Pinata de Ironman: Back From the Dead

ironman 1 fullbody with m

For many of you, my Ironman pinata of ridiciulous dimensions is old news. But last June, just as I was finishing building the largest and best behaved guest at Mbot’s fourth birthday party, my camera died at the hands of said birthday boy, and so the final images that appeared on the blog were teeny-tiny stills captured from my video camera, and I didn’t know how to make them any bigger. Well, seven months later, I have figured out how, and due to the overwhelming number of Google searches for Ironman pinatas, many of them in Spanish, I’ve decided to post them here, just in case anyone wants to repeat my folly and create in their dining room a 5’8″ hollow Superhero sculpture made of newspaper, water, flour, and balloons.

I do not recommend it.

ironman complete thighs up

The entire premise of building a pinata in your dining room–especially when you live in Arizona, within a thirty-minute drive of an ENORMOUS pinata store, and your assistants are two hyperactive midgets with too little appreciation for long-term goals and too much appreciation for flour paste, is ludicrous. But there is nothing like laundering many small socks, wiping many small booties, and preparing many small meals every day, many of which are greeted with “Blech!” before being pushed half way across the table, to inspire one to create something big and lasting that will be greeted with “Ooohs!” and “Ahhhs!”, even if it’s eventually whacked to bits and survives only in photos. It was that sort of housewifishness, mother-of-weebots, frustrated artist mentality that drove me to purchase the thirty-inch high “It’s a boy!” bottle-shaped balloon that would become Ironman’s torso, setting the scale for Ironman’s body, and coming to represent the first circle of Pinata Hell.

ironman complete legs down

ironman torso legs

Here we have Ironman at about the midway point. The coat hanger that we hung him from is visible sticking out his neck and arm holes. The hanger eventually required reinforcement in the form of Gorilla glue, when the metal hook pulled out of the wood.

I suppose I should report on what has finally happened to Ironman. For a long time–many months–I kept his limbs in a pile in the garage. The bots got a kick out of trying on the legs from the knee down, and chasing each other wearing the giant red arms. My plan was that perhaps I would reassemble him and hang him in their room, slanting from the ceiling like he was flying.

But a few weeks ago, in a claustrophobic cleaning frenzy of the sort that grips me every ten years or so, I stacked the body parts in the recycle bin and breathed a sigh of relief that it was gone. After seven months, in my mind, he had finally turned into an it. I forgot one arm, and the bots spent an afternoon chasing each other with it, at which point I think it, too, went into the recycle bin. This morning when I brought the empty bin back into the garage, I saw a single red finger laying on the concrete. I thought of evil little Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter books, who cut off his own finger before turning into a rat, to “prove” to everyone he was really dead.

Hmmm. Is Ironman not really dead? Does he live on? If I ever start building a giant rat pinata, will somebody please stop me?

ironman behind complete hanging

For those of you who missed the original posts, just click on these and you, too, will be able to witness the whole sordid affair:

If I Build an Ironman Pinata, Will Robert Downey, Jr. Jump Out of It?

Ironman, The Killer Pinata, Part 2: Taking Up Arms

T – 19 Days: Ironman the Killer Pinata, Part 3

T – 8 Days: Ironman the Needy Pinata Boyfriend

T – 4 Days: Ironic Man

T – 2 Days: You Say Pinata, I Say Peanuta

T – 0: Blast Off: (From Both Ends)

T – 0: Blast Off! (From Both Ends…)

Our party was easy to find.

Today, Ironman met his maker, and she was wielding an axe handle.

The party went off, on schedule. Ironman went off…slightly ahead of schedule. And Gbot went off…slightly off-schedule, too.

T – 4 Hours (5:30 a.m.): Applied the last coat of paint to Ironman’s neck because I’d reengineered it the night before.

T – 3 Hours: Fed weebots.

T – 2 Hours: Vacuumed. Began yelling occasionally at weebots for undoing party preparations.

T – 90 minutes:  Blew up helium balloons. Mbot kept leaping across the sofa cushions and coffee table trying to reach the ribbons–I kept telling him not to, unless he wanted to spend the day at the Emergency Center instead of a birthday party. “But I need that one! And that one!” he kept gasping, completely ignoring my increasingly irritated orders to get down, until he’d finally gathered them all and stood in the middle of the rug clutching the strings to the cloud of balloons over his head, and asked, “But why am I not flying?”

