"Mama, hot air balloon!"
"By those trees!" exclaims my sweet little Ana exuberantly as she leans forward in the backseat.
"What trees? Where?" I bark as I whip my eyes around the landscape of smog and morning traffic. "I don't see it."
I'm stopped at a light, and, I swear to goodness, this light always turns on me on the last moment. It's an Old West stand-off, and I always lose; my brakes have the scars to prove it. Plus, I've been rushing all morning, more even than most school mornings. To top it off, my daughter is teasing me with this fictional hot air balloon that I know is invisible to my grumpy eye. To see this hot air balloon I must turn into a happiness nymph or a sweet brown-haired girl of seven. I'm not betting on seeing this balloon.
But then my cynical nine-year-old boy points and says disinterestedly, "By those trees. It's right there."
Moving again, I look to my left and lo, a gargantuan balloon hangs suspended over the shopping center across the intersection. Laaaa-aahhh! If I could do a jig and maintain proper control of my vehicle, I'd do it. This is the closest I have ever been to a hot air balloon. I can see it's basket and the bright pattern on it big bulbous body clearly. It rules the southern sky, and the child within me blooms from my head.
"Balloon! Balloon! Balloon!" I shout, tapping the driver's side window energetically with my finger. "Look, Danny Sam! Do you see it?" I add, turning to the carseat behind me.
It's something he should appreciate, being an ardent fan of the much smaller variety. That love of his has often lead to what I term "balloon drama" whenever he sees one, pops one, or someone else is playing with one. He's always asking for a "bawoon, p-eezzz!" And it was a sad day indeed when his birthday balloon escaped into the great unknown of a cloudless Arizona sky. Goodbye!
Such little things bring joy and inspire longing. I've lost much of my appreciation for the ones on a string, but large flighty balloons have long had a special spot in the hearts of my children and I. When my two eldest were small, I used to take them outside very early on a fall morning. They'd play in the crisp air, and I'd jump rope in laps around our now-deceased pepper tree, working to lose some weight. I'd stop every little bit to give them piggy back rides around the yard, and if it just so happened that we saw a balloon in the sky, as we often did, we delighted in it, pointed it out to each other, and admired its lift as the smell of fast food frying floated to us from the nearest major street.
Strangely, though, this balloon on the drive to school is boldly black beneath its flashy patterns. One could think the Grim Reaper would show up in just such a conveyance outside one's bedroom window.
"It's your time, my friend," he'd say, leaning through the glass, smoothly. Then he'd smile beneath his cloak and add, "But let's go for a ride first, eh?"
But, no....hot air balloons don't belong to wraiths. They belong to children and children at heart, which is why my toddler son and I were so disappointed on our way home an hour later.
"Bawoon? Bawoon, p-eezzz?" he pleaded, gazing out the window.
"No, it's gone," I replied sadly.
But I admired his gumption in asking for a balloon he could ride in instead of merely holding by a string.