It is late October, which means only one thing in this house: what the *&%# are my kids going to be for Halloween?
Every year, I vow that next year will be different. I will not wrap myself up in their crazy. I will not cotton last-minute schemes. I will not enter Party City on Oct. 30th in search of “medium-blue socks and a small bag of feathers.” Instead, like the well-behaved family that I know we could be, we will make early plans. We will select costumes and wear them. Or we will let the chips fall.
I really thought that this was going to be our year.
In July, both girls had wanted desperately to be Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. I was jazzed. We would have no simpering princesses. No sequins, pompoms, or lace. Instead, we would show off two strong heroines. With easy costumes to boot. Wear black, braid hair, carry an arrow, and call it done. But our oldest daughter is going through a bit of a tween phase, and said she would not be caught dead in a costume that matched her baby sister, who in turn, seems to be going through a bit of a copycat phase, and will only be Katniss if her older sister will match. So now neither one will volunteer as tribute.
My friends seem to eliminate this waffling and tomfoolery with the popular household theme costume. I’ve known families who dressed as minions or superheroes, Star Wars personalities or characters from Scooby Doo. My neighbors transformed themselves into the cast of The Dukes of Hazzard a few years back. Baby Boss Hogg and teenage Roscoe P. Coltrane were particularly on point.
I floated a theme idea to my own family this year, and the only notion upon which anyone could agree was that I would portray the Wicked Witch. That theme was jettisoned, however, when everyone else in the family fought over Dorothy. For a few moments at the Science Center, we were committed to being a family of astronauts. Space Team Harbaugh. Our costumes would be both empowering and STEM-appropriate. But the rockateers disbanded at the gift shop when I saw the price of one single spacesuit. Astronomical! Out of this world! They must have been using the proceeds to fund actual space exploration.
Without a theme, we quickly became untethered. Costume notions have entered and exited the house with the breeze. Already, our six-year-old has vetoed the fireman, dinosaur, bumblebee, ballerina, and ninja. I really thought we had a winner with that last one until her sister reminded her it was “lame” to wear the same costume two years in a row. I wanted to kick her.
I complained to my husband about the kids’ failure to commit, but he adopts a “not my circus, not my monkeys” attitude about this holiday. Give him his way, and we would skip it altogether. He does not like candy. Or pumpkin lattes. And he once told me he would rather “scrub a toilet than wear a costume.” To be fair, he has begrudgingly dressed up whenever I have insisted, though that has usually meant putting on a Hawaiian shirt, carrying a beer, and calling himself Jimmy Buffett.
I suppose yearly costume failure is in my lineage. Growing up, most years, I was either a pirate or a gypsy – which both looked pretty much the same. My father came from a long line of hobos. And my brothers alternated their pirates with various sportsmen: pirate – golfer – pirate – baseball player – pirate — quarterback. My sister was often a witch. None of us won many awards for originality, but we had full candy buckets at the end of the night, which, as far as we were concerned, was the whole point.
I have never subscribed to the notion that a Halloween costume is an extension of your soul. I like a heavyset male in a tutu claiming to be Tinker Bell as much as the next gal, but I’m also fine with ghosts and black cats. I do not equate costume proficiency with winning at life. People with basic get-ups can still be complex humans. Especially if they pull it off without spending any money. Last year, Lizzie’s preschool teacher became my new hero when she whipped up a turtle with some green paper and a stapler. That was my kind of cheap.
Of course, there are other forces getting in the way of my frugality. In addition to believing her costume is an extension of her soul, my oldest daughter fears this might be her last chance for trick-or-treating. I have tried to convince her that she’ll eke out a few more candy-grubbing promenades. But she’ll start middle school next year. Maybe she is right. I distinctly remember my last year as a costumed participant. My girlfriend and I dressed in robes and face cream and claimed we were “moms” – as though either of our mothers had ever looked that way. Neighbors humored us, but we knew. We were old enough to walk into a store and purchase our own candy. It was time to hang up pumpkin buckets, and put the pillowcases back on the bed.
Which is why I will probably drive my daughters to Party City tomorrow afternoon. And why I will pay Amazon.com to rush ship a different costume to our house next week. For a young girl, October 31st is a chance to be anything she wants: a painter, the President, a doctor, an astronaut, a rock star, a superhero, or the commissioner of the NBA.
The world sometimes disagrees. But on Halloween, blessedly ridiculous, frequently last-minute, Halloween, I want no limits. On that night, I want my girls to have all of the options, and all of the opportunities.
If only to help me reinforce this idea every other day of the year.
The NY Observer ran a version of this piece on Oct. 27, 2015.