Some people are afraid of spiders (yes, that would be me); some are afraid of the dark; and, as a child, Tim was afraid of balloons. Yes, those little, round brightly colored, celebratory symbols of joy and happiness - he was terrified of them. Dan and I never could figure out where the fear came from; we couldn't recall any balloon-related trauma that happened when he was a baby.
If you've never had a child afraid of balloons, you might not realize how prevalent they are in society. By four years old, Tim had pretty well identified the places of business that he didn't want to enter -- Fred Meyer, the bank, the Hallmark store, certain restaurants, to name a few -- knowing that he'd have to pass by a bouquet of balloons at the check-out counter, or that some unsuspecting soul would try to hand him a balloon on a string. And by then I had given up trying to convince him to go to birthday parties.
On Tim's very first day of school, Mrs. C, his teacher, called me at home (we knew each other well, since I was a regular volunteer at the school). "After recess Tim sat down in the hall, outside the classroom door, and he refuses to come back into the room. I can tell he's upset, but he won't tell me what's wrong!" This was not typical behavior for our sweet-natured, easy-going little son, so I had a pretty good idea of what must be happening. "Are there any balloons in the room?" I asked. Mrs. C, always looking for fresh and creative teaching methods, had mounted a number line above the chalk board, the numbers representing the days in the month of September. Over each of the numbers was tacked a balloon. Each morning she planned to pop one balloon so the children could see what day of the month was hiding beneath it. And that morning, the first day of school, she had popped her first balloon.
Mrs. C. and I talked, and we agreed that it might be helpful if the school counselor, Miss. B., could chat with him, and, perhaps, help him over his fear of balloons. So Tim started making a weekly visit to Miss B's office. It was a pleasant time for both of them. Miss B called me at home to tell me that she looked forward to her time with Tim each week, because he was such a lovable child. They did a lot of talking. Her plan was to work up, in baby steps, from blowing soap bubbles (no problem there), drawing pictures of balloons (a little resistance), holding uninflated balloons (didn't much like that), and all the way to fully inflated balloons (never got that far).
One morning I received another phone call from the counselor, Miss B. She said she had to share with me what she thought was the funniest story. She explained that Tim came to see her that morning, for his regular visit, and sat down in the big easy chair she had there in her lamp-lit office. Before she had a chance, Tim initiated the conversation. "Miss B," he said, "Why don't you use that light on the ceiling?" Miss B told him that she really preferred a softer light than the ceiling light. "Oh," said Tim, very thoughtfully, "Are you afraid of bright lights?" It was at that moment that Miss B realized she was being psychoanalyzed by a six-year-old.
I don't know if Miss B's sessions had any effect on Tim's phobia. He eventually was able to tolerate the sight of balloons, but he never made friends with them. Interestingly, he never had the same reacation to Mylar balloons, so we feel it definitely had to do with the loud noise associated with a popping latex balloon.