Day 136: a puff piece

The other day, I momsplained my daughter’s feelings to her.

She had a friend over to play. They had been playing happily with balloons, which the younger’s friend was eagerly filling with pebbles from the back yard and then stashing in the freezer. As you do.

At first the younger was on board with this activity, but as the number of balloons in the packet dwindled, she looked increasingly vexed.

“You’re using too many balloons,” she told her friend.

Her friend considered this observation and then carried on blithely filling balloons.

“You can’t use any more after this,” the younger insisted.

Her friend shrugged and continued.

When the younger saw her friend take yet another balloon from the packet, it was the last straw.

The younger stormed off and took refuge in the top bunk.

Her friend, oblivious, continued happily filling balloons.

I went to talk to the younger.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“No!” she fumed. “She isn’t listening to me. She’s using TOO MANY BALLOONS. I TOLD her, and she’s not listening …”

I nodded understandingly. “ … and you’re worried you’re going to run out of balloons,” I said.

She looked at me uncomprehendingly.

“I’m not worried,” she spat, enunciating the word “worried” in a tone of utter disgust. “I’m MAD.”

Allow me to repeat that: “I’m not worried. I’m MAD.

Herein lies a crucial difference between the younger and me: I get worried and she gets mad.

In her position, I would also have been unhappy; but the way I would have experienced and narrated my feelings to myself would have been something like, “if x doesn’t stop we are going to have a balloon shortage. This cannot happen. This is precisely why I’ve been stockpiling balloons. What if we run out of balloons? Then what?

The duck-rabbit has always been a hoarder not, unfortunately, of useful things like loo paper, batteries, sunscreen, light bulbs, band-aids, canned goods, laundry detergent, glue, business envelopes, freezer bags, or stamps but only of less obviously functional items, including tiny decorative boxes, chocolate, and ribbons. [1] The boxes are important, obviously, for storing the ribbons as well as other tiny sundry items such as shells, beads, and buttons.

In the past, some of these seemingly useless items have in fact played a functional role in my life, but their function was not fulfilled by using them in the usual manner; rather, the mere knowledge that they were in my possession served a palliative, anxiety-relieving role. Take chocolate. I like to eat chocolate but even more than eating it I like to hoard it. This remains true to this day to the bemusement, I think, of some of my friends, to whom it can seem a willful display of my own powers of self-abnegation.

As a child I would always keep my haul of chocolate Easter eggs pristine and unopened for as long as I possibly could, sometimes until (truly) the next Easter. And if I did eat them I would eat the lesser, milk-chocolate ones first, saving the ones I anticipated would be most delicious (a Rowntree’s Black Magic egg would fall into this category) for some as yet unknown occasion worthy of their consumption.

When I was perhaps 9 or 10, a few of my friends got wind of this odd habit of mine and demanded to view this vaunted collection of Easter eggs. Reluctantly I showed them my stash (I believe I kept them under my desk), to their unfeigned astonishment. Can we open one, one of them asked? I was torn between my desire to protect my hoard and my desire to be thought polite and hospitable. Eventually, after much begging and pleading, I grudgingly agreed.

Reader, they devoured the entirety of my cache.

This memory was doubtless at the back of my mind when I misattributed to my daughter the worry that all the balloons would be used up. It also came to mind recently when I was telling my therapist how my new relationship feels.

I felt, I explained, so secure in his devotion towards me that I found myself curiously unplagued by the nervous, twitchy urge to check-in constantly, request affirmation, or fish for compliments—a feeling I have had, I believe, in every other romantic relationship. [2]

“Hmmm, that sounds like some of my patients who have to have their Ativan with them at all times,” Dr F. mused. “But,” she continued, “they literally never take it! They don’t need to take it as long as they know it’s there.”

“Oh, that’s just like me and chocolate!” I exclaimed.

Except of course that my love, the sonneteer and savvy shopper, is not an inert slab of chocolate or tablet of Ativan but a flesh-and-blood being with his own needs and wants.

And he too, like the younger, is able to get mad much more readily than I can because he knows, with a sureness I envy, what precisely it is he needs and wants.

Why did the younger want her friend to lay off her balloons? Because she loves to blow them up, of course!

A few days after the Great Balloon Emergency of 2017 she was walking around with one of the remaining, un-pebble-filled, unfrozen balloons, now happily inflated, held aloft between her pursed lips.

“Would you like me to tie that for you?” I asked.

By way of answer she slowly let the balloon deflate with a long drawn out fart.

And then she blew it up all over again.

“Would you like me to tie that for you?” is yet another wince-inducing instance of me momsplaining balloons to my daughter.

“Balloons should be inflated with air and then tied,” my question said. “That is the teleology of balloons, my child.”

Quite rightly, the drawn out balloon-fart cocked a snook at my passive-aggressive question and said, wordlessly, “why must everything be neatly tied? Why must there be an end to balloons?”

I hope that this blog post can function in some way to fulfill the desires—for security, but also to play your own way—it describes: I give this post to you, dear sonneteer, in lieu of sonnets and freezer bags. It might seem a poor showing: it’s neither so finely wrought nor so functional as all you’ve given to me. But it comes filled not with rocks but inflated with sweet zephyrs and all the breath I can spare today; there’ll be more another day to give, so, no need to tie or freeze.

Indeed, if you do, I’ll be mad.



[1] Dear reader, do you recall, quite some time ago, a post in which I mentioned that Lighting was my favorite department in our local (long since dearly departed) department store Jones Brothers, on Holloway Road? I mentioned in that post that haberdashery came a close second and I think that that department deserves a few words of appreciation here. Buttons, zippers, and ribbons galore: that was the stuff of haberdashery. The ribbons, on giant plastic rolls, arranged in a beautifully gradated color spectrum, were the highlight for me. I would fantasize that when I was a grown-up I would buy an entire roll of ribbon. Or maybe I would even buy two entire rolls: one velvet and one satin. At the time, Mum would let me buy more modest sections. I remember a particular teal velvet ribbon I purchased at Jones Brothers that I took great pleasure in rolling tightly into a round. The resulting disk had a nice heft to it and the feel of the closely stacked edges of the ribbon encircled upon itself was immensely satisfying.

[2] Reader, he writes me sonnets (Petrarchan, Shakespearean, AND Spenserian, for the win) and he buys me household supplies (freezer bags, glue, AND loo paper for the win).


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