Hot Balloon!

August 11, 2014

A few weeks ago a hot air balloon flew quite low right over our house. I first saw it over our deck just after it passed our house. I'm not sure how close it flew to our rooftop, but based on how close it seemed to our deck it passed over our house much closer than I expect them to fly. I rushed my son out onto the deck to see the balloon, expecting him to be impressed with his first hot air balloon sighting.

At first the balloon frightened my son - and our dog barking at it probably added to his concern. He begged me to take him inside, but I kept holding him in hopes he would understand and like it. As I talked to him about what was happening - and as it moved away - he began to enjoy it. He complained as it disappeared behind houses and trees. We had to wait quite awhile to convince him it wouldn't return.

Clearly over his initial fear, my son became obsessed with the hot air balloon. For days he kept talking about the "hot balloon" and the "guys" in the basket that I had pointed out to him. He also noted that "Pete bark at hot balloon." For some reason he calls our dog "Pete" (a horrible name for a dog) instead of our dog's actual name Paprike (a great name, of course, for a male Red Tri Australian Shepherd). This name change has lasted for months and I'm afraid we're going to have to get a new name tag for the poor dog (for awhile it was even "Peter" but we've apparently moved to the nickname level).

When my son saw his grandparents a couple of days later, he responded to their "hi" with "hot balloon!" Then he mentioned the "guys" and "Pete bark at hot balloon." I heard this piecemeal story several times each day. He never mentioned the part about how he was frightened at first, nor would anyone guess that he had been based on his excitement. The old book Tubby and the Lantern quickly became a favorite as the illustrations provoke numerous shouts of "hot balloon."

I assumed the "hot balloon" had sailed as part of the nearby county fair so I kept looking for another one all week for my son to watch. Five days later - with his story of the first encounter still going strong - we finally had another sighting. I saw the balloon first and told my son to look into the sky. His shriek and giggles confirmed the sighting.

"Hot balloon!"

This one went over a different part of our neighborhood quite high, so I put my son on his tricycle and started pushing it as I ran toward the balloon. My wife and her parents followed behind with the dog, who started barking at first because he thought he would be left behind. This prompted my son to shout with excitement.

"No, Pete, bark at hot balloon!"

He chanted the command in a loud, high pitch for almost a block (sorry, neighbors!) even after "Pete" had stopped barking and joined the race toward the "hot balloon."

We chased the "hot balloon" for several blocks before it disappeared behind a hill. We didn't get close, but it only magnified my son's obsession with hot air balloons. Already knowing what it was - and hoping for it to come back - he skipped the fear step this time.

Over the past couple of weeks, he has remained on an evangelistic mission to tell everyone he meets about the "hot balloon." I fortunately overheard a conversation at the public library between him and another boy.
Other boy: "What's your name?"
My son: "Hot balloon!"
Other boy: "What did you say?
My son: "Pete bark at hot balloon!"
Other boy: "I don't understand what you're saying."
My son: "No, Pete, bark at hot balloon!"
Other boy (to his brother): "I don't understand what he's saying."
Out of context, my son's story made no sense. Silence followed the brief encounter, though my son didn't seem to have the awkward feeling adults would have in such a social setting.

The stories of the two hot air balloons melt seamless for my son, as if one event. I wonder how long my son will continue to daily speak of a "hot balloon," how it went over his house, the "guys" in it, how "Pete" barked at it, and how he told him "no bark." The fair ended so it could be months before another "hot balloon" sighting. At this rate, he might still be talking about it by then.

His dramatic shift from fear to excitement seems to echo what John wrote in his first letter: "perfect love casts out fear." I thought I loved hot air balloons, which is part of why I refused to take my son back inside when he was scared of the first one since I wanted to watch it (it's not bad parenting since he ended up loving it). But his childlike love for a "hot balloon" far surpasses mine. How can we also find ways to move from ignorance-driven fear to loving excitement?