July 24th, 2014
I was feeling overwhelmed. By the return to reality from a long vacation. By the quick return to work, putting in longer hours than I do during the school year. By the mess of still unpacked bags. By other people’s actions I wish I could control, other people’s hurt that quickly became mine too. By thinking too much about all of this and not enough focus on the this here now of enjoying time with my kids.
I was trying to be easy on myself. Not to let myself lament my letting them watch too much TV or skipping out on a trip to the pool. I was trying to be gentle with myself and remember the amazing month we’d just shared, a month where I wasn’t distracted by stress or work or phone calls. A month where it was just us.
I was tired and unfocused and standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, listening to the water run and to them begging me to do something with them, play something with them.
And just as I was about to suggest reading or coloring or please let’s do something quiet, I remembered. In my bag, tucked into a side pocket, I had water balloons.
“I found these when I was cleaning out my closet,” my friend had said the night before. “I was going to throw them away and then I remembered I was going to see you!”
She knows, this friend. This friend who has been a mother many more years than I have, this mother who is almost an empty-nester. She knows that these little gifts from one mother to another are the key to sanity some days. That a secret stash of water balloons, already open and half of them used, is just the ticket through the hard days. So she saved them and she passed them to me.
“I have water balloons!” I announced, suddenly feeling like I could save myself from the downward spiral of our day.
“WATER BALLOONS!” they both screamed in a simultaneous chorus of joy.
Within minutes we were all wet. The hose sprayed me as I filled each one. They took turns throwing the balloons and popping them on their own heads. Our green grass soon was littered with the confetti of exploded balloons, little pieces of joyful color splattered around as reminders of our fun.
The balloons ran out, but our fun did not. They ran around the yard in patterns as I sprayed the hose at them and above them, as I made it feel like rain and mist and flood. She smiled as she skipped and cartwheeled through the water and he deep belly laughed at her silly faces when she let him spray her right in the face. I listened to him laugh, watched her smile and felt better, felt lighter, felt like I hadn’t totally failed for the day.
When I’m cleaning out my closets years from now, when my children are grown and the occasion for water balloons has long passed, I’ll think twice before I throw these relics away. I will remember when my friend gave me a bag of small wrapped gifts to help us survive our first road trip as parents. I will remember the way she pulled out stickers or special pens or just the perfect interesting trinket every time my kids visited her classroom or her home or ate with her in a restaurant. I will remember her and how she remembered me, remembered us, the mothers of young children for whom a bag of water balloons might mean everything one random Wednesday evening.