T – 45 minutes: I was running interference between Gbot and the marshmallows when Mbot sprinted to the bathroom. Before I could race in, Mbot raced out, “naked butt,” leaped onto the sofa, and slid down the white pillow and onto the upholstery. Now all three–child, pillow, and sofa–bore what seems to be the sign of our clan: a giant skid mark. One went in the washer, one was scrubbed with Nature’s Miracle, one was scrubbed with wipies and pulled into superhero underpants.

T – 0 minutes: Riiing! The doorbell. Party time.

Until about 10 a.m., guests were greeted by a naked sofa cushion and pillow and an open laundry room door. I often feel that my job on Earth is to make everyone else feel better about the quality of the jobs they are doing. But I think the lesson here is the importance of having polite, kind, tolerant friends with senses of humor. The birthday of a four year-old is  nothing if not a celebration of the (mostly delightfully) unpredictable.

There were ten weebots all told, ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 7; eleven adults including two three dads; a baby, and Ironman. I’m still trying to figure out if his candy-ass self counts. Now, two days post-party, it would seem that he is still with us: There is no killing Ironman. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was a fun party. A party is kind of like making pottery–after you painstakingly form a bowl and apply glaze exactly as you’d like, then it’s time to place it in the kiln You hope to hell you kneaded out all the air bubbles so it won’t explode. Then you crank up the heat and wait. That’s the point, when you turn the temp up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, that you relinquish control and let the universe do what it will.


Mbot immediately started a new tradition of opening gifts as they arrived. Which turned out to be the best innovation in birthday parties since the modern birthday party was invented by some masochistic mother (or by Mattel?). It works because everyone’s arrival is staggered. Mbot rips open the present, ogles it, plays with it, thanks the guest for it, and then another arrives. True, it’s hard to keep track, but I made sure to ask before everyone went home, so the thank you cards have at least a chance of being accurate. But this method also avoids the awkward, boring King-Chair-and-Minion Syndrome where antsy, sugar-filled weebots squirm while endless gifts are ripped open and possibly not oohed and ahed over as much as etiquette might demand by another antsy, sugar-filled weebot. And everyone can play with the new toys at the party! Mbot will be receiving the 2012 Nobel Common Sense Prize for that.

T + 1 Hour: The bots gathered around Ironman. Gbot approached and whacked him with his fist–something he’s been wanting to do for days (haven’t we all). And then: I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’m afraid Ironman suffered from premature ecrackulation.

Ironman: The aftermath

I had purposely engineered the joints to be weak, because the limbs were pretty indestructible, but I underestimated the force of peanuts and gravity. His right calf split, the foot and ankle dropping to the ground. Peanuts, candy, and plastic  littered the grass.
But everyone took a turn with the axe handle, and Ironman came apart limb by limb. At one or two points, he broke free from the hanger sticking out of the back of his neck, and Husbot hung him back up in a noose.

I got the honorary last wallop, and separated head from body. It was cathartic. We scooped up the loot before the ants could get it. I’m sure most of it went into the trash, but that, unfortunately, is the way with pinatas. I mean, seeing as Robert Downey, Jr., failed to leap out of it, and as he also forgot to send his box office proceeds from The Avengers.

T + 2.5 Hours (Noon): The last guest retreated out the door past Ironman’s corpse. I dunked both bots in the tub and took a seat on the bathroom stool, happy to be sitting. Happy to have the weight of Ironman off my shoulders. Feeling like I’d just taken my last final or finished my thesis. Maybe that’s why I had the sudden, strong urge to take a bath. It had been just over a year that I’d soaked in the tub, while in the final stages of my MFA thesis.  I checked to see if the eucalyptus oil was still up in the medicine cabinet. It was. I decided that when the bots were out of the bath, I’d hand them over to Husbot and take one myself. I could picture the scene: lit candle, silence, hot tub, the smell of eucalyptus. Me, doing nothing.

And that’s when it happened. Gbot stood up, and…pooped. In the tub. Something he hasn’t done for months and months. My fantasy evaporated, to be replaced by fast action and the smell of bleach.

