Red Balloons

November 6, 2007 at 3:40 pm 21 comments


My brother had a dual birthday party for his son and his wife a few weeks ago.  I heard all about it the other day on the phone with my mom.  The party took place outdoors, at a park, on a sunny California day.  There were drinks for the adults, a jumping house for the kids, fresh air for all.  And balloons.  My brother’s daughter is twenty-three months old.  She has beautiful blue eyes, chubby cherub legs, dimples.  She is very independent and sure footed, always has a smile for anyone who needs one, and the day of the birthday party she was fascinated with balloons.  She could not stop following the balloons.  Eventually my brother caught her for a moment and tied a balloon to her belt loop.  Then all day long he could spot her.  He would look up from his food or from his conversation and instantly he would see the big balloon bobbing above his diminutive daughter.  I imagine the balloon red, lazily moving from one place to another, through peoples’ conversations, a few swipes past the buffet tables, loitering on the sandy playground near the slide.  All day long he watched the balloon and he knew that his little one was safe.  Exploring her world, but safe.

Parents want children who are easy, like red balloons.  At birth, our children are so dependent on us, but as they take their first gulp of air, they usually are already starting their ascent.  And that is the goal we have for our kids; to grow, to evolve, to become who they will become while we, without too much sweat and tears, watch.   

I have three daughters.  It was easy to see my two older girls lifting off effortlessly, each floating away in respective directions.  Elaina, my oldest, jumped from the womb full of air, and has fought for independence quickly in every stage of her development.  She is trying to figure out a way to turn her balloon into a rocket.  My middle daughter, Zoya, sometimes is uneasy about the air around her, she stays a bit closer, evolving quietly but surely until she is comfortable with her surroundings.   

Then Polly was born.  We were told she had Down syndrome and I did not know if her body could even hold air.  I spent almost a year grieving popped balloons in my mind; her future, lost expectations, my future.  I was certain I would not see her float away, towards independence, towards her own life.  But I think I was wrong.  At twenty months, little by little, with a lot of hard work, Polly is lifting off.          

The other day, she was looking at a book of snapshots with one of her therapists.  The first page is her house; the next page is Polly, then Mama, next Mama with Polly, then her Papa, and lastly a picture of all three sisters.  We take this little book out daily and slowly, we look at each picture and talk about who we see.  Up until then Polly had been mildly interested, pointing to pictures, helping turn the page.  And that day it clicked.  When she got to the picture of me, she said excitedly, mama, mama, mama, and vigorously pointed to the book, pivoted her little bottom around and pointed at me.  She had such a bright smile on her face.  The therapist and I both squealed and clapped and I am sure that my make-up was running down my face.  It was like a huge puff of air had been blown into me, unlike anything I had felt before.  And I thought about the red balloon bobbing above my own head.  Ready to lift off with Polly.                                       


Entry filed under: Balloons, Blessings, Cute kids, Down syndrome, Family, Mothering, Parenting, Polly, Therapy, Ukraine.

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21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ging'  |  November 6, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    I am so proud of you!! Your blog made me want to treasure every moment with my children, and appriciate them for who they are. I love the red balloon, and can just picture it tied loosly around Polly’s tummy, as she smiled and pointed at her mama. What a treasure she is!!
    Keep blogging, and I will keep reading….your writings always inspire me.

  • 2. Ging'  |  November 6, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    I am so proud of you!! Your blog made me what to treasure each of my children for who they are. I can just picture Polly with the red balloon tied loosly around her tummy, as she smiles and points to her mama. What a treasure she is!! Keep blogging, and I will keep reading….your writings have always inspired me. Love you.

  • 3. melissa  |  November 6, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    Thank You for you words. They a wounderful and you made me cry. You know we Love all for you and pray for you. It was a joy to see you Firday. Hope to see you soon again.

  • 4. Sergei  |  November 6, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    alright, alright…

    right on…

  • 5. noelle  |  November 6, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    WOW! You sure can write. I am slightly jealous. I have been thinking about you often lately. So I just pray when you pop into my head. Glad to get your newsletter yesterday too. Hope all is going well. I will check in every so often. love ya!

  • 6. ukrainemom  |  November 6, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks Ging, Melissa and Noelle for your responses. Much better than my DH’s “alright, alright.”

  • 7. amyeg  |  November 6, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    So so happy to see your blog up and running. You’re already on my blogroll. This is beautifully written, by the way. Keep blogging, I look forward to reading it!!!

  • 8. jennifergg  |  November 6, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    this is so beautiful! and so true, and so very wise. i love the red balloon and all it represents…you’ve made a beautiful blog! Thank you.

  • 9. joannmski  |  November 6, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    A great post! And I think I will go get a tissue now…beautiful!

  • 10. ukrainemom  |  November 6, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Thanks Amy, Jennifer, and Joann! It’s nice to have friends!

  • 11. !@#$!^&&***  |  November 7, 2007 at 3:15 am

    Your writing is a gift. Keep it up. This is really inspiring. Emily

  • 12. Peggy  |  November 7, 2007 at 5:54 am

    Gillian, Wow…I love the way you write! Very descriptive and meaningful! That’s not just the teacher in me but the reader saying that! So glad you’re my friend! Love ya!

  • 13. Julie  |  November 7, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Hey Gill,
    Loved your blog. It’s about time you let the world in on your beautiful heart and gifted writing! Miss you.

  • 14. ukrainefriend  |  November 7, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Oh, friend… I miss you so much. You are beautiful! You are honest! you are talented! What a treasure Polly is! She, you, Lenka, Zoika — you are so special, girls!

    The images are so vivid! I can picture you all…
    lots and lots of love. your ukrainian friend in transition 😮

  • 15. LMC  |  November 7, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Just wait til Polly graduates to a hot air balloon! I have a feeling that girl’s going to make all our eyes pop out. She’s going to bust all the preconceptions, all the sorry notions about “handicaps.” Go, Polly. Go, Polly’s Mom. The Marchenkos rock… I mean float! Fly!

  • 16. Niksmom  |  November 7, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    I followed your link from a comment on Jennifer G.G.’s blog. This is beautiful. I look forward to reading more. Best wishes.

  • 17. ukrainemom  |  November 7, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks Emily, Peggy and Julie. I appreciate your support, and Julie, I really miss you, too. I can’t believe that I actually miss the gray overcast days of Autumn in Kiev!

    Thanks A! You are always such an encouragment to me. Let’s talk soon.

    LMC–your words are so true and so positive. THANK YOU!

    and Niksmom, you are the first person to pass by here who I don’t actually know. Thanks for reading and welcome!!

  • 18. Heidi  |  November 9, 2007 at 2:13 am

    I cried too tell your DH I said HI! I really miss you guys. I can’t get over that Polly is almost 2. . .wow time flys

  • 19. Sergei  |  November 9, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Gillie, I am very happy you’re blogging. Good writing, too. Keep it up. And keep it real…


  • 20. Heartsong  |  November 9, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your joy about Polly. I will always smile when I hear her name. My mother’s name is Polly. I have always enjoyed reading your posts on the pw forum. Keep blogging. It’s been a wonderful cathartic activity for me, a writer wanna be.

  • 21. michele  |  November 14, 2007 at 5:05 am

    now i’m REALLY glad i checked out your blog.


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