Ten little girls sat on folding chairs beneath my porch awning. My daughter, Norah, was turning 5, and this was her birthday party. All girls wore tiaras. Norah wore a long blonde wig that she said made her look “like a glamour princess.”
It was 95 degrees.
I assume hell is a lot like a little girl’s birthday party.
My wife Mel and I were outnumbered. The children knew it. Sometimes they split, one group running into the yard while the others ran into the house. Sometimes they worked in a large group, crowding around the birthday cake and using their mighty numbers to overshadow their little fingers clawing at the frosting.
The whole party was like this—a struggle to keep their attention so they wouldn’t either run into the yard and pull plants out of the garden or run into the house and play with the toilet. A friend of mine used to work at a drug and alcohol rehab clinic, and I couldn’t help but think of some of the stories he told me of managing addicts as we wrangled little girls.
Once the cake was served and the children finished eating, I turned my back to set up the princess piñata. When I turned around, the creatures had striped the reminder of Norah’s birthday cake of frosting, leaving little more than drool dripping from the corners.
The piñata was supposed to look like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. But to me it just looked like a woman in a yellow dress hanging from a rope. We bought this piñata with the best intentions, but frankly, we were going to hang a representation of a woman by a rope from the rafters of my patio, then beat it with a stick until its insides fell out.
I asked Norah earlier that day why she wanted to beat Belle, and she replied, “She’s a bad princess.”
“Really? Is that what you do to bad princesses?”
Norah looked up at me with soft blue green eyes. “Yup!”
It was all morbid. I felt like I’d failed her as a father, but I didn’t want to be a party pooper, so I hung the damn thing.
We went from youngest to oldest. The first girl was 4. She approached, nervously, but after the first swing, her eyes went to blood lust. She beat the hell out of Belle.
I had to pull her back.
Eventually, one of the older girls managed to knock off the princess’s head. But candy didn’t come out, so I wrapped a rope around Belle’s torso and strung her up again. Now there was a headless princess hanging in my yard with little girls screaming and beating it with a stick.
The whole event was not a shining moment for me as a father.
At one point, my son Tristan grabbed the princess’s severed head and beat it against the side of the house, laughing. I asked him why he’d do that.
“I thought there was candy inside.”
“No,” I said. “There isn’t. The candy is in the…” I wanted to say headless princess, but stopped short and demanded he give me the severed head. When he refused, I wrestled it out of his hands.
Eventually a little girl busted open the princess, and the torso fell to the ground, spilling its insides. The children rushed, kicking the wounded, headless princess to the side. The chocolate had melted. The children circled the headless body. Their hands and faces were covered in chocolate. They looked like feasting animals, paws and jaws covered in rich, dark fluid.
It was terrifying.
But what frightened me most was the clock. The party was supposed to end at 4, but it was only 3:40. We’d run out of activities 20 minutes before parents were scheduled to arrive. But if they were anything like me, they’d be late.
I love my kids. But I also savor the moments alone with my wife, and being 10 or 15 minutes late to pick up my kids is excusable, and it means 10 or 15 glorious minutes of just Mel and myself. I assume most parents think similarly. But usually, showing up late means leaving the caregiver with one or two extra kids at the house—not nine extra kids full of blood lust and chocolate.
Long story short, I knew that it would be 45 minutes before I got all these munchkins out, and we’d run out of activities.
I looked at Mel. “What are we going to do?”
Mel looked at me with fear. “I don’t know.”
I thought about letting them finish coloring the pictures they started at the beginning of the party, but the crayons had melted. The girls wandered into the house, which I didn’t want, so we shooed them into the yard and hoped that they didn’t destroy our garden.
It wasn’t until later that I realized the little terrors pulled up three tomato plants and placed a Barbie on a stick next to the bird bath in what I assumed was some Lord of the Flies expression of dominance.
Thinking back, I should’ve just started a game of red light/green light or tag or something. But I was tired and not thinking at my regular capacity.
Eventually, parents arrived. Many late, like I suspected.
In my yard, I found candy wrappers, the severed head of a princess piñata, chewed gum, melted chocolate, cake frosting, the piñata torso, a scabby Disney Princess Band-Aid, rocks, one shoe, popped balloons, melted candles, four tiaras, three princess goody bags, and two boogers next to the stripped cake.
Once I got things cleaned up, I plopped down in the living room. Norah climbed into my lap to show me a new toy.
“That’s cute,” I said. “Did you have fun?”
Norah looked at me with a big smile and nodded. She didn’t say anything, but I knew that this was a good memory that she’d hold onto for some time. Or at least I hoped she would. That might just make it all worth it.
“Good,” I said. “I love you.”
And so, kids’ birthday parties, like many other sucky things encountered as a parent, are endured simply for the smile at the end and the simple hope that memories were made.