The Lazy Mom’s Guide to Halloween Costumes, aka A Tribute to My Mother

Candy corn appears at the end of the aisle in CVS, the sun sinks below the horizon before 7 p.m., pumpkins appear at the edge of the Whole Foods parking lot and a feeling of dread starts creeping into my gut. Halloween is coming and I have to create whatever crazy costume idea my kids came up with…or do I?

I hate Halloween. Ok I don’t hate it. I love it for my kids, but for me, the idea of dressing up and dressing them up, brings forth what I can only describe as Halloween PTSD from childhood. My mother didn’t believe in costumes. I’m not sure whether she thought they were silly or whether she just didn’t have a crafty bone in her body, and like most parents, she didn’t try to overcome that lack of talent once a year. So long before the days of Halloween super stores where one could easily procure some sort of pre-made, culturally relevant costume in a plastic bag on demand, my costumes were of the low key variety.

My first memory of Halloween comes from when I’m no more than four or five. I’m standing with my two older sisters, candy bag in one hand and candle holder in another. I’m wearing a long flannel nightgown and a bonnet on my head.

I imagine the scene like this. It was bedtime, probably a day or two before Halloween and I said, “Mom, Halloween is in two days and I still don’t have a costume.” She looked at me and said, “I have a great idea. You can go as a little girl going to bed.” I know she was probably thinking to herself, it’s a late night, when she comes home all she’ll need to do is brush her teeth and hop in bed.

It was sort of costume because I was actually dressed more like a little girl going to bed in Little House on the Prairie era, but still.

It would be like if today my kids said to me, “Mom, we still don’t have Halloween costumes,” and I said, “I know! You, daughter, can go as a brilliant but disorganized student and wander the neighborhood with a binder that has critical papers falling out of it, and son, you can go as someone obsessed with Pokemon Go, and wander the neighborhood trick-or-treating while catching Pokemon.”

My kids wouldn’t go for it, but I did every year. For two or three years I went as a little girl going to bed. But then I had had enough.

“I will NOT go as a little girl going to bed for another year,” I said. I could see the look on my Mother’s face. She was trapped. She had to help me figure out a new costume. She glanced around the room and saw the extra poster boards left over from my recent capsule report and said, “I have a great idea. You can go as your favorite book!” (I should mention here that my mother is a bookworm, so books were on her mind quite a bit). “It will be so unique,” she went on. “No one ever goes as a book.”

That’s right. No one ever goes as a book. You know why? Because it’s not fun to walk around the dark streets on Halloween with two giant poster boards strapped to your front and your back. But I did. Like the men that advertise liquidation sales on Rockville Pike with sandwich boards strapped to them, I walked around the neighborhood another couple of years hawking my favorite books for Halloween. I would decorate the front with the title and the cover illustration and the back with book blurbs. It was original, I had to give her that.

My mother believed that Halloween costumes were to come from whatever you could find in your house… by the way, my mother is also a “minimalist” and we didn’t have a lot in our house. You could say, I guess, at this point that I wasn’t the most creative either. But I had limited supplies and parents who, while supportive in lots of other ways, were not helpful in the costume arena. So, when I refused to go one more year as a book, my mother pulled another brilliant idea out of her box of costume ideas from everyday life.

“Go as your favorite athlete,” she said eyes wide open with glee. “You could go as a swimmer, or a tennis player! You could be Chris Everett!”

Yes, you guessed it. By this point in my life, around ten, I was an avid swimmer and tennis player. So, I put on my bathing suit, my sweatshirt and sweatpants, threw a towel around my shoulder, put on my (incredibly painful while dry) latex swim cap and goggles, and headed out to collect my candy. And the next year, I did indeed honor Chris Everett with my tennis skirt, tennis racquet, wrist sweatband and sun visor.

Not surprisingly, I outgrew an interest in trick or treating on the early side. In college I was thankful for creative friends and group costumes, and as an adult, like my mother, I developed a penchant for clever costumes that could be made from what I had around the house. I became Octomon easily enough by stringing eight babydolls around my waist, and I went as a 1%er by wearing my Grandmother’s old leopard coat and hat.

When I had children of my own, I had a bit of a panic attack. I had no idea how to apply face makeup and I didn’t sew. My kids were destined to suffer through Halloween the way I did.

But my daughter who loved Michael Jackson’s music when she was five decided she wanted to go as him. With a borrowed costume wig, a store bought sequin glove, and a dress up coat, we had a costume. As she paraded among a sea of Darth Vaders and Elsa’s, I was happy for her original and simple costume that was one of the hits of the parade.

We’ve now had plenty of years to do it both ways. At times my kids have been as original as going as a stop sign, and they’ve also bought into the commercial hype and gone as Minecraft characters. They’ve helped me get over my fear of Halloween approaching, and at times, helped me to appreciate my mom’s original approach.

Halloween is a nearly upon us and last night my daughter grabbed her emoji pajama bottoms, had her artistic friend draw a smiley heart face on her yellow t-shirt, and voila, she had a costume. I was so proud. Happy Halloween!

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