It Takes More Than Paper and Paste to Make Your Own Pinata

The instructions posted all over the Internet make it sound deceptively easy to make your own pinata.  Three or four layers of paper mâché – no problem, right?  Mix up a little flour and water and voilà, you have paste.  Here’s a true story about the making of a pull-string pinata.

Sunny started off thinking she wanted an Easter theme for her fifth birthday party (no, we are not very religious, but I think all the bunnies and chicks associated with the holiday really appealed to her).  So, like a good mommy who encourages creative, independent thinking, I agreed to this.  As we discussed different ways to apply this theme, which would have been much easier to carry out had she told me right after the holiday, when I could have scored some relevant and – bonus – discounted party goods, I started to get into it.  A pinata was a requirement, as it seems to be at just about every preschool party, so I thought we’d begin with that.   CrazyCrafty mommy suggested making one together, envisioning a simple egg-shaped pinata that would “hatch” candy or plastic chicks.  Thrifty mommy figured she’d also save a little cash on the whole deal.

I did a little research, keeping in mind the scenario that unfolded during the pinata activity at her fourth birthday party.  We had a store-bought flamingo for that bash, and all the kids got upset when the flamingo lost its head after about the 18th hit.  To avoid a repeat, I decided we’d do a pull-string pinata.  Much less traumatic.

I knew we’d have to do multiple layers of paper mâché, so we started almost a month ahead of time.  I was so enthusiastic at the beginning, boiling up the paste with gusto, cooling it in an old spaghetti sauce jar (so green – reusing!), securing newspapers from neighbors (we don’t get one of our own), blowing up the balloon, and figuring out how to keep the balloon in place as we covered it with our paste-covered strips of newspaper.  Sunny and I got down to business in our smocks one evening and everything was great.  We made a big mess and had fun.

Then we had do the same things again.  And again.  And again.  By the last layer I had lost my crafty sidekick and was slapping strips on my balloon solo when I should have been fast asleep.  I was tired of mixing up paper mâché paste in between toddler tantrums, snack requests, bike rides, and all the other daily trivia that somehow always superseded our paper mâché project.  What was I thinking?  Why didn’t I just slack off and rush to the nearest party store?  I don’t know.   Sometimes you just lose yourself in the insanity of a project and must see it through to the bitter end.

Mid-project, I was also challenged by a change in theme that occurred one day while the littles and I were in Target.  I came upon an adorable “insta-party” set of paper goods and decorations that featured cupcakes.  I ignored for the moment the paper mâché “egg” sitting at home and instead focused on solving a more pressing issue – there were no more Easter decorations available, and where was I going to get plates with chicks and bunnies that didn’t also say something about a baby shower?

It didn’t take much oohing and ahhing over the cupcake design to get Sunny on board.  We had a new theme – cupcakes – and everything we needed to go with it. Except a cupcake-themed pinata.

So I went home and looked at our fledgling pinata.  I did more research.  With a lot of effort I could turn it into a cupcake.  Or, with a little effort and a break in theme (horrors!), I could make it into a hot air balloon of some sort.  We were running out of time, so instead of gluing on layers of tissue paper, as many websites helpfully suggest (should you have another month on your hands), Sunny and I painted pink and purple strips down the sides of the “balloon.”  Then, after all this, there was still the question of how to make it actually work.

I decided to call in the engineer.

Glop deserves all of the credit for our pinata’s pull-string mechanism.  Sure, I could have rigged it based on my interpretation of online directions and shaky knowledge of physics, but I knew that I couldn’t also design it to fool the kids about which string would open the trap door.  The night before the party, Glop worked some magic involving slip knots (nowhere mentioned in my research) and in two short hours we had what looked like a working pinata.

At the party last Friday afternoon, I held my breath as each little guest came forward to pull a string.  Guess who pulled “the” string?  None other than my birthday girl.  I was so proud, and prouder still when the pinata opened as intended and the candy came spilling out.  We can’t get anywhere on time, someone always has a dirty face/shirt/hands, we can never find the TV remote or the last piece of a puzzle, but we can make a pinata.

Given the choice, would I do this all over again?  Yes.  Sunny and I spent a lot of time making not only a pinata, but also a special memory,  and that’s not something money can buy.   It was also worth it for the look of relief on Glop’s face when I told him it really worked.  He got just as wrapped up in the project as I did. Go team!

Our pull-string pinata. (Strings are temporarily taped to the top so Toddler can't pull it all down before the party.)

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