Open letter to the kids at Maya’s party

April 10, 2003

Dear Children,

What you witnessed Saturday was not typical adult behavior. I want to assure you that not all grown-ups exhibit such erratic tendencies, and those of us that do, keep it under control for approximately 99.99 percent of the time, and usually let loose while in the privacy of our own homes, not in front of a dozen children and their parents at a birthday party for a 5-year-old niece.

But you were there. You saw the piñata. You knew what I was up against.

To recap: You kiddies each had a turn at the brightly colored mermaid suspended from the ceiling, with each turn consisting of two whacks with a streamer-wrapped plastic whacking stick. Your efforts, while spirited, lacked the might required to break the piñata’s thick shell, and prompted Maya’s mommy – my sister Suzanne – to declare a second round of three whacks per child.

One of you managed to break the mermaid’s arm; however, the body, which contained the loot, remained steadfastly sealed, as though the manufacturer had an extra drum of papier mâché in the warehouse and opted to use it on his one last piñata. When you smacked the mermaid, it sounded like a Wiffle bat against an Abrams tank.

That’s when, as you may recall, my wife Diane took the piñata stick and approached the mermaid on her knees, giving herself a child’s perspective of the target. At the time, I thought, “Oh good, finally the pesky thing will break.” However, my anticipation was dashed with each feeble swing of the stick; my wife was playing pat-a-cake with the piñata, sort of like how she swats flies in the summer. I’m convinced she was hitting lightly so as not to startle the children; she merely wanted to loosen the thing up so it would soon explode.

Quite a bit of time had passed, and the fun of the piñata-whacking had segued into thinly veiled exasperation of all parties, including you children, who began resembling very short zombies. Suzanne took the stick from Diane and handed it to me. Her desire, conveyed with her eyes, was obvious: Bash the crap out of it, Brother, and let’s get this game over with. (You might have missed that.)

I scuffed across the carpet on my knees to the middle of the circle, yielding the whacking stick with criminal intent. The mermaid’s day of reckoning had come. What I had not reckoned on, though, was that I would soon be recreating the scene in Parenthood where frustrated father Steve Martin tries breaking up an indestructible piñata at his son’s birthday party, eventually kneeling over it with a buzzing chainsaw.

I gave the mermaid a good whack, making sure to aim downward so as not to send projectiles into the circle of you kids and your parents. I may as well have hit a floor safe. I eyed the piñata menacingly, and this is when you may have begun to feel nervous.

My swings with the stick increased in frequency and velocity, until it appeared as though I thought the mermaid had questioned my manhood. Those of you with sharp hearing may have picked up a few words hissing out of my clenched teeth that may have sounded like Will you just die, Why can’t you die, For crying out loud, will you please die, or other comments carrying the shared theme of my wanting the mermaid to die. Lest you be plagued by nightmares, allow me to soothe your troubled little minds by asserting emphatically I was fully aware that the mermaid was not a living being, but rather a facsimile of one. We all know it is wrong to whack living things with a plastic stick, unless of course we’re talking about mosquitoes or Sunday telemarketers.

I believe it was on the 10th or 11th whack that the piñata succumbed to my fury, exploding in a colorful array of chocolate coins, candy, and tiny toys, with two startled mommies on the couch by the window flinging their hands up in front of their faces to deflect the flying debris. I apologize if any of your mothers suffered the agony of a gummy bear lodged in her cornea, and assure you it will never happen again. Well, at least for a year.

Sleep well.

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