I did finally get my bath, I just hadn’t planned to work quite so hard to get it.

T + 5 Hours: The weebots fell asleep. That evening, I took them to Grandma’s for dinner. Husbot begged off, too tired from the day’s events. (Parties wear him out faster than they wear me out.) Standing at the curb as we pulled away, he lifted and waved good-bye with one of Ironman’s disembodied arms.

When we arrived back home at close to 9 p.m., Husbot had one more birthday present. He instructed me to take Mbot into his bedroom and to take eight seconds to do it.

We followed the instructions, to find Ironman’s disembodied head on Mbot’s pillow. A voice was emanating from it: “Captain Mbot, Captain Mbot, come in, come in. I’ve been attacked by a group of midgets with sticks. My body parts are outside. Please help me.” Mbot broke into a grin and fished inside the head to bring out a new walkie talkie.

Happy birthday, Mbot

Happy re-birthday, Ironman.

.Vote for me!


T – 1 Day: Ironman Has More Pizzazz Than I Do.

English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the ...

If I were Mary Poppins, I’d be making this look a whole lot easier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9:30 on the night before the party. I don’t have the energy to write, scrub the chocolate off the floor, empty and reload the dishwasher, paint the last coat of red on Ironman’s throat (yes, this morning I sawed off his head, lengthened his neck, and stuck his head back on), or lift Mbot in my arms and carry him from the sofa, where he fell asleep watching Mary Poppins.

Ironman is, but for the layer of paint, done. Pictures to come Sunday. My camera’s still broken, and Husbot is too tired from running interference all week to post pics from the Droid.

The monster cake is finished. Baked. Decorated. The marshmallow fluff frosting recipe (untested) off the internet is WAY to sweet, so I’ll caution parents to steer clear. I used an extra paper mache sphere left over from The Big I for the monster’s head, atop two chocolate cakes–a recipe I’ve made fifty times in the past twenty years–in which, by mistake, I put double the amount of butter. Blame exhaustion. Blame measuring in the company of ansty fighting weebots. Blame anything you want. It still tastes good. This is no Hollywood party. This is a homemade, folk art-type shindig and the homemade-er, the better. Except for the OCD moments with Ironman.

10:04 pm: Okay…I scrubbed the chocolate off the floor. No one’s house is ever this clean for real, right? I’ve just stuffed everything in my “office” (read: a five-foot-long counter in my kitchen) into the cabinets. I’m kind of feeling like a fraud–or feeling like everyone’s a fraud, in some way. Even my butter dish is fraudulent. It’s from Anthropologie, a small, bright melon-colored butter dish of cuteness. This morning, it was full of 80-degree soft butter, some smished around the edges. This evening, after cake-making and pasta-preparing, it was empty, still with some smished around the edges. Tonight, after cleaning? Empty. With some smished on the inside. But the edges? Spotless. Does everyone do this? Am I the only fraudulent housekeeper, grownup, mother, woman, writer?

Mbot’s still on the sofa. Mary Poppins has left with the west wind. Husbot’s snoring. I’m thinking about hanging streamers. I’m looking across the room in the half-light at Ironman, whose neck just received a final dousing in ferrous-hued tempera, and he kind of reminded me of the alien in Prometheus. Insiduous.

Time to hang streamers.

11:20 pm. Streamers hung. Teeth brushed. Dishwasher emptied and loaded. Mbot lifted from the sofa and carried to bed. Sippy cup checked to make sure it was full. Gbot kissed goodnight. Nose held to his skin, inhaled, inhaled, trying to fix the smell of sleeping baby cheek in my memory, which seems to unhinge from everything these days.

Will I know better next year what to do and what not to do for a birthday party?

This morning, when I received a late RSVP “yes,” I told Mbot, “Hey! Jbot is coming!”

He said, “Isn’t she already on the list? And Mom? Can everyone come just one at a time?”

I know just how he feels. Birthday parties, except for the presents, for the most part suck ass. I said, “Moon Pie, it is easier and more fun to play with one friend at a time. I feel the same way. But everyone’s going to be here together tomorrow, just like school, and it’ll be fun, too.”

Who knows if I’m right?

At the last birthday party we attended, the newly four-year-old cried when she saw Chuck E. Cheese approaching her. “But she loves him!” cried her mom, in consternation.

So, who knows. It’s all an ongoing experiment.

Will tune in tomorrow.

T – 2 Days: You Say Pinata, I Say Peanuta

Ironman assumes the filling position

….But let’s NOT call the whole thing off.

As you can see, my camera issues still haven’t been resolved, due mainly to Ironman, who doesn’t like me to cook meals, do laundry, run errands, or shave my legs (who knew that about Ironman?). Tuesday, I reached The Stuffing Stage. I could go no further until we bought innards and put ’em in. So Mbot and I made a special trip to The Dollar Tree and then to Party City to buy stuff to stuff into the pinata from hell.

Now, here is a little secret I will share: I don’t like pinatas, and not just because of my experience with the current model. I don’t like the beating. I don’t like the scrabbling for loot. I don’t like the loot: cheap plastic toys that are made at the expense of the earth’s health, and cheap candy that is eaten at the expense of our health. Maybe next time I’ll make a water-soluble pinata the kids can take turns spraying with a hose, and when it dissolves, a hundred miniature helium balloons with strings attached (and miraculously untangled) will emerge and hover just high enough above the ground to provide several minutes of entertainment while everyone tries to jump up and catch ’em. (And just low enough not to fly away and become dangerous to other forms of wildlife.)

But back to reality: We bought a few cheap plastic trinkets. Also 3-D foam stickers, superhero bandaids, and a dollar box of 48 crayons. Then I saw bags of peanuts in the shell. The bots love peanuts in the shell. Peanuts in the shell are lightweight, bulky, and healthy. And, important in Arizona in June: they won’t melt. I doublechecked with parents about peanut allergies, and there were none. The peanuts went in the bag.

Then on to Party City, where I let Mbot pick out one big bag of something, and he chose mini boxes with pictures of superheroes on them; inside are sugar sticks that are just about the most flavorless things I’ve ever tasted, but who cares. Ironman is the ultimate argument that packaging counts. And I got a mix of mini Tootsie pops and rolls. I stayed away from the candy sold in bulk, because it was 15 for a dollar, and the bagged candy was cheaper. In retrospect, I should have spent a few bucks on Jolly Ranchers, because who doesn’t like Jolly Ranchers–and I still may go back and get some and drop them through a hole in Ironman’s head.

So I stuffed him, through wrists, feet, head, and throat, patched him up, let him dry, and then the decorative painting began. I’d been looking forward to the painting stage. It would mean I was almost done. All I had to do was splash on a little silver here, a little gold here. But seeing Jessica’s rendition of The Big I’s face made me realize with a sinking heart that that wouldn’t be enough. I had to include some of the seams in Ironman’s armor. Some of the detailing on the abdomen. Otherwise, he’d just look like a big red blob. SHEEEE-it.

So yesterday afternoon, during naptime (I worked hard at wearing the bots out at the Y and the splash pad that morning), I patched up a crack in the back of Ironman’s left knee, and then got out the fine-tipped brush.

I’d rather be reading….

Not wanting to risk a fatal rupture before The Big Day, I propped up The Big I by his crotch, and then started grabbing books off the shelf to prop under the left foot. I did not pick and choose–a book is a book is a book when it comes to propping. I grabbed them without looking and noticed, as I slid the last one under the sole of I’s foot, saw that it was Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing.

I think the universe is trying to tell me something.

Students of Shakespeare know that the nature of human nature dictates that even if someone had told me what I was getting into four weeks ago, I would not have believed it could happen to me.

Vote for me!

T – 4 Days: Ironic Man

Ironman on Sunday morning. I spent Father’s Day with him.

Thank you, my very valued readers, for hanging in there with me as I am absent from my blog due to Ironman. For a few days over the weekend, he took over our lives completely. Although it’s marked on the calendar and we had a present, come Sunday morning, I FORGOT Father’s Day.

