Before beginning today’s post, the duck-rabbit, with head lowered and ears contritely flattened, must issue an apology. The duck-rabbit wholeheartedly apologizes to every single person who wrote to it vociferously complaining about the fact that it did not provide a “spoiler alert” before disclosing the winner of the MasterChef Junior finale. It was careless and insensitive of the duck-rabbit and showed a blatant disregard for its readership’s happiness. Will you ever be able to forgive it? I doubt it. [Hangs head even lower.]
All right. This post is about how one of my roles in life is to thwart my daughter’s pleasure for the sake of my own convenience by attempting to persuade her that some delightful childish activity that she wishes to engage in is actually going to be a colossal letdown and shouldn’t even be attempted. I will then detail how my attempts to thwart her in this manner repeatedly fail because she is (and I don’t know where she gets this from) extremely stubborn.
Yesterday and for much of last night it rained hard in Santa Monica. The younger, her nose pressed to a window that looks out onto a picturesque view of the back alley with big plastic garbage and recycling bins, looked longingly at the temptingly large puddles that were forming on the cracked, uneven tarmac.
“I think we should go out and stamp in those puddles,” she said.
“You know what,” I replied, “that is a really great idea, but I think it would be so much more fun to do it tomorrow when it’s stopped raining.”
Amazingly, this appeased her. Cut to this morning, when I had completely forgotten about the previous afternoon’s conversation, probably because it was now a lovely, sunny, dry day.
The younger had not forgotten. As we walked outside on our way to preschool, she looked confused. “But where are all the puddles?” she asked slowly.
“Well, unfortunately I think the sun dried them all up,” I explained breezily. “But next time it rains, we’ll definitely be able to splash in the puddles.”
She was silent, thinking hard.
“You know what,” she said, “I think there might still be some puddles in the back alley by the garbage cans.”
“Nah, I shouldn’t think so,” I said, glancing at my phone to see what time it was.
“Can we check please? Please?? Please????”
“Oh, FINE,” I conceded grumpily, “but if there are puddles, then you have to put on your rain boots to stamp in them, and you can only do ten stamps and then we’re going to preschool … right?
“Right!” she agreed gleefully.
Of course, there were puddles in the alleyway, because the universe is always conspiring to make the walk to preschool take as long as humanly possible.
The boots were donned and approximately fifty-seven stamps later and after changing back into regular shoes from rain boots because she kept falling over when she tried to run in the rain boots, we were off again.
We were running along merrily until she spotted it.
“Can I go and see what that blue thing is?” she asked, pointing to a spherical blue object lying on the patch of wet grass between a parked car and the sidewalk.
“It’s a balloon!” she exclaimed as we drew nearer.
“I don’t think it is,” I said, “I think it’s someone’s ball that they’ve dropped and we should leave it here for them.”
As we drew closer it became obvious that it was, in fact, an unusually large and pleasingly spherical balloon.
“It is a balloon!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “Can I have it?”
“No … because this is such a nice balloon that whoever dropped it is probably going to come back and look for it and they’re going to be really really sad when it’s not here,” I said unconvincingly. “So we really shouldn’t take it.”
“No,” she insisted, “I should take it because do you remember that time we were at the playground with [the elder flopsy-duckit] and someone took home our beach ball? That’s why I should take this balloon.”
Call me a pushover, but I found myself convinced by this karmic theory of spheres: the Lord, every time he taketh your beach ball, he giveth you a balloon. 
So we took the balloon.
“Here, you hold it,” she commanded, “it’s all wet and yucky.”
“O.K,” I said reluctantly, gingerly holding the balloon by its knot as we started to walk, “so we’re going to take this to school and then what are we going to do with it, put it in your cubby?”
“No,” she said firmly, “balloons aren’t allowed at preschool. You’ll have to take it back home with you.”
I stopped walking. We were two blocks from our house.
“Look, I’ll just leave it here,” I said, placing it down on the grassy verge. “And then I’ll just collect it when I pass here on my way home.”
I was in my running clothes and was intending to go running after dropping off the younger. I did not want to carry a large balloon while I ran.
