I was in my backyard with about ten little girls between the ages of 3 and 8. It was a hot day in small town Oregon, close to 100 degrees, unusual weather for this part of the country. Norah, my middle daughter, was turning five, and this was her birthday party.
I assume hell is a lot like a little girl’s birthday party.
The party guests were sitting in a circle. Most of them were in dresses. All had tiaras. Norah was wearing a long blond wig that she says makes her look “like a glamour princess.”
They were all on folding chairs beneath my porch awning. We were playing a game with similar rules to musical chairs, only the girls didn’t get up while the music was going. Instead, they were passing around a bottle of nail polish. I was running the music, only I didn’t really understand the game. Not because it was complicated. More because I’d spent most of the party up to this point hauling things outside, and trying to keep little girls from sneaking into our home.
I was confused because I didn’t understand the rules of the game, nor did I understand why painting nails was such a big deal. I feel like Norah is in such a hurry to grow up. She wants to get her ears pierced. She wants to start dating boys. She wants to do her own hair. She wants to be more than five, and yet I want her to be sweet and little forever.
I stopped the music, and whoever was holding the bottle got to paint one nail. The winner of the game would be the first girl to have all her nails painted. I didn’t know this part. I thought the game stopped once everyone had at least one nail painted. I drew this conclusion because each time I stopped the music, every little girl that didn’t have at least one painted nail flipped their shit. “Oh! This game is unfair.” Or “I never win anything.” Or “I hate her!”
I’d never seen anything quite like this mix of rage and sorrow.
I started to time the music so each girl would have at least one painted nail because it seemed like the best way to stop the screaming. Eventually Mel gave me a funny look, told me how the game was won, and asked why I was making it take so long. By then each girl had at least one nail panted, and as Mel and I were talking, several girls ran off into the yard, their arms in the air like fleeing prisoners.
The whole party was like this. A struggle to keep the attention of these little girls so they wouldn’t either run into the yard and pull plants out of Mel’s garden, or run into the house and play with the bathroom sink or 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 drug addicts as I watched Mel wrangle the little girls from the yard, and back under the porch, while the ones still in the chairs looked at their one painted nail, there faces a mix of sorrow and frustration because they hadn’t won the game.
There were three parents, Mel, Mel’s friend, and myself. We were outnumbered, and the children were starting to realize it. Sometimes they split up, and one group would run off into the yard, while another 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.
Eventually we gave up on the nail painting game, and moved on to opening presents.
The little girls sat in the circle again, each one of them looking at Norah. Every gift was in pink and purple wrapping paper. All gifts were either Disney Princess themed, or soft and cuddly with big lovable eyes. And with the opening of each gift, Norah held it up, over her head for all to see. And every time, the girls responded with a loud screeching sound that was loud and terrifying and made the neighbor’s dog bark.
Once the cake was served, and the children were done eating, I turned my back to set up the Disney princess piñata. When I turned around, the little creatures had striped the remainder 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 attached to the top of her scalp. I know that we bought this piñata with the best of intentions, but frankly we were going to hang a representation of a woman by a rope from the rafters of my patio, and then beat it with a stick until its insides fell out. It was disturbing. When I asked Norah earlier that day if she really wanted to beat up on Belle, she replied, “She’s a bad princess.”
“Really? Is that what you do to bad princesses? Beat them with a stick?”
Norah looked up at me with soft sweet blue eyes and said, “Yup!”
I honestly felt that using the princess piñata was a little morbid, but I didn’t want to be a party pooper, so I just hung the damn thing.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley