He's Busting Out

my kid really loves making things ... and hitting those things

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Kaitlyn Bryan

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My four-year-old son is obsessed with making piñatas. He had his first memorable thwack at one last summer at a friend’s birthday party, and ever since he’s maintained a healthy love for constructing his own version of the festive party apparatus. It’s like putting together puzzles or playing with matchbox cars. It’s like watching his favorite cartoon or hiding food he doesn’t want under the couch. It’s just what he does in his free time.

And this is why I need to act like a freaking cat burglar, rubbernecking my head into the kitchen and tiptoeing all crazy-like over to the recycling bin every time I want to dispose of an empty tissue box. See, empty tissue boxes are his favorite piñata raw material. If he sees me holding one, he totally looses it, yelling, “Daddy, noooo! Don’t throw it awaaaay!” like I’m about to shove his favorite stuffed monkey into the coffee grinder.

When it’s piñata time, he sits down with a fierce determination, ready to construct the best damn piñata our family room has ever seen. He gets a fire in his eyes and he simply can’t be bothered with trivial things like bathing or eating or leaving the house for the weekend or the giant gob of snot dangling from his left nostril like a gooey grappling hook.  So we let him keep a certain number of old tissue boxes on hand for whenever the mood may strike. And once he makes a piñata, it’s usually followed up with a “piñata party,” which may or may not include other party games (like a spot on the floor designated for jumping up and down), but will most certainly include handmade invitations. Usually the invites feature a picture of the person he’s inviting (a head, two long stick legs, some arms) and his own name. Honestly, more often than not, the party never actually happens. He just likes planning them.

The idea of creating a beautiful, fragile thing and then smashing it with a big stick is simultaneously bizarre and, well ... awesome. In March, there’s endless fun to be had picking up sheets of fragile ice, the delicate shells of what used to be puddles of melted snow, and just slamming them onto the asphalt to hear the shattering and see the scattering of the pieces. Like the battering of papier-mâché figurines, it’s violent but also cathartic. And with piñatas, there’s candy.

The general appeal to kids (and dads) is not a mystery.

My wife and I are just really proud that his first instinct is to build his own piñata rather than go buy one. I’m not exactly a do-it-yourself aficionado. Nor am I an arts-n-crafts maniac, so he doesn’t get it from me. But wow, when it’s piñata time, he sits down with a fierce determination, ready to construct the best damn piñata our family room has ever seen. He gets a fire in his eyes and he simply can’t be bothered with trivial things like bathing or eating or leaving the house for the weekend or the giant gob of snot dangling from his left nostril like a gooey grappling hook.  

First he takes the tissue box and crams in a few fistfuls of goodies, mostly from his stash of five-month-old Halloween candy hard enough to cut glass. Then he wraps the entire thing in scotch tape. And then he wraps it again. And again. Then he tapes on some blank paper and scrawls mysterious hieroglyphics all over the outside.

By the time he’s finished, there’s no way in hell you could break it open with a sharp whap from a stick. You couldn’t bust it open with a baseball bat. You pretty much have to slice the thing apart with a good pair of scissors. But we tape a few feet of yarn to his (lovingly crafted) candy tomb and find a place to hang it up. It makes him proud.

Judging by his insatiable urge pick up and hoist around our comically large cat, I have a feeling my son’s love of smacking piñatas is somehow related to his love of affectionately mishandling beach ball-sized animals. But I think it’s mostly about building things with his hands and doing something that makes him happy, and then sharing that happy thing with the people around him, because ... why wouldn’t you?

And obviously, to us, this is worth all of the ding-dang empty tissue boxes in the world.

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