After Nearly Five Years, Kid Finally Has Face Painted
Unicorn, she demands, without hesitation
When Kina was younger, she would hand me a little horse figurine and instruct me to “paint” her with it, pretending that it was a magical brush filled with all the pigments and textures necessary to produce a realistic unicorn, kitten, or dinosaur. She would not allow me to stop at the pantomime of just a painted face, but insisted that I also add fur to her arms and legs, hooves to her feet and hands, a long golden horn to the very top of her head, and a luxurious rainbow mane to the back of it. When I finished, I’d brush her off and send her to look in the mirror and admire my work, after which she’d return to the couch and demand I start over and make her into—I don’t know—an Octonaut.
Face painting was a tradition born of the lockdown, but it drew on a chance encounter with a little street fair in September of 2019, when she was not yet three. Behind the bouncy castle at the center of the fair was a little set of tables with people painting kids’ faces—a craft whose existence stunned Kina. Before her speechless eyes sat children being recast as anthropomorphic rainbows, radiant butterflies, pale ice princesses, and rainbow unicorns. She asked us to wait, but the line was long and the weather was still hot, and surely there would be another street fair in the spring of 2020, no?
As it turned out, there would not. What there would be, two years later, is a birthday party with a hired clown, four puppets, a box of magic tricks, and a little palette of face paint. Kina was among the first kids at her friend Niki’s birthday party, and the clown, sensing his moment, asked if she wanted her face painted. She wasted no time at all in accepting his offer and commissioning a unicorn.
Five minutes later, she was adorned with a squat little golden horn on her forehead, two pink arches across her brow and down the bridge of her nose, and four little black… head whiskers. No flowing rainbow mane, no rippling haunches, no flaxen tail, and yet: the child was totally bewitched. She paraded around the party in quiet self-contentment, making sure not to smudge her horn away, and doing an outstanding job of it. She spent the whole day as a unicorn.
Later, after her bath, she looked in the mirror and asked where her makeup had gone. I remembered this reaction from my own first encounter with face paint at the age of eight, when I demanded my parents take a photo of my face and carry it to the one-hour photo booth at the local mall so that I could hold close to my heart the image of myself as a reindeer for the rest of my normal-faced days. Like me, Kina knew the makeup was artifice, but to her it was also ritual magic—the same magic she and I had performed countless times during this period of isolation, the sort that could unseat you from the trenches of your typical self and send you galloping into another reality for as long as the imaginary greasepaint held.
I woke up this morning to find Kina’s horse figurine sitting on the table next to our bed. The residual glow of yesterday’s unicorn hasn’t yet worn off, but I reckon the horse was there for a reason, and I expect to help her fly away again soon enough—and now I know how to draw a proper horn.
At the bottom of today’s Parade, you will find a little unicorn with a star on its side. At the top, you will find two glued-on strips of paper, where Kina yelled that I must cover up my standard PARADE masthead, so that she could do it herself. The publisher runs amok.