Over the Rainbow

Over the Rainbow

When I was five, my mother was exasperated by my continued inability to tie my shoes.  People kept telling me that the rabbit would run around the tree and into the hole, and I just sat there holding the laces in my hand and wondering what the hell they were talking about.  What rabbit?  I was having my birthday party in the summer that year (my real birthday is on Christmas, so we always celebrated it “whenever”);  I remember my mother said little girls who were five could tie their own shoes, and I wouldn’t get to be five until I could do it.  Of course she simply meant to motivate me with a deadline, but I really believed that unless I learned to tie my shoes, I would never be five.  I would be doomed to be 4 years old for the rest of my life.  I immediately went and got help from an older kid down the street – a glamorous, capable 9 year old -  and crossed “learn to tie shoes” off the list of life’s accomplishments.

Somehow over the years that got to be the way I thought about my birthday:  not a celebration of being a year older, fixed on the calendar by the date of your birth, but a celebration of being a year more grown-up, and it was a moment no-one else could identify for you.  You know how people always ask kids “How does it feel being ten?  Do you feel older?“  And of course you never do.  But there are times when you do feel older, in a good way – wiser, more confident, more powerful, more able to handle the challenges of your life.  And that’s a feeling well worth celebrating.

I’d never had a lot of patience with people who would cringe over each birthday.  The women I admired all said their 30’s were awesome and their 40’s were even better.  For me, yeah, 30 was good.  Maybe I wasn’t quite where I had planned to be, but I was moving in the right direction.  34 was another story – a complete disaster – the first time in my life I really flinched, because I felt like I’d gone backwards in my personal growth, somehow, that year.  So I gave myself a kick in the pants… and by the time I was 36 I was sure I’d earned several extra birthdays, and happily told people I was 38 until I forgot that I wasn’t and got confused.  I ended up being 38 for at least 4 years, a rollercoaster drama of trying to push my life in the direction I chose, while life just kept blowing me every-other-which-way: messy, painful, uncertain.  But even though not everything in my life was the way I wanted it, at least I was turning into the kind of  woman I wanted to be: stronger, braver, more sure of myself.  And I knew I wanted to do something awesome for my 40th birthday.  I’d decided on a balloon ride.

Balloons are a tricky business.  A lot depends on the weather.  We tried rescheduling a couple of times, and then honestly, I just sort of gave up on it.  By then I was halfway through 40 and I just wasn’t feeling like anything was any good at all.  My adoption match had fallen through, my career had run into a really boring ditch, and my romantic life seemed impossibly inside-out and upside-down.  Worse, I found myself getting impatient with everyone, jealous of my friends, afraid to try harder, angry with myself for being afraid.  Honestly, if I made a list of all the things that were just bad, it would look like a much worse year than 34.  Could I find anything to celebrate at all?   I realized if I wanted to be able to be happy about being 41, I needed to deal with being 40, messy, painful, uncertain, and not-awesome as it was.

Thank goodness for all those years I spent being 38!  My capacity for dealing with the messy uncertainty of life has increased exponentially.


So there I was at the crack of dawn on a very chilly Saturday morning, watching the ground crew of Airtime Balloon Company get us ready to go…

balloon5  balloon4 balloon3

The basket of the balloon was much smaller than I was expecting, and the balloon part much bigger.  I had been thinking the whole time about the balloon part, but I actually really love baskets, and the fact that we were riding in a basket really hadn’t hit me until I touched the weave, the wood, the leather stitched on the sides, the rope.


As the balloon actually rose up into the air, I felt my heart start to race.  I don’t remember when was the last time I felt that excited without being nervous. 

balloon1  balloon7 balloon6

Just for the record, I’m not afraid of heights.  Sometimes suspension bridges make me dizzy, and I am in no way inclined to jump out of airplanes.  But no problem at all with simply being up high…

balloon shadow

Our shadow on the trees as we rise


Up and away…



…and into the blue!


We passed over a golf course with those little glassy ponds, and the pilot swooped us down low so we could see our reflection in the water below!

Our reflection in water below

Our reflection in water belowballoon reflection3

You know what’s odd about balloons?  You don’t feel any wind.  No matter how fast the wind is blowing, you blow right along with it, so you don’t feel it.  If you change altitude a bit, you feel a breeze as you go up and down, but it’s your own movement against the air that you feel and not the actual wind of the world.  You also don’t steer.  You can go up higher, or down lower, to catch a breeze that might be headed another direction, but aside from that you just have to deal with the direction the wind takes you.

I expected they’d have a few potential landing spots mapped out, and they’d choose the one easiest to aim for…  but actually, they just land wherever.  Really, just wherever they feel like it.  You just drop down into somebody’s backyard, roll the balloon up like it’s a gigantic sleeping bag, stuff it into the basket, and drive away.  Like a ninja.  A HOT AIR BALLOON NINJA.  And yeah, every single little kid in the neighborhood came running out in their pajamas to see us landing.  :)

There's something really magical about letting the wind take you wherever it's going, but knowing you can land whenever you want to.

There’s something really magical about letting the wind take you wherever it’s going, but knowing you can land whenever you want to.

I’m not sure yet whether, later, I will look back and say that the year I turned 40 was the year I finally gave myself a good kick in the pants and got it all together, or whether I’ll say that it was the year I finally learned to just let go and deal with things the way they are.  Maybe both.

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