On the eve of her first birthday, I went to the grocery store customer service counter and ordered two dozen, vibrant-colored balloons.
I squeezed them into the car on this warm May night, and carried them up the stairs and into her darkened room. The balloons were tied together, but I let each one loose, so they'd cover the ceiling above her crib. Helium balloons are not silent, and after each bump, I'd lay down next to her crib and wait until it was safe to proceed.
The balloons above her crib, from the perspective of a one year old, must have been magnificent. I wasn't present when she awoke to her color filled ceiling; I don't know how long she may have stared in disbelief, or if she jumped up and pulled them close. That first morning of birthday balloons must have had the same impression as imprinting; a duck will attach itself to a human if it's the first animal it sees. The balloons imprinted upon her tender mind, and for the rest of her life, she would love balloons.
When I thought she'd outgrown the tradition, I hinted at the absence on her birthday morning. She would have none of it. When she moved out of the house, she reminded me it was still important. A mother will always find a way, and that first morning of her birthday away from home, she found balloons tied to her apartment door and car door handle.
So when she brought the man of her dreams home, and he was to become her husband, I warned him, or rather I passed the balloon buck. For twenty six years, I'd supplied the birthday morning balloons, and now marriage would include for him, not only love and cherish, in sickness and in health--but balloons on her birthday. I was more relieved about the passing of the tradition than the satisfactory relief that comes when a child finds a man so perfectly aligned to her personality.
As she's grown, her love of balloons, her love of others, has made her the balloon daughter, aunt, and sister. The imprint of joy from balloons, she passes on to others. We celebrated two birthdays rather close together, and it seemed the house was awash in balloons for the month of July.
I have come far enough in life, that I tend to stop and reflect upon practices and traditions; but it's not enough to just think--it's become a tracing of lineage, perhaps in the same way a person traces his genealogical roots. The balloon infatuation had a beginning, a tiny thought, that began as simply as, Wouldn't that be fun!