An open letter to face painting from a Chicago dad

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 5-year old daughter Viva who is probably a smeary cat right now.

Dear Face Painting,

My daughter, Viva, is your biggest fan. Her eyelashes and the inside of her ears are discolored right now from your latest achievement, a sort of peacock situation in pastels and jewel tones she loved so much that washing it off of her was like a scene from a production of Silkwood: Jr. Edition. You’re a lot of fun –- allowing some role playing, decoration, festivity, and mystery for little ones. But my relationship to you? Like an unhealthy romance acted out over primordial iterations of Facebook … it’s complicated.  

It is prime face painting season right now –- a season which never truly ends but lasts primarily from Easter through Halloween, when festivals are happening. It crests around Halloween, which means a lot of Halloween-themed fall fests have kids dressed as Batman with the bat symbol painted on his face — which is weird because Batman doesn’t paint the bat symbol on his face. But who am I to tell Batmen, even miniature ones, what to do? Prime face painting season means a lot of our bathroom towels will be in Shroud of Turin mode, with vague visages of tigers, bunnies and fairy princesses smeared across them.

Kids with face paint are adorable … for a few minutes, anyhow. The trouble is, kids aren’t known for standing still with their hands away from faces remaining clean and dry. They are more famous for faceplants on the ground, running headlong into their parent’s clothing, nose-picking, tooth-wiggling and faces awash with rivulets of tears and mucus. If my child has a bunny face on, you can be pretty sure that my blazer will be wearing bunny face soon enough. Few people understand the dangers of secondhand face paint.

When you arrive, Face Painting, some cultural tension comes with you … gender stuff. Walk anywhere near a face painting booth and you’re sure to see some brittle parents trying to coax a son away from a cat face or a daughter away from a Ninja Turtle. Of course, you’ll also see some boy Hello, Kitties and some girl Donatellos (Donatelli?). Perhaps, in that way, you’re doing heroic work.

My only significant issue with you, Face Painting, involves your escalation over the years. When I was but a wee lad, Face Painting meant an “S” for Sox fans or a “C” for Cubs fans on a kid’s cheek. You want to be Spider-Man? Here’s a black dot with eight lines coming off of it. Boom, you’re a spider, man. Now scram. You took seconds and then it was back to the bouncy houses and the elephant ears. For the fancy, full-face treatments, you had to go to, like, a Renaissance Faire and drop about $20 bucks. The $20 bucks might have cost the same as two turkey legs and a pickle on a stick, but you ended up with a befeathered or foliated masterpiece that wound around your eyes and down to your neck. These days, every fest is a Ren Faire, and every booth offers full-head multi-color opera, which typically take a significant amount of time for the beleaguered artist. The result: long lines. Long lines mean people holding places, getting to the front when their child is still in a human Hungry, Hungry, Hippos installation hundreds of feet away. It means marital tension and interpersonal conflict. Or it means trying to get little ones to stand patiently in a line, often without an iPad, in a space filled with jolly distractions both sugary and athletic — the parental equivalent of bringing home the Erymanthian Boar alive.

This is my entreaty to you, Face Painting: Any chance you could deflate back to the cheek-mounted logos of yesteryear? You’ve gotten more beautiful as you’ve matured, but your beauty has overwhelmed most of the humble trappings and casual activities of fests. Also, please don’t tell my daughter I wrote you. She digs the most Baroque painted looks possible, and she doesn’t want a return to the days of a boring old “S” or a “C.” As a matter of fact, if you have an adhesive gems, throw a few of those on, too.



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