“No,” she said, picking it up again and handing it to me, “if you leave it here some other kid like me is going to come by and take it.”
“Oh, FINE,” I conceded grumpily.
We managed to get to preschool without further interruption. After I dropped her off and left the building, still holding the blue balloon, I paused as I contemplated my options.
One part of me, a quite convincing part, argued that I couldn’t possibly go running now, because it would be ridiculous to run while holding a balloon. In the first place, it would be affectedly whimsical.  In the second place, surely one wouldn’t be able to run properly while holding a balloon; wouldn’t it interfere with the aerodynamics? I mean, if you use a parachute to slow down a fast-moving vehicle, then surely a balloon would have some similarly retarding effect?
But, on the other hand, perhaps that retarding effect would in itself make it a more challenging and difficult workout. Perhaps Mo Farah himself trained, not while carrying a team of specially trained babies, but instead while carrying a bevy of balloons. 
Moreover, the pro-running-with-balloon-part-of-me continued, among the blessed Santa Monicans, power-walking while clutching their hand-weights and doing their special ujjayi breathing, would I really stand out? Please. And even if I did stand out, should the possibility of looking affectedly whimsical deter the true athlete? No, it should not! Would a real runner like Marissa or Emily consider the possibility of cutting a whimsical figure a legitimate reason for skipping a run? 
Readers, they would not.
No, the very debate I was engaged in with myself as to the pros and cons of running while carrying a balloon was precisely the kind of stalling technique to which the reluctant runner has frequent recourse, the kind of debate the sole purpose of which is to waste time when she could be running.
With the voices of Mo, Marissa, and Emily cheering me on, I decided to run with the balloon. Indeed, I decided I would run fast, partly because then it would be over sooner and also because I wanted to somehow prove to myself that having the balloon was an advantage. And so I did. I ran fast! Not for long, mind you. But I ran fast enough that my running app informed me that I had run my fastest mile! Or it would have been if I had run a whole mile. Which I didn’t. But that’s not the point. Also, I suppose it still wasn’t that fast, objectively speaking. It was, to put it in perspective, more than a minute slower than the mile that Emily ran when she was nine months pregnant. But that’s not the point either. The point is that because of the balloon I ran very fast, and only got one very hard stare from a passing cyclist, and, in fact, I ran so fast that my running app gave me a prize, which has never happened before! 
I decided to declare the day a triumph and rest on my laurels for the remainder of the day.
 The younger, by the way, we learned this weekend, is a committed monotheist. This came up while the elder and younger were watching the first Percy Jackson movie and the elder was telling the younger about the Greek gods to which she responded, “There is only one God, and He is real.” We’re gonna hash it out once and for all over dinner tonight. Ooh, I can’t wait ….
 Do you remember that episode of Friends when Phoebe wants to run in Central Park in a joyous, child-like manner, arms flailing, and Rachel is too embarrassed to be seen with her? Well, Phoebe didn’t carry a balloon, but she totally would have because that’s just the kind of charmingly kooky, whimsical thing that Phoebe does, isn’t it now?
 I paused while writing this sentence to consider what the collective noun for “balloons” might be. Wiktionary tells me it is festival but why should I believe it? I like bevy. Other suggestions welcome.
 I am at the best of times a highly self-conscious runner. I vividly recall going running with Emily during ASECS in Albuquerque. I got all jittery at the prospect of having to walk through the hotel lobby while wearing running clothes because of the possibility that we might run into colleagues that we knew. Emily countered that she, on the contrary, rather relished this because it distinguished us out as the energetic athletes that we were. But while Emily, indeed, is an athlete, I always imagine that I look like a person who is clearly not a runner who has for some unfathomable reason decided to wear spandex. I blame this self-perception entirely on growing up in inner London in the eighties, a time when, so far as I remember, running was regarded derisively, as some kind of bizarro activity for which you would rightly be heckled and resoundingly mocked by anyone who witnessed you engaging in such foolishness.
 The prize turned out to be 10% off a granola bar, which, I must say, was a bit disappointing.