In an incredibly brief amount of time, the story of the so-called Balloon Boy morphed from drama to farce. I'm not saying that just because it turned out the little boy, Falcon Heene, was never even on that runaway weather balloon the world was watching for two hours Thursday. What authorities in Colorado are saying now is that he accidentally let the balloon go, was worried he'd get punished, and hid in the house while the whole misunderstanding was unfolding on national TV. Weird story, but understandable -- six-year-olds think that way. What is not understandable to me is the way his parents are exploiting him, and their other sons, on national television ever since it happened.
Barely an hour after finding out their son was not dead, and far short of the time necessary to give Falcon's brothers a chance to even begin to process the trauma they must have experienced, there were their parents, holding a press conference, the three sons right there up front. Did anybody else besides me think that the boys looked utterly confused and addled the whole time the cameras were on them? Little Falcon at one point, showing complete common sense in that situation, just ran away from the horde of reporters and photographers facing him from a few feet away. (Chuckling, his mom went and dragged him back into the fray. Oh, that Falcon!)
But that was just the start. On CNN last night, there was the whole family again, the boys showing the same nervous twitchiness as before, only this time it was hours later. Falcon shouldn't have been on national television. He should have been in bed, or playing with his brothers, or being read to by his mom -- anything to put him into a healing, comforting environment as far away from the media glare as possible.
And it still wasn't over. One of the big news items today is that Falcon actually vomited on live television when the family was on "Good Morning America." This makes me want to vomit. Do you know how early you have to get up in the Mountain Time Zone to be interviewed at the top of one of the network morning shows? This had to have been the scenario: after three hours of frightful trauma for Falcon and his brothers Thursday morning and afternoon, they're paraded in front of cameras like trained monkeys well into the evening. Then, they're shaken awake by their parents around 3 in the morning to get them up and ready to talk again about Falcon's humiliating experience, this time on GMA. We're talking about a six-year-old child here, incapable of having any kind of complete grasp of what is going on around him, publicly pushed to the point that he actually became physically ill. But, by God, the parents got another shot on national television! Good for them!
Some people were saying after the balloon chase that the parents should be investigated by child services in Colorado, to find out how there could be a scenario where it might even seem as if this little boy had been carried away in a balloon. I disagree; strange as the whole situation was, it was really just a misunderstanding (I'm assuming, as authorities in Colorado say they're assuming, that this was not a hoax engineered by the father). However, I would call in child protective services to look into the greedy, selfish, publicity-grasping response by the mother and dad to the whole thing, a response that clearly borders on being abusive toward their own flesh and blood.
Of course, with their experience on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap" (and with a classy title like that, you know it had to be an enriching experience for the boys) Mr. and Mrs. Heene know how the game is played: you offer your children up like little on-camera accessories while you get that reality spotlight focused right on you. Maybe someday there will be a specific psychological diagnoses for children emotionally harmed this way by their narcissistic parents; they can call it Jon-Kate Syndrome.
I can't help but think that during those endless interviews, with those lights glaring in his face and people shouting questions he couldn't even begin to fathom, that Falcon was wishing he was someplace else; maybe flying away from everything in a little balloon, high into the sky, where--as it turns out--he might have felt safer.
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