All weekend long at Comfest, this arch of rainbow balloons tormented Declan. The allure of the rainbow seduced him across crowds. It would catch his eye and off he’d run. Held down by two supposedly empty helium canisters, it was treacherous to toddler parents who knew that looking at the spectrum really wasn’t enough for little ones. They want to stand beneath it, to touch it if at all possible, and you’d just have to hope that you caught them before they pulled on the ribbon that held it all together and rolled the metal canisters right over their feet.
On Sunday night, the arch was attached on one end and sagging lower to the ground on the other. Declan ran in circles beneath the limp side and Dan brought it down to him. Soon, an entire gaggle of toddlers was running directly underneath the rainbow, or wedging themselves into sections where everything in their world became blue, or in Declan’s case, orange (pictured above). The laughter was infectious and constant – the most contagious display of unabashed child–ness I have ever seen.
But for some reason – I think maybe an older kid down the row started popping some of the balloons – the woman who had blistered her hands making the arch came up the row, upset and yelling “Let it go! This mine, get off of it now!” to, well, a lot of people who were under five years old. Even though there was less than an hour or two of daylight left in the festival, and the helium arch was flagging, she scolded Dan to let the balloons go, claiming he was preventing all of the other children from enjoying it.
This is the place where parents and people without kids often part ways. I know that before I had Declan, there were certainly times when I would have been on that woman’s side of the divide and wondered what in the hell we, as parents of wild, balloon-crazed giggle monsters were thinking. I know that I’ve put shiny objects in front of more than one little person in my time and wondered why there seemed to be no way to get them to leave it alone. If I’d put in the work that she did, I also might be too attached to watch my work destroyed, even though the arch’s death was clearly inevitable.
When a little child is one of the people you are closest to in life, and you accept their essence – their ability to sustain a state of joy – you know that there is absolutely no way that simply looking at an arch of balloons can compare to the unadulterated bliss those children had when they could run beneath, around and over them – how often do you get to touch an actual rainbow? Regaining a closeness to that simplicity is one of the most precious things about parenting a toddler, and you can often see a nostalgia for it on the faces of parents who have been there.
So I’m grateful to the woman who made the arch, I just wish that she had been able to experience some of that joy along with us.
Life soundtrack: Willie Nelson, Rainbow Connection, “Rainbow Connection: