November 4, 2012

Motherlode: Of all holidays, Halloween comes with least baggage

By K.J. DELL-ANTONIA

I have been known to help make my children's Halloween costumes.

Before you, envisioning grand creations on a Martha Stewart level, conclude that you hate me and we can no longer be friends, let me explain. I don't help them make the costumes because I am such a fantastically involved parent and I want everyone to know it. I don't do it because I have so much time on my hands that when I'm not making Halloween costumes, I'm turning coffee cans into elaborate tiki lanterns. I help my children make their Halloween costumes because in 2004, Old Navy somehow failed to make a fuzzy, zippable, hooded caterpillar-airplane-truck.

Until that year, Old Navy had come through. Bat. Monkey. Doggie. Got it. But we were clearly better off when our son's vocabulary was more limited. Fortunately, I thought to consult him before I went crazy with either a sewing machine or cardboard. "What," I asked, "does a caterpillar-airplane-truck look like?" It's green, he said, with wings and a propeller. And spots. I enveloped him in green felt, glue-gunned on some spots and wings, stuck a propeller on a green hat and he was perfectly happy.

That child, it developed, did like wearing costumes -- but mostly, he liked creating costumes. An issue of Women's Day provided the inspiration for a spider a few years later. The base of the spider (a hooded black sweatshirt) returned the next year as the base of a ghoul. He's worn a purchased costume just once since his toddler days. Meanwhile, those Old Navy costumes lived on. Each of my four kids has worn the size 2 toddler doggie costume (well after it was outgrown) at least once, and what was initially a bat baby bunting found a new life when we cut leg holes in the bottom and cut off the hood to turn it into a separate bat hat. The caterpillar-truck-airplane became a caterpillar princess. For Halloween, we're masters of the reuse, recycle mantra.

I remember some Halloweens as being about the transformation -- creating a mental vision, then looking into the mirror and seeing it fulfilled. Where I see a girl wearing all the wings and foofiness we could drag together from our costume box, my daughter saw a candy-fairy. All of my children worried that they might not be recognized in that doggie costume. In it, they felt changed. So I have the sense to recognize that when three of them say they want to be Harry Potter characters, they want store-bought robes, wands and hats -- their vision is the movie. But Rapunzel-with-a-light-saber can look like whatever you want. (But credit to Family Fun for the Rapunzel part.)

I don't sew, and I don't want to sew. But I can cut and glue gun and safety pin, and I like helping them realize their visions. A cat we can (and did) buy. But when your child wants to be the Big Green Monster from the Ed Emberley book, you're going to have to buy some felt.

I help make their costumes, too, because I love Halloween. It's the most un-baggage-y of holidays. No one's parents ever got upset that she couldn't come home for Halloween; no one worries that we're missing its true meaning. Glue-gunning yarn onto cardboard is its true meaning, especially if you eat candy while you're doing it. So is ripping open that wizard costume (as long as it's not the size 6 "naughty wizard" costume I saw at the party store last week) and putting it on. I know there are those who differ, but I see Halloween as all fun and no obligation, even if I do seem to have signed up to bring the "healthy treat" to my daughter's third-grade class.

Harry Potter was "so last year." This year, I have one "Uglydoll" (felt, glue gun and stuffing), one "glowing skeleton" (black sweats, duct tape and glow sticks), one "Glo Bro" (white sweats, LED lights and a vivid imagination) and one cat (it's not Old Navy, but it's close). We'll spend an afternoon pulling it all together, and a few days wearing costumes everywhere before returning to our workaday selves.

(Me? I'm a witch. I'm always a witch, and you can take that however you'd like.)

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at: kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

 

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