So, let’s say you have this red punching bag, the balloon kind. It originally belonged to your brother, but now it’s the only surviving one of three, so your mom said you have to share it. It has lost a lot of air over the course of the weekend, but it still remains somewhat balloony–it just has stretch marks. It turns out that if you grab it and some other balloons and throw them up at the whole-house fan vent in the ceiling, they will stick in a delightful manner.
‘Course, the problem with this is that you can’t reach these balloons to get them back down. Being a clever eight year old, you quickly realize that you have the power to turn the fan on and off, so you and your brothers can throw the punching bag and balloons up into the air, let them stick on the vent, and then turn the fan off so that the balloons will fall back down.
Until your mom starts to worry that the whole-house fan is really not designed to be flipped on and off like this and tells you that you can’t keep doing that.
Being a resourceful eight year old, you figure out that if you found an object to use to strike the punching bag and balloons, they would fly off the fan. You look around. Ah-ha!
That dog never helps
Your brothers wait appreciatively below while you stretch and stretch to reach the balloons with your lightsaber. The two year old squeals when his balloon comes wafting down, and the four year old cheers when his does. Next you go for that punching bag.
Think I’ve…oh nooooo!! The punching bag disappeared into the fan! [pause] The fan doesn’t seem broken. Maybe Mom won’t kill us.
You and your brothers stand there, gazing up into the attic with wonderment. What will happen to it now?
When I was four, we spent the summer on the island of Oahu for my dad’s work. We went from a one-story house in California to living on the twenty-sixth floor of a condo building. We had a small lanai out the sliding glass door, which I would probably be too frightened to go out on now.
My sister and I spent the summer collecting shells on the beach. I had quite the collection, or at least it was impressive to my four-year-old mind. I also had gotten hold of a red balloon. A HELIUM one, better yet. My sister, ten, discovered that she could tie the balloon to my box of shells, and it was just strong enough to lift them a millimeter off the floor. This was very exciting, and just like a hot-air balloon, I figured. Since it was windy outside, my sister had a great idea: we’d take it out onto the lanai and see if the wind could lift it.
My balloon, my shells sailed over the railing of the lanai in the strong wind, and flew away.
Honestly, that image will stay with me till I die. All of my prized possessions flying away into the clouds.
Once I recovered from my shock and grief, I was fascinated. I imagined what would happen to my shells. Would they fly higher and higher until they reached heaven? Or outer space? Or would they simply travel the world, floating through the sky like that guy who went around the world in eighty days?
My sister suggested that the balloon might pop in a few days, so I accepted that. They would cruise around Hawaii, or else be up sort of in outer space, and then they’d fall, and that would be kind of interesting.
This morning, watching my children speculate about what would happen with that punching bag that got sucked into the vent, I remembered my balloon. I felt a bit envious of their childhood sense of wonder, unfettered by disappointing facts. In their world, the punching bag could come back out, or be eaten by rats–or played with by rats! Or played with by Mr. Darcy, next time he decided to get stuck in the fan vents.
Don’t Ask How He Got Up There
Maybe it would find its way out of the attic into the sky. Before I remembered that I was in danger of spoiling a wonderful imagination, I said it would probably just pop, and Selah suggested that maybe someday when another family lived here, they’d hear a pop and always wonder what it was. This made me smile, and I did not contradict it. After all, speculate though I might, I don’t really know what will happen to that punching bag, the same way I don’t really know what happened to my balloon and shells.* Trying to force my false and boring certainties on them would really just spoil the fun. So stop arguing, Mom, and let them wonder.
*OK, so I know it is reasonably likely that it polluted the ocean or caused a traffic collision in Waikiki. I apologize to any persons injured by our experiment.