“I don’t want to go to school today. Why can’t it be summer? I want it to be my birthday.”
I scurried around the kitchen, half listening to the murmuring in the background. My house overflows with questions, declarations, ultimatums, hypotheses, and even a bit of nonsense. My absent-minded parenting strategies generally leave me with answers that sound a bit like the fortunes in one of those old black fortune-telling balls I had as a kid. You remember, shake it up and one of a half-dozen possible answers would appear.
“Do you remember my piñata?”
“This year, I want a piñata that looks like a person.”
“Oh, really?” My mouth answered before I really heard the words.
“You want what?”
“A piñata that looks like a person. Wouldn’t that be funny?” he giggled.
In a moment that might be described as parental over-reaction, my brain began playing the song “Strangefruit.” I felt my coffee creeping back up from my stomach.
“Nah, I’m thinking that’s not my favorite idea.”
Did I say that calmly? My mind raced around, listening to “Strangefruit,” grasping for a reason to whisk away the idea without a breakfast table discussion of horrifying American history. Surely, he had no idea of the connotation here. It had to be a fluke. I saw a person piñata hanging from my tree, with giggling six year old boys and horrified parents.
“So, what would this pinata look like? Or, rather, who?”
“You!!” he laughed, in a way that made being hung in effigy sound like a great honor. Of course he didn't understand the connotation. It was all me. That didn't make it any better of an idea.
“Oh! I get it,” I said, still not really getting it. “But, even so, the idea of piñatas is to break them open and I don’t like the idea of hitting even a pretend person with a bat. We don’t hurt anyone, even if they are pretend.” I love listening to my words some days. Did I just make a serious comment about pretend people?
“We could do it, Mom. It would be so hilarious.”
“Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. No.”
I ran upstairs to get some socks, and brush the bile off my teeth. When I returned to the kitchen, Andrew and Gladys were playing ‘married people.’ They play that all the time, but for some reason they were talking about getting ‘unmarried.’
“I guess you’d have to give the ring back, if we got unmarried.”
“It’s called a divorce,” I said, quickly wondering why I said it.
“What’s a divorce?”
I have to admit that I was surprised. There are plenty of kids in his class with divorced parents. This couldn’t be new to him.
“It is when two people who are married decide to get unmarried. It happens, Honey.”
“Why? I mean, why would anyone do that?”
“Lots of reasons, I guess. But, your father and I will never do that.” I am summarizing here. I dislike these conversations. I always feel on the spot – not wanting to mask the ugly truth too much, but not wanting him to cry himself to sleep next time his father and I have a mild disagreement. Towards the end of the dialogue, I heard myself say it again.
“Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you should.”
On Tuesday, I was particularly relieved to see him get on the bus. I craved the days of mere physical exhaustion. As the kids get older, I live through these sporadic pop-quizzes, as if walking into a defense of my PhD dissertation, without ever having contemplated a thesis.
I walked back to the house shaking my head: a person piñata? Really?
That evening, my husband worked late and I helped Andrew bathe.
“Mom, I can blow bubbles with my bum!”
Another shake of the fortune ball, and the new phrase from my ongoing dissertation came in handy.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
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