

It makes me wonder how many other things in my life I’m doing like dandelion collecting and balloon night at Tinga. Parenting comes to mind.

Louisa with her doomed parrot (Balloon Guy’s brother sat in for him this week. His parrots aren’t very good)


  1. Photo girl says

    Next time you have an encounter with the balloon man, be sure to pop one of his creations BEFORE you leave Tinga.