Haley with some of her trains—still smiling after a run-in between her mother and a Thomas pinata.
I murdered Thomas the Tank Engine. Until then, my daughter Haley’s birthday party was going great.
We’d set up a crafts table, where the kids made flowers out of Popsicle sticks and tissue paper. A friend brought his guitar and played “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The kids sang and danced with their parents. Then it was time for the piñata. My husband and I decided on a Thomas the Tank Engine piñata because Haley, who just turned three, is obsessed with Thomas. “How much do I love you?” I ask her every night. “More than all the trains in all the stations in all the world,” she says.
She got into trains because her four-year-old cousin, Alex, used to love them. If Alex was holding Thomas, Haley wanted him. If Alex picked up Percy, the green train that delivers the mail, Haley had to have him. Soon she had Thomas toothpaste, stickers, and coloring books, and we were tripping over trains. “Come on, Daddy,” she’d say. “Let’s build a big long track.”
When we drive through Garrett Park, she asks me to “turn that way,” toward the train station. Her favorite place in the world is Wheaton Regional Park, where there’s a rail ride through the woods. She points out the black steam engine and red caboose in her book Freight Train. All this is cute, but she’s so consumed that trains tend to dictate our lives.
She begs me for my iPhone so she can play Thomas games. We have stacks of colorful plates, but Haley only wants the ones with Thomas on them. I once accidentally poured syrup over Thomas’s eyes instead of on his wheels. “Mommy,” she said, “move that. I want to see his face.”
So the Thomas piñata was a natural. I gave each kid a bag with stars on it, and they took turns swinging at Thomas with a Wiffle Ball bat. That barely made a dent, so my 11-year-old niece, Julia, took a shot. Thomas was still intact.
“My turn?” I said.
Once I started hitting Thomas, I couldn’t stop. I actually said, “I’m so sick of Thomas”—the part I’m most embarrassed about—and, with a two-handed grip, swung over and over like I was chopping wood. Toys “R” Us receipts flashed in front of me—we’ve spent hundreds of dollars on these trains. I thought about the arguments with Haley over how many she could bring in the car, all the times I had to run downstairs to find Salty, Rosie, or whichever one she had to sleep with.
I whacked the piñata until it ripped apart, then raised both arms as if I’d won a tennis match. “Yeah, Cindy!” a friend yelled.
The adults were laughing. “Highlight of the day!” one said. The kids were busy picking up Kit Kat and Twix bars. Haley was happy—she still had a Thomas cake to eat.
The next morning, I felt sick: What kind of mother beats the hell out of her daughter’s favorite character? As a mom, I was supposed to hold myself together, but I’d lost it in front of a group of kids who couldn’t even write their names. I worried they’d have nightmares. I texted the parents to apologize.
“You were the hero of the party,” one wrote back. (His daughter is obsessed with princesses.) Another reminded me that piñatas are meant to be hit. My dad captured the incident on video. “Do not send that to anybody,” I begged. I didn’t want to become Crazy Mom on YouTube.
The next day, Alex had a birthday party, and Haley went straight for the trains in his playroom. “You can have all my Thomas things,” I heard him tell her. “I like cars now.” We left with 18 trains, a Thomas flashlight, and a Thomas pillow. Haley was giddy. I smiled and asked her which trains she wanted to take to bed—my way of saying sorry.
This article appears in the December 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.