Husbot has been known to spend three weeks tying a single fly, and so he understands about Ironman. But on Sunday morning, upon returning home at 9 a.m. after getting the bots out of bed, taking them for chocolate milk and then to the park–to be met by an apologetic wife who had only remembered it was Father’s Day fifteen minutes before (and only because she’d looked at the calendar for some random unmemorable reason)–he announced he’d had enough. He could manage for a few more days, but he wanted Ironman out of the house. He wanted the flour paste off the kitchen floor and The New York Times back on the table in an inanimate pile. He went so far on Sunday afternoon as to refer to my Other Man as The Monster. To accuse him of taking over Father’s Day. When I asked himk to start thinking about where to hang it, he said thoughtfully, “Can I just run it over?”

So for Father’s Day, I took a break from my obsession and went out for breakfast with my family. And then Husbot took the bots to Grandma’s while I reattached Ironman’s arms after minor but time-consuming shoulder surgery. (I’d made his shoulders too wide–following my eye instead of my tape measure–and after the arms were attached, he looked robotic instead of Ironmanish.) I have learned a lot about anatomy in the past four weeks, but obviously, not enough.

Sunday afternoon, in the peace and quiet of an empty house, I put a final layer of paper mache over the sides of his head (a mummified balloon with both sides whacked off), and then I was ready to paint. It was a moment of triumph.

Then my friend Jessica, who happens to be an artist, offered to come over to help. So yesterday, I delegated a trained professional to the finer details of Ironman’s face. It was AWESOME. I mostly just stood around doing minor repair work on fingers and repainting hands while Jessica did the heavy lifting. I hope tomorrow I will be able to post pics.

But I was only able to get this far because on Saturday, our new superhero, Husbot, DBA Captain Understandts, took the bots out virtually all day. He returned home with photos of them lying in hammocks, submerged in sleeping bags, and peeking out of tents–they went to Cabela’s, then to lunch, then to Grandma’s–and I pinata-ed virtually nonstop. I also made whole wheat nut bread (in the Zojirushi, but still. Some days I don’t even have time to pour flour into the bread machine.) I also made white bean soup. And so, that evening, when the Dynamic Trio returned for dinner, I was able to show off a fully-put-together and painted pinata, and feed them well. I felt like a Supermom. And I thought, Isn’t it ironic that the only times I feel like a Supermom are when someone else is looking after my children?

It’s not right, but it’s true. When I’m with them, actually momming, I just feel all the things mother’s feel–and I don’t think that includes an astonishing sense of accomplishment. I feel like I’m doing what I need to do to keep them healthy, safe, socialized, educated, entertained, fed, watered, and generally clean, and at the same time keep me from feeling like I am being swallowed whole by motherhood–or more accurately, macerated by motherhood, allowing it to chew me up and spit out the other bits–the writer, the cyclist, the individual, the friend, the wife.

Shouldn’t I feel like Supermom while I’m doing that, and not while I’m making dinner and a big red hollow doll alone in an empty house?

It’s good to remember that I’m probably the Supermommest when I’m not feeling like it.

T – 8 Days: Ironman, the Needy Pinata Boyfriend

He’s got legs! And he is controlling my life.

Pardon the poor picture quality, but some of you will remember that Mbot’s last photo shoot ended when the camera stopped working, and because I haven’t gotten as far as purchasing the right pieces of equipment to download photos off the Nikon or my not-very-smart phone, I had to use my webcam via Skype. I’m sure there is an easier way, like there is an easier way to provide entertainment at your four year-old’s birthday party other than building a 63″-tall pinata. Yes, the math you have just done in your head is, unfortunately correct. Ironman stands–or hangs, rather–5’3″ tall.

Husbot took the bots on adventures yesterday morning and this morning and I stayed home up to my elbows in balloons and flour paste, and so I just may achieve my goal of having the damned thing ready to paint by tomorrow.

His arms are drying. Here they are:

Foreground: left hand. Background: right arm.

The photo quality is so remarkably poor that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. For example, the fact that the left arm is standing in a metal sieve (balanced by threading a pipecleaner through the paper mache and then through those handy holes in the bottom of the sieve–sieves should be sold in the crafts aisle!) and that the sieve is, in turn, stabilized by another pipecleaner wrapped around a drawer pull on the table.

