Nobody Can Be Uncheered With a Balloon

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“Oh, you, idiot… what were you thinking?”

I hadn’t thought that through, that was the problem. I was rushing because it was almost 3:00 p.m., time to pick up Mark. Once again, I was trying to score an “A” at the “celebrate snowflake’s birthday” test and be that great North American mother pictured in magazines.

As we all know, perfect is the enemy of good. I had just bought Mark’s cake—for his sake, I didn’t attempt to bake it—and, on the spur of the moment, I decided to pick up a few helium balloons to make his birthday perfect. Yes, “balloons” plural because after all, they were only $1.25 and I couldn’t make up my mind.

Tell you what—I even wanted to get five of them, because you know, five years old. Good thing I stopped at three, because as soon as I stepped out of the store, I realized that bringing them home was going to be a bit of a challenge.

Picture me, a cake box on my open left palm, my right hand clutching three strings attached to three large balloons threatening to fly away at any moment in the cold breeze.

I felt like Pennywise behind a wall of balloons.

On top of that, when you’re carrying birthday balloons, every single person you pass on the way shouts “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Yep, Canadians are like this.

The cake, the balloons and I made it home safely. I checked the frosting—not messed up!—, put the dessert in the fridge and rushed to Mark’s room. I hung the “Happy Birthday” banner, then I tied one balloon to the door’s handle, tapped another one to a present and decided to bring the third one to school.

Second bad idea. The helium balloon was basically my air bag—good thing I wasn’t driving.

Mark deserves it, I rationalized. It’s his turn, his special day. He had been genuinely happy to celebrate Feng’s the day before—actually, almost too much.

“Mommy…” he had whispered to me the night before. “I’m so excited because it’s daddy’s birthday tomorrow! I’ll get up early and—”

“No, no! Seriously, daddy doesn’t want to get up early on his birthday. Trust me. We’ll celebrate in the evening.”

I made the same promise to Mark the night before his big day—we would celebrate after school.

To make his birthday memorable, I wanted to do something special together. After considering several activities, I decided on going to Build-A-Bear Workshop, a store where you create your own stuffed animal. We went there for his second birthday and he still sleeps with the dog he doesn’t remember stuffing.

We left the mall with a new best friend and Mark insisted he needed a stroller for him. “Yeah, it’s called karma, Mark. Do you have any idea how many times I had to carry you around in my arms at the mall because you didn’t want to sit in your stroller?” I reminded him.

We drove home and led Mark to his room. He was happy.

“Mommy… I’m still hungry…” Mark insisted later, after dinner. I really need to eat like… uh… something.”

“I think he wants his cake,” I whispered to Feng.

Following the tradition I started last year, I went outside with the cake, rang the doorbell and started singing when Mark opened the door. Candles were blown and vanilla cake was eaten—well, mostly the sickly-sweet icing.

It’s only later that night that I realized I had stressed out about the guy’s birthdays. I can’t explain why—both of them had fairly low expectations, after all. As long as there was cake and a gift (and these Western traditions are even optional for Feng), they were happy.

I’m not into parties and celebrations, both as a guest and as a host. Our wedding was just the two of us, I begged my friends to skip the baby shower for me (I was too superstitious for it, anyway), I never had a birthday party with friends and I’ve never hosted a dinner or thrown a party. I just don’t know how to entertain. I don’t know how to cook for guests. Hell, I can’t even pick wine! Is that normal?

My parents called to wish Mark a happy birthday. “Don’t forget to get high on helium after the party,” my dad advised when I told him about the balloon.

Maybe that’s how people survive “entertaining”.

Next up: Halloween. Such is the life of a North American parent!

Feng making fun of my room decoration efforts

Feng making fun of my room decoration efforts

Helium balloon in the car (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving)

Picking up Mark at school

Picking up Mark at school

Mark’s birthday crown made at school

Starbucks treat at the mall

Starbucks treat at the mall

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Mark making a wish when making his bear

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Mark discovering his room

Mark discovering his room

… and the presents!

Finally, the cake

Finally, the cake

Finally, the cake


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Awwww
    Yes if you keep writing things like this I will need to have a box of tissue close
    each time I read a post.
    You are just too awesome.

  2. Ça paraît cool ce truc de nounours! Est ce que c’est dispendieux ? J’ai du mal à faire des fêtes également mais surtout parce que je déteste être au centre de l’attention.

    • Pareil que toi, je n’aime pas être au centre de l’attention. Pas d’une fête, tout du moins, ces gens qui se déplaceraient pour moi et tout… ça me fait peur. Après, je ne dois pas détester l’attention tant que ça, vu que j’aime bien qu’on me lise! Mais je préfère toujours être derrière l’appareil-photo que devant, littéralement et métaphoriquement.

      Built-a-Bear n’est pas trop cher, le nounours de base (comme Mark a fait, choisir la “peau” et le remplir, plus mettre un coeur dedans, lui donner un nom et tout) coûte de 15 $ à 40 $ (pour les nounours genre Star Wars). Après, il y a tous les accessoires et ça peut monter vite. Je me suis esquivée avant la vente “forcée” 😆

  3. Bee Ean Le Bars on

    Happy birthday Mark! 5 year old already…
    Do you mean you have never had to host your in laws in your house? Like picking up the only brioche brand they can accept, or cracking your head as they are coming for a week and you need to prepare 14 meals to feed them??? Then, lucky you. 🙂

    • I am SOOO lucky. They feed us, not the other way around!

      But of course, only one brand of brioche is acceptable. And of course, you need to anticipate every single specifically irrational French food tradition 😆 (poor you!)

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