Our Red Balloon

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Photo: Sarah Scott

When moments of growing up are upon us it feels to me like a red balloon, enthusiastically bursting with helium, buzzing nervously with anticipation of its inevitable flight. 

Visions of the red balloon have invaded my dreams all summer long; joyful, delighting the crowd, emanating light and love as bright balloons are known to do. I wondered how the red balloon correlated with this big first step into the world of independence for our first born son. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that he is indeed the red balloon and all summer long we have been preparing for his first flight. Or maybe, we have been all along?

As parents, our motto has always been to take it all one moment at a time, to remind ourselves to be as fully present as we can be, and to appreciate what we have been given. From the very beginning, the ending was always up in the air, and so we stepped forward in faith. Faith, trust, and hope were our northern stars and our God has graciously guided us home.

Our oldest son was born extremely premature due to life threatening pregnancy complications.In an effort to save his life and my own, labor was immediately induced. I call those days of my life “My Darkest Days,” because during that time, it was uncertain about whether or not we would live or die. It felt like touching down, lost and lonely in the deepest and darkest valley with your eyes set on the rosy glow of the mountain peaks far off in the distance. In those dark quiet moments between death and life, I begged for us to live. I introduced myself to God and told Him all of the reasons why I hoped to be a mother to the tiny baby boy cradled in my flesh and bones. All of the reasons He already knew.

The situation was quite challenging and my doctors all crowded around my bedside, tossing around complex medical terms that my ears struggled to understand. I was really not myself and came in and out of consciousness. My head was spinning as a nurse tried to take blood, unable to find a vein, digging into my flesh with frustrated determination, “Your platelet count is extremely low. Your blood is unable to clot properly so you need to have this child naturally, without C-section, without hemorrhaging…” Her voice trailed off, “I’m going to be honest with you. You might not make it.” I asked her to pray with me. Medical students were using the situation as a study case! I could not have a C-section due to the nature of the pregnancy complications. If I needed to have a C-section, I would have bled out on the operating table, but they would “try to save the child.” My sweet husband watched in horror as blood in a donation cooler for transfusion was delivered to my room.

Our son was not breathing when he was born. The nurses had to revive him and flattened him out like a pancake in their hands. I was unconscious as teams of nurses worked on reviving my body and our son’s body. My husband watched in horror as both of our bodies seemed lost. Finally, we were both alive again and the nurses rushed him off to the NICU while the second team crowded around me. My husband’s arm extended through the crowd and reached for my hand, squeezing it tight. Three beats for “I LOVE YOU” just as we’ve always done. As soon as he did, I squeezed back, echoing the three beats. We were alive. We were given a second chance. We were the lucky ones. 

The year that followed was one of the hardest years of our lives. Due to his prematurity, milestones were not met. We spent all of our time attending doctor and specialist appointments and creating a therapy-minded environment within our home that would support our son. I left my beloved career in teaching to be a full-time mother to him because we knew it was the right thing to do. Luckily, my background in Special Education was the platform from which I was able to fight for the support we needed. I knew what we needed and was determined to get it. Every waking moment was spent with our son, meeting his needs, and making sure that he had what he needed to thrive. It felt strange to be the one sitting on the other side of the desk, listening to a teacher, therapist, and/or doctor describe the challenges my son would face in the years ahead. As diagnoses go, it wasn’t the easiest set of challenges to overcome, but it definitely wasn’t the worst. We were the lucky ones. We were going to fight. We were going to give our son his best shot. 

With the right combination of support in place, our son bloomed. When doctors said he would not walk properly, he learned to run. When doctors said he would never properly jump, he learned to jump AND skip AND hop AND walk backwards! When doctors said that he may never develop proper speech, he decided that he would. When doctors were certain he had a skull deformity called scaphocephaly, his CT scan before surgery came out crystal clean, healthy, and 100% NORMAL. We laughed and laughed together when the doctor explained that like his father he just “has a big head!” When doctors said that he would never have the balance to be able to ride a bike, he learned how to ride a bike, a scooter, an ATV, and loves to go on the swings! When doctors said that he may never be able to digest “real food,” he learned to eat filet mignon. He’s unstoppable and we are so proud of all that he has been able to accomplish in his young life.

Looking back on those years of gritty determination and golden triumph, I can only feel joy and pride. I am not the mother filled with regret or sadness that my child’s baby days are over because I was right there by his side through it all. I was present and spent my days encouraging him every step of the way. It’s true that I had my emotional and discouraged moments. We all do but I like to think I did my best. I know and can affirm that I did. Because of what we went through I will never be the mom complaining about my motherhood because the truth is I am just so happy to have the opportunity and privilege to be ALIVE, to be able to dance with both of my children, and to feel the sun rise and set on this day. I recognize that motherhood is hard at times but I will always appreciate it for the treasure that it is. I know that not everyone is given second chances (or even first ones, for that matter) and the fact that I was, that we were, is sacred, and holy, and healing to me.

The bond I have with both of my children is unbreakable and nothing, not even the arrival of a big yellow school bus, can take that away. My big boy and I were given a second chance at life and we just don’t take that lightly. We live each day like it is our last and fiercely and bravely chase LOVE. We are all here and today is truly the first day of the rest of our lives. It is the day we have been hoping and praying for since he was born six years ago. To have reached this moment and to be this ready is a dream come true, our sweet miracle, our precious gift from our merciful God of second chances.

As parents, we try to hold on tightly with the belief that we can, some believing more than others that holding on is even possible. The truth is that they are ours for but a short while and then they are the world’s. We teach them what we know to be true about the world, about life and how to live it, and then with hope rising, our little ones begin to take flight in their own beautiful ways. We want them to fly. We want them to soar. We want them to make their own unique marks on the world and we definitely want to work ourselves out of a job, one day at a time. It’s achingly painful, but it’s also remarkably healing. It’s reverently sad, but it is also such an overwhelming joy.

Like the words of Sondheim’s classic lyric,

“Everything’s different

Nothing’s changed

Only maybe slightly rearranged…

You’re sorry-grateful


Why look for answers

Where none occur?

You always are

What you always were

Which has nothing to do with

All to do with her (them)…”

Life promises to be a beautiful contradiction when you choose to fully dive in. And you want to dive in. To witness another’s humanity is a sacred privilege and as mothers and fathers, we are entrusted with VIP seating. We are not the same because of this love. We are stronger, somehow and it has nothing but everything to do with them. It is in the witnessing, that we will suddenly find ourselves forever changed, or only maybe slightly rearranged.

And so today, Kindergarten is here! As my once too-tiny red balloon bounces with pride up the tall steps of the bright yellow bus, he will give a quick wave like only he can do as he lets the light dance with his sky-blue eyes. I will feel a tug at my heartstrings and then suddenly we will witness him take flight. There will be a brief moment, just like with any balloon, when I’ll feel that familiar urge to try to catch the string and tie him down for just. One. More. Moment. But as my eyes begin to water, I’ll gently remind myself that his light is, or has become, much too bright to keep all to myself. Our world desperately needs a heart like his. He’s ready. I’m ready. And today is such a joyfully tearful day. These aren’t tears of sadness or regret or guilt for what once was, only hopeful ones for the colorful road that lies ahead.

I write about normalizing the diversity of the human condition and believe that different is beautiful. I'm published on Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, ELLE Decor, House Beautiful, Country Living, Seventeen, Dr. Oz – The Good Life, among others. I contribute to Today Parents and I've been featured on Good Morning America/The Today Show.

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