Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dollar Store Balloons

This past week Ellie was invited to a birthday party of one of her school friends.  She's formed quite a little posse together with three other girls from grade two - surprisingly, none of them in her class.  She was very excited to go to Natalia's birthday party, and I was looking forward to meeting her family and experiencing Ellie's joy in being part of it.

I had emailed back and forth with Natalia's mom a few times to get all of the information about the party.  I had never met her in person, as Natalia leaves from another door of the school.  Ellie was getting a ride to Natalia's house to the party, so at the end of the day I followed Ellie over to where some girls were congregating.  There seemed to be one "mom" giving the instructions, so I walked over and said - "Hi, you must be Natalia's mom."  "Nope, I'm the nanny"  was the reply.    I have never been surrounded by so many nannies in my life - they are everywhere at the girl's school.   So off went Ellie with the Nanny with a promise that I'd pick her up later at Natalia's house.

I looked at the invitation and googled the address and discovered the street is on Capital Hill.  Capital Hill is a neighborhood in North Burnaby that borders the school.  It is literally on a fairly high and huge hill that  is home to some spectacular homes that have even more impressive views.  If you live in the right spaces of "The Hill" you get amazing views of the Burrard Inlet, The North Shore Mountains, and Port Coquitlam.  These views are absolutely breathtaking.   If you live on Capital Hill, you've got money and lots of it.  If average houses in average neighborhoods in Burnaby sell for no less than $800, 000 dollars, you can be sure that there aren't any homes under a million dollars up there, with most worth far far more.

Ellie has another special friend from school who lives on "The Hill" in a new house built onto the edge of the embankment.  Her dad just happens to be a former NHL player and coach for the Vancouver Canucks, and is currently a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers.  When I entered their house to join Anna's mom for a glass of wine and a visit one afternoon, I was awestruck by the beauty that they get to see everyday.  It did make me shake my head and wonder how I ever came to run in these circles in the first place.

SO, with address in hand, I drove off to pick-up Ellie.  I had a hard time finding the house - it was set back and low in a little crop of houses in an area that looks a little like cottage country.  Natalia's dad was standing in the front yard getting some air, so he took me around to the back of the house.  It was unbelievable to see the twinkling lights of Vancouver reflected on the water of the inlet.  I had to stop and just stare for a moment.  He led me inside where the party was happening in what a can only guess is the Nanny's quarters.   For reals.  There was a full kitchen and dining area, but it wasn't their "real" kitchen or dining area.  The Nanny was busy bustling around helping with the party, as was Natalia's mom.  For the record, her mom was warm, inviting and lovely.  I don't know why I so often fall into the trap of assuming people with a lot of money would be people I wouldn't want as friends.

Ellie said her goodbye's and thank you's and took a balloon on the way out.  I've often wondered when Ellie has an experience at a home that is obviously much more affluent than ours, what she thinks.  I usually let it be and don't really ask her about it which is what I did on this day.

Later, as I was tucking her into bed, she brought the subject up herself without really knowing it.  She said one of the other girls and her and Natalia were talking at the party.   Natalia was telling them how the helium filled balloons for the party had been ordered to be personalized for her online, and then delivered to her house.  Ellie said, "Breanna and I just looked at each other and said, `We get our balloons at the Dollar store'".  I laughed so hard at this story, and I don't think Ellie really knew why.

She's right, our balloons do come from the Dollar Store.  We blow them up with our own hot air and tie them to ribbon ourselves.  Then we use masking tape to attach them to the ceiling or light fixture or door.  She's learning that we put our own elbow grease into making a party happen, but other people have the means to do things another way.  Those same "other people" are often kind, caring and wonderful friends who have just as much to offer as we do.  There are also peers of hers at school who live in low-income housing complexes who don't have the means to scrape together the money for a party.  They've got lots of offer too - in most cases more.

And so continues the lessons of life, affluence, acceptance and in my case, judgement.  We've got lots to learn.  Thankfully there's lots to laugh about too.


  1. Love the story, Karla, and your reflections. Sounds like the Penner 5 are putting down some roots there on the West Coast, that might be hard to pull up at the end of the year!

  2. Ellie's honesty is adorably innocent.

  3. I love your attitude.
    It's much more common to become snooty about "how we wouldn't want THEIR life and all THEIR money because we're better than them ANYWAY". but you brought in acceptance, lack of judgement, and empathy.
    and hey- I love the dollar store!