Once, a boy was playing in the garden with his older sister.
The boy had a red balloon, and he puffed and puffed into it. Soon, it was as big as his head.
“That’s good,” his sister said, “but be careful you don’t burst it.”
The end of the balloon still in his mouth, the boy nodded, but nonetheless, he inhaled and blew again. The balloon swelled, and was soon as large as a space-hopper.
“Wow! That’s huge!” said his sister, and she turned and shouted. “Mum! Dad! Come and see this!”
Their parents came out of the house, and their eyes widened.
“That’s incredible!” said their mother.
“How is he doing that?” asked their father.
The boy couldn’t answer, because he still had the end of the balloon in his mouth. He just shrugged, and then gestured to let the others know he was going to blow some more air into the balloon.
“Oh, don’t,” said his sister. “You’ll burst it. Just tie the end off now, don’t blow again. It’ll burst and you won’t have your balloon any more.”
“Yes, it’s not designed to get this big,” said his father. “I don’t know how you got it this far. Best to quit while you’re ahead.”
His mother said nothing.
The boy frowned for a moment, thinking, then took a big breath in through his nose, and blew more air into the balloon. It swelled and inflated even more, and soon it was huge – bigger than the boy, and bigger than either of his parents.
“That’s incredible!” said the sister. “How did it get that big?”
“I really don’t know,” said the father, “it shouldn’t be able to expand that much. I -“
Suddenly, the balloon burst, with a BANG which they could all feel in their stomachs. The boy was shocked – at first by the noise, and then as he realised what had happened: his balloon was ruined, and lay in tiny pieces on the ground all around him.
Tears filled the boy’s eyes, and he began to cry.
“Oh,” said his sister. “That’s a pity.”
“Yes,” agreed the father. “Still, it was amazing while it lasted, wasn’t it?”
The boy couldn’t hear their words over the sound of his own sobs, and he ran crying to his mother. He clung to her legs, and she reached down and stroked his hair, trying to calm him.
“Don’t worry,” she said softly. “I’ll buy you a new balloon.”
“But -” said the sister.
“I don’t know about that,” said the father. “I mean, he knew what he was doing, and the balloon – “
“Shh,” said the mother, “not now. Can’t you see he’s upset? If we don’t do it, it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to be really miserable for a while, and that’ll cause problems for us too.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” said the sister. “It’s like you’re rewarding bad behaviour. I mean, Dad said that he should stop, but he kept on doing it.”
“She’s got a point,” said the father.
“We can talk about that sort of thing later,” said the boy’s mother, “at the moment, how and why it happened isn’t really the problem.”
And with that, she took the boy’s hand and led him into the house. The father and sister watched them go, not sure what to say.
“I bet…” said the sister thoughtfully, “I bet that he just gets a new balloon, and that’s the end of it. We won’t talk about how and why, will we?”
The father said nothing, but the look in his eyes said no, he did not expect that there would be any discussion.
And the moral of the story is… er, well, you tell me.