To get these brawny hands, I bought a pair of Atlas Thermafit gloves (“comfortable and warm!”) in XL at Ace Hardware for $7.99, stuffed them with newspaper, pulled them on over the wrist stumps, affixed temporarily with duct tape, then covered with Press ‘n’ Seal, which is kind of disturbingly sticky, and applied the paper mache over that. After a few layers, I’ll pull them off the ends of the arm, remove as much of the glove and newspaper as I can, and reattach them. More work than I’d planned on doing, but I’m sure burning up the hours until I can be an expert!

As soon as I transfer photos (which I’ve been taking, but which are trapped inside my other cameras), I will post an entire Ironman photo sequence.

The post title comes from my realization a few days ago that Ironman is taking over my life. My relationship with him has become WAY bigger than I’d planned. I’d wanted him to just be The Other Man, whom I could go to now and then for excitement and fulfillment. But he’s become all needy on me. He’s all like, “I want my legs! I want my arms!” And so I’m spending more time with him than I’m spending with Husbot. And Husbot is beginning to notice.

Today he accused me of having fallen into the trap of The Birthday Party Competition. Which is so utterly untrue that I’m afraid I laughed at him. If I were getting on The Birthday Party Competition boat, I certainly wouldn’t be whacking a homemade pinata and playing Pin The Angry Bird on The Pig and eating a homemade monster cake (I’ll get back to you on that one).

Instead, we’d be gathering thirty of Mbot’s closest friends and their parents for three hours at Pump It Up, Chuck E. Cheese, or Imagination Avenue. We’d rent a bounce house, a teenager to play Belle who paints faces and makes dogs and swords out of balloons, and a photographer at a costume booth. We’d have a three-tiered cake AND cupcakes AND a pinata. (Not that that last birthday party wasn’t really fun, and I adore the mother who threw it–she didn’t know what to do, so she just did everything!)

I’m still figuring out where to hang it to be destroyed. Our home offers no obvious place. But at this point, I’m pretty sure I want it beaten to smithereens.


Prometheus: The Home Movie


In an interestingly serendipitous sequence of events, within three days last week, Mbot set fire to a paper Spiderman napkin, Husbot and I saw Prometheus, and the family caught a discoverment at the Arizona Stomach Center entitled “Combustion.” What do these things have in common? Read on.

The first event occurred just after Nanny and the bots set the table for my birthday party. Uncle Marty and Grandma were coming over for dinner. Nanny was busy in the kitchen boiling lobsters. (She was not wearing earplugs, as, fortunately, their screams are silent. (Z, that was for you.) I was shucking corn. The bots were behaving, by which I mean kind of watching Caillou and kind of playing with balloons and kind of doing crafts. I laid out the cheese and crackers, I opened the wine. I moved a giant candle to the center of the table–a table whose center is farther from its edges than bots’ arms are long–and lit it. The bots tried to blow out the three flames from their positions on the chairs. They couldn’t. I told them to stop trying. That fire is dangerous. Blah, blah. blah. Then I turned around to do whatever I had to do to continue getting dinner ready.

Moment later, as I was taking a serving plate down for the corn, I heard Mbot’s voice. “Uh, Mom? There’s a fire on the table.”

I whirled and yes! Lo and behold, there was a fire on the table. A small one, exactly the size of a paper Spiderman napkin. I rushed over and lifted the single unburned corner and dropped it on the serving plate that was still in my hand, then dropped it into the sink and turned on the water. And then I attempted to explain how he could have hurt himself, and us. Blah, blah, blah. He remained unfazed. So Nanny had a go at it. She explained that he might have hurt Junepbear by mistake. And that’s what got through. There was crying, and promises to never play with fire. My heart rate was still about 160. I washed the serving plate and piled lobster on it. The guests arrived and dinner was served while Uncle Marty and Husbot discussed Prometheus, Ridley Scott‘s prequel to Alien, which Uncle Marty (an author and screenwriter) had just seen at the IMAX in 3D.

The next day, Husbot decided we had to see it. And here is my completely uneducated review: It was okay. There were problems. It was also confusing. But fun to discuss and try to make sense of. Prometheuswas the name of the spaceship that arrived on a distant planet seeking the origins of mankind. Students of mythology or art history will know that Prometheus is the name of the god who took fire from the heavens and gave it to man. As punishment, he was chained to a rock, and every night an eagle flew down to eat out his liver, and every day it grew back. This happened for all eternity.

