I should start this story by saying that my family has always been a fan of grand gestures. When I left to study abroad in France, my parents and my sister brought a boom box and serenaded me while I stood in the security line (I wish I still had the red-faced photos to prove it). When my sister’s best friend moved out of town, we choreographed a flash mob to “Call Me Maybe” for thirty of our family and friends to send her off in style. And when my sister graduated from college last year, we booked a gospel choir to surprise her at her party and sing all her favorite songs. My mom and sister are usually the brains behind the operation and it’s me, my dad, and my brothers who rally behind them no matter how ridiculous we feel at the time. These gestures, big and small, have always been a great reminder that we’re all happiest when we’re making other people happy.

My mom had been dreaming up a little project to pay it forward on her birthday. Her vision was this: she and my brother Camden would pick up two dozen pink balloons (ordered to the local florist by my sister) and drive to New York to meet me. My mom and I would walk into Grand Central Station (Camden behind the camera) and pass out the balloons to anyone who wanted one. We’d walk in with two big bunches of balloons, put a smile on a few people’s faces, and get to see the 24 balloons dispersed across the floor of the train station before we left.

These things always feel a little awkward at first (“Hi, I’m Mackenzie, would you like a balloon? Oh, no? That’s cool, welp, have a nice day!”) but of course it was a home run. We started out targeting little kids in strollers but eventually got comfortable handing them out to adults who looked like they were having a tough day or tourists who were posing for pictures. And you know what? Every last one of those 24 people broke into a big smile when we handed them their balloon. 

We met a mom with three teenagers and gave them all balloons. My mom explained that it was her birthday and she wanted to spread a little joy to other people. The other mom had just come from Starbucks, where a stranger ahead of them had bought their drinks. A week before that, she had paid for a woman’s purchases at Goodwill, allowing her to buy two outfits instead of one. I teared up thinking about how much better the world is when we all participate in these random acts of kindness.

My mom, brother, and I were standing on the balcony pointing out all the balloons we saw when the other mom came racing up the steps with a pastry from the food court downstairs. She thanked us for making her day and wished my mom a happy birthday. It was completely extraordinary — my mom was so thrilled, and the other woman was so touched — and yet so simple. If I felt a little silly walking into Grand Central with balloons fifteen minutes earlier, I walked out on cloud nine knowing those balloons had made a little difference in two dozen people’s days.

As luck would have it, the footage didn’t turn out so great but the impression it made on me and my brother is one I won’t soon forget. I’m so lucky to have such an awesome family and a mom who wanted to celebrate her birthday by making other people feel like it was theirs. Happy birthday, Mom. I love you!

P.S. If you’re feeling inspired and want to put a smile on someone’s face, here are a few more ideas for paying it forward. If you have your own favorites, please share in the comments!

1. bake cookies for your local homeless shelter
2. call your grandparents
3. leave a 100% tip for great service (I first did this for my 101 in 1001 list!)
4. pay for a stranger’s coffee or drive-thru meal
5. put change in an expired parking meter
6. say good morning to someone on the street (for some reason, this is the easiest way to put a skip in my step)
7. volunteer at a school, senior center, or soup kitchen

31 thoughts on “THE BALLOON PROJECT

Leave a Reply to Crystalin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Cherish these moments with your family! I love this story and getting to peek into your family’s traditions. My mom used to do little sweet creative things for me growing up (she has Alzheimer’s and can no longer) so I love that you are spreading their joy. xoxo

  2. Your family rocks!!! I try to pay it forward in my life, as well. One time, I was having a bad day where everything seemed to go wrong. I went to the UPS store and the lady was nice – made such an impression that I actually got a nice clerk, I went to starbucks and bought myself a drink and a gift card for her. She was stunned when I returned and told her how she made my day. Of course, her smile and shocked look turned my bad day completely around!

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for ages, and I never ever comment, but this was so special! I’m truly getting misty-eyed at work just thinking about this. True kindness can be all too rare in this world. You’re blessed with a generous heart and deserve all the blessings that come to you!

  4. I love this! My sorority (Kappa Delta) does this on campuses around the country for one of our philanthropies, The Confidence Coalition. We use blue balloons with nice things written on them. It’s so fun! Such a great idea to do it with your family!

  5. What a kind gesture. I love stories like these; it makes me feel better that there are other people out there who are thoughtful enough to pay it forward 🙂

  6. So wonderful and just so so happy 🙂 I love this idea and the others you thought of. You are so right – it’s always the smallest gestures that make the most difference. I listen to a Christian radio station and they had a thing where they asked listeners to leave happy and inspirational post-it notes randomly for others to find…and I found one at the most random place and time…and it was exactly what I needed. 🙂

  7. I love, love, love this! I have been trying to give more of myself to people lately, but that’s those close around me. Living in a big city people can be so rude and random acts of kindness become that much more inspiring. I am definitely doing something this weekend – thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Absolutely amazing! I would expect nothing less than your kind, generous, sweet mom (and family). I wish I would have known it was coach’n’fenway/B’s birthday – please let her know I say hi. <3