We recently had a 5-foot, 10-inch stormtrooper living with us. He was well-proportioned, moved swiftly and held a blaster. Also, he was filled with helium, a decoration for Lindell’s 10th birthday.

The boys named the stormtrooper Jason. We all thought “Steve the Stromtrooper” sounded better, but “Steve” was the name given to 2014’s helium-filled minion, and no one likes to share a name, not even balloons.

If it seems like I’m giving the stormtrooper more human qualities than is normal for a mylar balloon, there is a good reason. From the time Lindell and I stuffed all 5-foot, 10-inches of Jason into the backseat of my car and then went through a restaurant’s drive-through to get donuts, where the stormtrooper peered out the window at the cashier, Jason felt like family. Although, the look on the drive-through attendant’s face revealed to me what I was about to go through at home: Things with Jason were going to get a little creepy.

You see, things like life-sized inflatable balloons shaped like humans belong in a class of items that only seem like a good idea at the time. Also in this group are wax candles shaped like anything lifelike — bears, dogs, angels. I once bought a festive holiday candle shaped like Santa Claus. I wasn’t aware of how badly it would end until I lit poor Santa’s head and the kids’ eyes grew three-times their usual size.

“He’s going to melt,” Ford said.

“Duh.”

“No, Mom, he’s going to melt, and then he will implode on himself.”

Ford was right. The Santa was tragic and awful. Nothing says creepy like a wax Santa with his head on fire.

Also in this group are birthday cakes with people’s images airbrushed on the top. We learned this lesson during “Dinner with the Smileys,” when one of our guests brought a cake for dessert, and it had my deployed husband’s likeness laid into the frosting. Where do you cut into such a cake? Every time I placed the knife somewhere, the boys yelled, “Geez, not there, Mom!”

Once the cake was awkwardly divided into suitable serving sizes, there was the uncomfortable issue of who would get which piece. Kids always want the piece of birthday cake that has their name in frosting on it. But what if the cake is a picture of your dad? There were jokes about Dad giving someone a “piece of his mind,” and then we all laughed nervously and lost our appetite for cake.

Jason the stormtrooper belonged to this class of thing.

The first thing I said when we brought Jason into the house and he began floating with the current of our forced-air heat was, “This is going to be horrifying when he comes into someone’s room tonight.” Remember, Jason was 5-foot, 10-inches, well-proportioned and carrying a blaster.

Indeed, that first night, when I walked into the darkened kitchen for a drink of water at midnight, Jason was waiting there for me. His white uniform was dimly illuminated by the glow coming from our water cooler, and his blaster was pointed right at me. I screamed, and the dog responded appropriately. I walked past Jason to get to the cupboard where we keep our glasses, and the draft from my movements caused him to TURN AROUND and shimmy toward me.

Over the course of the next week, Jason would surprise me many more times. He was staring out the window when I drove up the driveway. He floated past me as I sat at the kitchen table eating cereal. He was around the corner when I went to the bathroom. And he was waiting for me in the mudroom when I came home.

Luckily, Jason couldn’t climb stairs, so he never floated into a bedroom. But many years ago, we had a giant helium shark that did, and there is nothing more frightening than the scratching sound of balloon on the ceiling and then waking up to see a great white floating overhead.

Unfortunately, Jason is no longer with us. I was surprised when I came home from a meeting one night and he did not “greet” me. The house felt oddly empty and quiet.

“Where’s Jason?” I asked my boys as I came through the kitchen and into the living room, as if asking the whereabouts of a balloon is ordinary.

The boys were sitting on the sofa stifling smiles. They had light sabers in their hands.

“There was a battle while you were gone,” one son said. “Jason didn’t make it.”

“Our other idea was to release him in the air,” another son said, “to watch him fly away. But we were worried about aircraft and stuff.”

Smart.

I looked down at my feet and saw a flattened piece of balloon. I’m not kidding when I say that for a second, I felt a little sad. I kind of miss Jason. But I’m still not going to replace him.


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