A Cautionary Tale

I see some parallels between Balloon Boy and My Kid Could Paint That.

Both Richard Heene and Mark Olmstead were fathers whose children were given a national spotlight.

Falcon Heene was thought to have taken a dangerous balloon trip. Marla Olmstead was said to have painted extraordinary pictures.

In both of these cases, the media attention eventually turned sour.

60 Minutes claimed that it was possible Marla didn’t paint the pictures at all, and Falcon was revealed to be hiding in his home, not on the balloon at all.

In both cases, the child in the spotlight said something when the cameras were on that the father didn’t want to be heard.

During the filming of the documentary about her paintings, Marla asked Mark Olmstead to complete one of her paintings for her. When asked by his parents why he didn’t come out when they were calling for him, Falcon Heene said, “You guys said…that…mmm…we did this for the show.”

In both cases, the things the kids said could possibly be taken to mean that the speculations of the media were true. Did Marla admit that Mark Olmstead completed paintings for her? Did Falcon say that his parents put him up to a hoax?

In both of these cases, the thing that makes it look possible is the father’s reaction. Both fathers attempt to normalize and downplay what is said because they, like us, know what their child’s statement may imply. In both cases, they come up with a normalizing scenario that would explain away the child’s statement, then remind us that the child is a child, then mention that they resent the attention on their family. This ends up looking sketchy.

I think this is due to no small part to the fact that both parents have done a little work to get their families into the spotlight in the past. The Heenes appeared onWife Swap and if you watch the documentary there’s bit about the Olmsteads submitting Marla’s paintings to an art show with copy that those running it found inappropriate for what they were after. The idea that these things just “happened” and now the media is unfairly reporting on the family begins to look disingenuous.

I mention this as a cautionary tale, however, because I think all fathers may have this tendency, especially ones connected in some way to show business, or with a wish to be famous. Betty is cute and smart, and (here’s the dangerous bit) I want her to be able to do all the things I never did. It’s a very thin line between giving your child the opportunity to succeed and trying to force them into a rocket to stardom with you tethered along behind.

For the record, I’m not sure about Marla. I think that what we may have seen in Mark is this thing that I think I might do too. He was trying to explain to her what she meant, which is a common parent thing to do. I will say that the painting that she completed all on her own (Ocean) didn’t have the same refinement as some of the others. Also, I know how hard it is to not collaborate with a child who paints, at least a little. My own guess on this situation (and it is just a guess) is that Olmstead helped a little, and then got tripped up with the story that they never helped her. Again, though, that’s just because of my experience raising Betty.

For Falcon Heene, though, I have to say it’s highly suspect. The balloon was made with a cardboard base for a reason. Cardboard is light, and when you watch the balloon take off, it floats up slowly. If Richard Henne really thought his son was in that balloon, I have to think he was either disconnected from reality a bit or didn’t know how his own balloon worked.

Once it got into the air, it’s hard to tell the size, so the news crews and those of us watching at home can be forgiven. Still, though, Richard Heene should have known, in my opinion.

Then again, if he truly thought his son was missing, maybe he lost contact with his rational mind and imagined him in the balloon as a pilot, rather than a weight that would have kept it on solid ground.

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