It’s an old, old story. Shown here: Prometheus bound, Laconian black-figure
amphoriskos C6th B.C., Vatican City Museums (via

One thing about the movie isn’t confusing. One of the morals of the story is: Don’t play with fire. Not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, but fire, in this case, is the biological weaponry that a superior race with a god syndrome (or are they god???) had developed in order to destroy whole planetfuls of other carbon-based lifeforms. Perhaps in order to start from scratch with the hope of a better outcome (a world without the color mauve? Without reality TV and the Hilton sisters?)

Of course, the characters don’t KNOW at first that the animate sludge on the distant planet peopled by large dead guys will turn into large gross monsters that will shoot large gross appendages down their throats. (Again, I hope I’m not ruining something for someone.) The humans are seeking knowledge, and that is their downfall. Like knowledge, fire is a thing that must be used carefully and that can destroy more than paper Spiderman napkins and stuffed bears.

Which brings us to the Stomach Center. We visited it the next morning because Nanny had never been. The bots loved showing her the waterworks, the exhibit on nanoparticles, the giant telescope you look through and see your own eye projected on a big circular screen on the ceiling. Mbot wanted to see the kitty brain. No one except Nanny was brave enough to go into the giant stomach (from which the Arizona Science Center takes its bot-given name). I won a game of Mindball against Nanny, but solely because I knew she was worrying about where the bots were while we were playing, and so I didn’t have to worry about where the bots were. And then a demonstration began, about combustion.

Mbot dragged me to an empty seat and sat, riveted, while two college students explained the three sides of the fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, and heat).


They poured alcohol into a clear plastic twenty-gallon water bottle, pumped in air, and dropped in a match. Mbot jumped about two inches at the fireball that momentarily filled the bottle. Then they threw lycopodium powder into the air and aimed an acetylene torch at it. Then they held a flame to Peter Cottonball and we all watched as it was reduced to a blackened puff of its former self. Then they explained how to use a fire extinguisher. And then, they told everyone in the audience to put their hand over their heart–Mbot did so immediately–and solemnly repeat after them: “I promise to never play with fire.”

Mbot repeated it. “I promise to never play with fire.” Then he glanced sideways up at me, and added, “Again.”

And the next day he was back to his discoverments with liquids, pouring his cup of milk at breakfast into the mouth of a deflated balloon to see if it could be done (yes, to a point), and if, after it was done, he could drink out of it (yes, to a point). As I was mopping up, I banned (again) all discoverments involving liquids to the bathtub.

But it doesn’t look like there will be any more discoverments involving fire. Not until he gets his first chemistry set, or falls in love.

Adventures with Lobsters and Fire

Call me heartless, but inspite of David Foster Wallace’s call to end boiling lobsters alive, this native New Englander is still a fan.

We’ve been busy–my mother’s in town for the week. The bots have been counting down the “sleeps” until Nanny arrived and now that she’s here, we’ve been going nonstop.

One of the highlights for the bots during his last June visit was a trip across town to the Chinese Cultural Center, which features an enormous Asian grocery called, for reasons I have not yet ascertained, 99 Ranch. Last year, with the bots 2 11/12 and 1 3/4, everything in every aisle was a marvel, especially the produce department with vegetables of every conceivable texture, shape, and shade of green, the swordlike lemongrass, carrots the size of a half-bottle of wine, watermelon-sized jack fruit resembling scared pufferfish, and especially the real fish–about thirty different varieties on ice and six great tanks filled with live tilapia, catfish, Dungeness crab, and our main objective: the Maine lobsters, $10.99/pound.

Behind the counter, four men in rubber boots and aprons stand on high stools to dip fish from the tanks and take silver-bladed cleavers and giant yellow rubber mallets to chop each fish in one of six ways, illustrated on a board hanging above the counter. Last year, we had to pull the bots away. I myself could watch for hours without getting bored, in spite of the pungent low-tide smell.

