Birthday wishes make a transatlantic flight

Posted 2/29/24

 My son, Ted, stopped to buy a couple of helium filled birthday balloons on his way to our house Saturday.

Neither of us are celebrating birthdays nor are immediate family members. As it …

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Birthday wishes make a transatlantic flight


 My son, Ted, stopped to buy a couple of helium filled birthday balloons on his way to our house Saturday.

Neither of us are celebrating birthdays nor are immediate family members. As it turned out, these balloons were for Elena Muyo from Spain who lived with us for the 1990-91 school year. She attended Pilgrim High School. She will be turning 50 and celebrating in Great Britain where she now lives with her family. I haven’t gotten all the details but I wouldn’t be surprised if the event includes dropping in on her parents and siblings in Valladolid, Spain.

But, what about the balloons? Would we be tying messages to them and casting them to the winds?

The Chinese seem to have mastered the technique of balloon guidance, so why not Ted?

 It’s a romantic thought that a balloon could make it that far. But Ted was serious about delivering our congratulations by balloon. I knew he had a plan and I knew he had thought it out.

Birthdays are good times to reflect on times gone past and what the future might hold. There’s always that last candle on the cake for a wish. That is a nice thought. On the other hand, I never understand why spanking was a part of the birthday tradition while growing up. I’ll blame it on my mother who was born in France and her French cousins although I have no way of knowing that she’s responsible. I turned to the internet, discovering spanks and even more violent forms of celebrating birthdays are commonplace in some parts of the world. I forgive my parents. They didn’t start it.

In 2013 the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay banned “birthday bumps.”

“Students often get carried away while giving birthday bumps, and it might result in an accident, and there is a fear of spinal injury. Moreover, no student wants to come forth and report these incidents. [To] avoid such untoward accidents, we believe that banning such activities is ideal,” reads a report.

I can’t recall when, but the practice of one spank for each year followed by a firmer one to grow on stopped. It had to be before I was a teen. The message was confusing. Spankings were punishment, how could they also be celebrated?

Elena was a high school junior when she lived with us. The connection between our families was made through a Rotary Club summer exchange program. Elena’s brother Alfredo stayed with us for about six weeks and then Ted traveled to Valladolid to live with the Muyos. Anxious to learn English and see more of the world, Elena asked if she might spend a year with us and attend high school.

It was good timing. Ted would be spending his first year in college and his older siblings had already spread their wings. Over the years we have hosted a number of foreign students through various programs.

 We’ve stayed in touch with Elena. I flew to Spain for her wedding. My son, Jack, visited her and the family in London when he was working in Europe several years ago. We’d get an occasional email and we always exchanged Christmas cards. One would have thought with social media we’d be back and forth consistently. We weren’t. There was no need for all the details.

Then last spring Elena had the opportunity to accompany her husband on a business trip to New York. They brought their three children and stopped in Warwick to see us. We stopped by Pilgrim to show her kids where she completed her junior year of high school.  They stayed at a nearby Conimicut Airbnb.

That triggered yet more connections.  This year Ted spent a night with her parents in Valladolid while connecting with Kristen Petersen. Kris and his twin brother from Denmark and Ted became friends as Pilgrim students.

Even with so many renewed connections, I was surprised to get an email from Alfredo, Elena’s bother last week. I can’t remember when I last heard from him. He recalled how he reached out ten years earlier to compile a photo album for Elena’s 40th birthday. Now he was putting together a video for her 50th. Could we do a video?

Ted jumped on the idea and this is where the balloons enter the picture.

Of course the balloons were in the video. They got passed around as the camera focused on each of us as we sang, “happy birthday to you.” Ted snipped off the tie to one balloon, enabling him, my granddaughter, Sydney and me to inhale the helium. When we sang we sounded like the Chipmunks. All of us joined the chorus to sing the full song mixed with spasms of laughter.

It was a sophomoric thing we would have done all those years ago and that’s what made it work. Just as Ted planned, the balloon made it across the Atlantic.

Side Up, editorial, balloons


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