My daughter just turned three. She got her first helium balloon on Saturday. She brought it home from a party, proud as punch. For the whole of that afternoon, wherever she went, the balloon did follow. She took it outside. "Don't let go, Lulu", I said. Lulu let go. The balloon, so sluggish and obliging inside the house, slipped through her fingers as if it has been waiting an eternity for the chance of flight. We watched it make its great escape into the firmament together. I assumed it would be a gentle lesson in basic physics. It turned out to be a hard lesson in loss.
It's been incredible to see that first tragedy of my daughter's life play out. After the event, she didn't stop crying for a full hour. Real crying. Wailing. Inconsolable wailing. Thereafter, it's been forever on her mind. I said the balloon was off on adventure. It might make it to China. Chinese grandma and Chinese granddad might even find it and bring it back. The consolation was momentary. "But how will it come down?", "How will they find it?", "Think balloon will pop."
Tonight, at bedtime, we went through our daily ritual of bidding the world goodnight. Each night, we come up with a long list. Things and people. To start with: Goodnight Things.
"Goodnight Cup," she starts. As always.
"Goodnight bed, goodnight curtains, goodnight ceiling, goodnight wall."
"Goodnight balloons," I say, gesturing towards the bunch in the corner of the room, provided by English granny by way of ameliorating the sadness.
"Yes, goodnight balloons. Goodnight green balloon. But not this green balloon. Goodnight one green balloon. In the sky." A face stained with trouble and angst.
More than two days after the event, my daughter is laying in her bed, troubled. Deeply troubled. Deeply, sadly, shatteringly troubled by the plight of her balloon, her friend, flying by itself, lost and lonely, into the night.
A threshold has been crossed. My little girl has just realised the world is unkind, and that things disappear, things are lost, things die, and those thing don't always come back. And seeing her learn the lesson is one of the saddest, most beautiful things I have ever experienced.