Well. This year, with a 3 11/12 year-old and a 2 3/4 year-old, was an entirely new experience. In the produce department, everyone was cold and wanted to be held. They are both too big for Nanny to carry, and too big for me to carry both. We took turns. The bot in the cart complained of being cold and not being held. As we neared the fish counter, wailing about the smell began. It didn’t bother Gbot, but Mbot, who is notoriously sensitive to smell and has remained largely resistent to my attempts to introduce him to foods other than cereal, peanut-butter, hamburgers, chocolate, ice cream, and broccoli, refused to be diverted for more than a minute at a time by the tilapia, the catfish, the crabs, or the lobsters. A hole was poked in the lobster bag and Nanny went back for another.

It was among the least pleasant grocery shopping trips of the year, mostly due to dashed expectations.

In the past six months, I’ve rarely been taken so totally by surprise by the bots’ response to an experience. I realize this trip was a preview of teendom, when nothing that is my idea will prove to be anything other than boring, too smelly, or too cold. But we got the lobsters, we got the Tsing Tao, and we escaped without setting fire to anything. Which is more than I can say for that evening, when Mbot found out what happens when you hold a paper Spiderman napkin over a candle.

But that’s a story for another day.


T Minus 19 Days: Ironman, The Killer Pinata, Part 3

It would be so much simpler to just drape Robert Downey, Jr. in wet newspaper, allow it to dry, and then gently snip it off.

Isn’t there some culture out there with a creation story involving balloons and masking tape?

This is Stage One of Ironman’s left leg. Did I mention I am beginning to dislike Ironman? And not just because his legs are longer than mine. But because, as the project continues, I am faced at every turn with several ways to do things right and several thousand ways to do things wrong.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, in which he explains cultural and social reasons for the existence of, say, Bill Gates, and The Beatles, explains that it has been calculated in cases from Mozart to McCartney that it takes a person 10,000 hours of doing something before he truly becomes an expert.

Bill Gates was able to spend about that much time in front of a computer with a modem–almost unheard of at the time–before he turned twenty-five. The Beatles played nightly six-hour sets in a German club before they returned home to change history. And Mozart, of course, if he began composing at the age of four, had about that many hours tucked under his frock when he wrote The Marriage of Figaro.

And so, assuming that I possess an innate ability, if I practice paper mache three hours a day, every day, even on Christmas and when I have a hangover, I should be an expert at Ironman pinata-making by Malcolm’s fourteenth birthday. A sobering thought. Do you force your fourteen year-old to use the Ironman pinata you’ve been perfecting for ten years? Maybe my time (not to mention my Times) would be more wisely spent elsewhere.

I’ve got nineteen days to get this big boy (way too big) ready to hang. I will  not be an expert by then. But I might be 100 hours closer. (And when I put it THAT way, I am really quite unsure about whether I want the crap candy beaten out of him!)

It seems to just keep getting messier.


Ironman, The Killer Pinata, Part 2: Taking Up Arms

I don’t think the Bionic Man started out this way.

But you have to start with something, and since we don’t have an abundance of seventh ribs to practice carving up, we here at Pinata Central use balloons, printer paper, and old-fashioned masking tape. We also consult a tape measure and the trusty Ironman Action Figure, to make sure we don’t end up with something that looks more like Babe or Benji than Robert Downey, Jr. in a puffy suit. I actually thought a few days ago that I should consult my friend Geo, who is a professional model-maker (as in models for sunglasses and ski goggles, not as in Cindy Crawford) and who has been known to fabricate not a few  fabulous Halloween costumes. (I am not always so good at recognizing the resources at hand.) So as soon as I have a spare minute, I’m going to ask him if he has any tips for pinata construction. If they are not copyrighted, I will share them with you.

This is what the arms looked like today, before the third layer of Sunday Sports and flour paste was applied during naptime:

Hanging by a pipe cleaner: Finally getting our money’s worth out of the chandelier above the dining table.

And hallelujah, there WAS a naptime. After the park, a playdate, pretend flying off the sofa, fighting over a fort, and swimming (well, not quite swimming yet. Highly chaperoned bobbing, dipping, kicking, and splashing). But really–thank the universe and big business for sun, chlorine, fossil fuels and car seats. The combo puts the bots right out, only a few hours after I’m ready to drop. So, Ironman, the Killer Pinata now has arms. And a head (not shown). Next stop: Legs. Do I really need two that look alike?

Yesterday’s news is today’s source of stress and tomorrow’s triumph….maybe.