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Why the Balloon Boy tale was so easy to believe

Submitted by on Sunday, 18 October 2009 No Comment
A helicopter sits beside a major intersection just a mile or so past the main gate at Fort Irwin, and every time we pass it Big Guy works himself into a lather.

"Why can't I fly it, Mommy? It's just sitting there. No one's using it," he'll plead.

And when he heard the story of young Falcon Heene last week - the second version of the story, that is, that had Falcon hiding in the attic out of fear - Big Guy's eyes got as big and as round as they do every time we pass the helicopter.

"He went flying? In a balloon? Oh, that sounds like so much fun. I want to do that, too."

And that's why it was so easy for anyone who's ever raised a child - or even been a child - to fall for the Heene hoax. First-grader climbs aboard mylar muffin and heads to the moon? It's highly plausible.

Six-year-olds, you see, are crazy. Crazy in a good way for the most part, because they've gotten past their baby fears and are living a life where the sky's the limit. Sometimes the sky isn't even enough of a boundary.

Six-year-olds have little concept of the long-range consequences of their actions, beyond "I'm probably going to get a time out for this, but it's going to be sooooo worth it."

Big Guy has a passing acquaintance with the concept of "dead," but he thinks heaven is giant doctor's office, where people wait in the reception area to be sent back to Earth. If you had a good mommy, you get the same one  in the next round. Big Guy assures me that we'll be together again, so I guess I'm doing OK.

Six-year-olds quickly forget pain, which is why the kid whose wrist was freed from a cast barely a month ago went happily careening downhill over rocks and loose sand a mere four days after the training wheels came off his bike. Big Guy was thrilled. I was ill.

Six-year-olds live in a world where anything is possible - a world where you really could climb in a giant Jiffy Pop, sail across the country and live to tell about it. That's why I can get rid of Big Guy's bad dreams by pressing my hand to his forehead and sending in a supply of rainbows, sunshine, cupcakes and baseballs.

Did I believe that a 6-year-old boy was crazy-impetuous-daring-imaginative enough to climb aboard that balloon? You bet.

Am I livid at Richard and Mayumi Heene for taking that away from three kids. If they did only a fraction of what authorities now believe they did, yes, I am.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping an eye on Big Guy when we pass that helicopter. Just in case. Because no one would ever believe that a 6-year-old had turned pilot now.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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