What I learned from Water Balloons – Part 1

Parts 1 and 2 were written several years ago, and a friend of mine read them recently and wanted to know the rest of the story, so I’m bringing the first 2 back and adding part 3 of what appears to be a never ending story.

waterballoonpumpThis is a water balloon pump. Until a few days ago I had no idea such a thing existed. I had no  idea there was a need for such a thing. My first thought was “well, somebody figured out another way to make money from kids playing.” My second thought was “who the hell would spend money on that?” And my third thought was “damn that just takes most of the fun out of a water balloon fight!”  So I was going to write a post about how modern parents are ruining childhood for their kids. But there’s plenty of that kind of stuff out there in sociological and psychological studies of every generation since the baby boom.  But I think the real, often overlooked point about things like water balloon pumps is what they’ll prevent kids from learning.

Now you might wonder just what the hell can a kid learn from a water balloon fight that they wouldn’t learn from mommy’s or daddy’s ’speeches of wisdom’? You learn to plan, obtain funding, evaluate risks and make decisions, how to improvise, how things don’t always turn out the way you want them to, even how to do housework. Don’t believe me? Consider…


Water balloon fights are almost universally frowned upon by mom and dad, at least they were before water balloon pumps came along. I never did understand why, but I always knew I’d be in big trouble if mom found out I or my brother had been in one. So to stay out of trouble, water balloon fights took meticulous planning and risk evaluation. We had to figure out how to get the balloons, who our targets were, and where the ambush would take place. Once we had a location we had to figure out when our targets would be there, how we’d fill the balloons, how we’d transport the balloons, how we’d escape, and most important, how not get caught by mom and dad.

STEP 1 – OBTAINING THE BALLOONS –  Unless we’d just had a birthday party we didn’t keep a balloon stash in the house. So SOMEBODY had to a) find some money and b) safely sneak to the 7/11 with said money and buy some balloons. Harder than it sounds. We could always scrounge up 25 cents (good for 50 balloons) from the couch, under the furniture, or possibly saved from last week’s allowance (yeah right!). But the easiest way to come up with a quarter was from the little change holder in dad’s car where he kept his toll money. So that’s what we usually did. This becomes important in the post water balloon fight parental investigation, so let’s hold off on this.

Sneaking to the 7/11 was a bigger deal –There was NOTHING in the 7/11 my mother would pay for – the groceries cost too much and Slurpees were bad for you. Bad people hung out there, they had pinball, and it was down the street from Benny’s bar. I had no idea what was wrong with Benny’s bar – dad went there sometimes. Maybe it was just the location. Benny’s and 7/11 were on or across two of the four forbidden barrier roads that made up the boundaries of our free play zone. Inside the zone we could go anywhere, do anything, with anyone as long as we stayed out of trouble or until we got caught. All of our friends lived inside the zone, there was a baseball field, a playground, and an empty lot, so this was kid heaven and there was really no reason to leave the zone… unless we wanted something from the 7/11.

NOTE 1: I suppose I should feel some guilt about what I’m about to write, but it was 45 years ago and I’ve apologized to my mother for far worse things since then.

The safest way to get to the 7/11 was to run an errand for mom, so we took a quick look in the fridge and kitchen cabinets to see what we might need. We almost always needed eggs for some reason so after covering our tracks by getting a glass of ice water from the refrigerator we’d go find mom and start something like this – “hey ma! i was just getting a drink of water out of the fridge and we’re runnin’ outa eggs. Want me to go get some from the egg farm?” This was actually pretty clever because the egg farm (an old house on a big lot where an old couple had chicken coops and sold eggs out of their basement – creepy!) was on one of the forbidden barrier roads a few blocks from the 7/11. So if we could get parental permission to be on that road then we could just slide on down and pick up the balloons and not get in trouble for crossing the barrier. Sometimes this even worked, usually when we really needed eggs.

NOTE 2: In memory of my little brother’s courage, documented below, the rest of this story will focus on just one water balloon fight. I miss you little brother!

Other times, when we didn’t need eggs and couldn’t come up with a plausible errand, required subterfuge. We could try the straight sneak, both of us riding our bikes up there. That never worked though, we were little kids and if one of us wasn’t running in or out of the house every ten minutes mom got suspicious and started looking for us. So we tried distraction – one of us would occupy mom for 15 minutes while the other one rode back and forth to the 7/11, praying there was nobody in line and none of our neighbors saw us outside the zone. Fake injuries worked for a while, til mom figured out the only time we complained about getting hurt was when we were trying to keep her from finding out what we were really doing OR we were really hurt and needed to go to the emergency room. We kept trying different tactics, but the bravest one I ever saw was when my little brother said “you go, I’ll take care of ma.” He wouldn’t tell me what he was going to do. so I stuck around to see what he came up with.

Mom was in the kitchen, starting to get supper ready. He went to our room, got his spelling book, walked back to the kitchen, sat down at the table, opened it up and started to cry! “Hey ma I can’t get these words right and we got a quiz tomorrow, please would you help me?” HOLY SHIT – he dove on a homework grenade!! Even my little kid brain realized what a heroic feat this was, that it was a one time deal, and if we got caught we were dead. So as mom (too stunned I think to recognize it for the ploy it was) sat down to help little brother with his spelling words I tore off to the 7/11. I think I set a record getting there and back knowing he had to be suffering. I was so flabbergasted by what he had done that I walked into the kitchen with the bag of balloons in my hand! His eyes nearly bugged out of his head when he saw them, and I shoved them in my pocket just before mom turned around to see what he was looking at. Before she could say a word to me little brother slammed his spelling book closed. jumped up said “Hey ma. thanks! i think I got it now. Hey, what you makin’ for supper?” Before she could answer we ran back outside to hide the balloons. Trailing behind us we heard “make sure you’re back in this house before your father gets home!”

We knew enough even then not to push our luck anymore that day. We hid the balloons in our clubhouse and stayed close to home, not wanting to risk dad getting there before we did. We cleared the table after supper, took out the garbage without being told, picked out our school clothes for the next day, and headed to bed right at our bedtime without a fight – on our absolute best behavior. In hindsight it’s obvious that mom and dad knew we were planning something big, just not what. And i recognize now their patience. They didn’t try a pre-emptive strike, guessing at what was up. They just waited, knowing they’d hear about it one way or another, soon. i also know now that the investigation began even before the water balloon fight began

Next… getting to the secret clubhouse

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