I love babies and puppies. Both bring joy and adventure and add to a rich, beautiful life. And both bring challenges. I’ve often shared that upon arrival at home, babies are easy – well, except a parent’s physical exhaustion – and puppies are challenging. But, over time, those things switch. Children grow more challenging – often due to the complicated scenarios in life – relationships, health, school. And puppies grow easier (this is perhaps why I chose to raise puppies for service dog organizations for many years).
I’m at the age and stage where I often reflect on my daughter’s youngest years and those simpler times. As I see her coming of age (she is 16), I stand in support, but am more often on the sidelines watching her navigate life’s challenges.
During a recent time of challenge, I walked with my daughter down to the riverbank. I had a plan in trying to help her work through some strong feelings of sadness and anger.
As we walked and talked, I shared the story of the red balloon.
On a beautiful summer day, my then sweet 3-year-old daughter received a balloon from a local restaurant. That red balloon filled her with joy. She squealed and smiled as it blew in the wind. We had tied it on her wrist to keep it safe.
However, as we played at the park, she slid the string attached to her wrist off and quickly saw that balloon soar out of her reach.
As the balloon floated away, I watched my little girl crumble. Tears flowed as her beloved balloon floated away. I watched helplessly. I could not reach that balloon no matter how much I wanted to.
In that moment of desperation to make things right, I sent my husband to the restaurant. “Go get a new balloon.”
And the world was right again.
But now, I can’t reach that balloon and I can’t even go to the restaurant to get another. Things are more complicated than balloons and I can’t always make things better.
Instead, I try to empathize with my daughter’s loss and her grief. I try to give her tools, not to replace that balloon, but to know that she doesn’t need it and, that she will be okay without it.
As I watch this young lady gain skills and experiences towards becoming an adult, I find myself learning and growing again too.
We finished our walk across that field and to the river. My story about that balloon was shared with her and I shed a few tears as I told her how I wish I could fix things now.
We sat by the river. I pulled out a sharpie, handed it to her and encouraged her to write all the sad and mad feelings on as many rocks as she could. Then, throw every rock into the river.
She started writing and twenty minutes and many rocks later, she looked and me and said, “I’m done.” I told her to find the biggest rock she could lift, take it, and throw it in the river. She did.
And then she looked at me and laughed.
This day was a reminder that we can’t always fix things for our children – nor should we – but we can help give them the skills, time, and support to work through life’s challenges.
Parenting has never been simple, but sometimes finding perspective in balloons and rocks makes the most challenging of times bearable.