I’ve always loved Halloween. Dressing up, trick-or-treating, jack-o’-lanterns, ghosts and goblins, spiders, vampires—oh my! When I was a kid, there was a magic to it: taking a break from the humdrum of school-life, going out at twilight with my friends and the fantastic element of pretend, even when I was older and had mostly outgrown imaginative play.
Halloween faded into the background when I got past high school, but once I grew up and had kids, I was thrilled to celebrate with them. Halloween with babies and toddlers was pretty stress-free and fun. I’d find some cheap costume at the drug store, plop it on them, try to teach them to say “Trick-or-treat!” and “Thank you,” and then hope they wouldn’t have epic meltdowns when they discovered that they couldn’t eat all the candy in one night.
But somehow, as my children have gotten older, Halloween has become more stressful than fun. What on earth is my child going to be? What if he wants to be something really weird and the other kids tease him? What if he’s too hot/too cold/uncomfortable in the costume? How can we afford to buy him that elaborate costume? Why do even the simplest Pinterest costume ideas give me heart palpitations?
What is it with our generation and the never-ending pressure to be perfect? Are we comparing ourselves to other parents and their kids, or to an ideal vision of what our children are supposed to be? What are we trying to prove? I don’t know where it comes from, but I feel it often, even over such trivial things as Halloween costumes.
When I was a kid, Halloween was simple. I don’t remember all of my costumes. (When did that happen? I remember having them memorized in order of appearance.) But there are a few I remember well, and I am shocked about how little it took to come up with a totally acceptable costume in those days.
In first grade, I was a ghost. My mom took a sheet, cut two holes for eyes, threw it on me, and sent me out trick-or-treating with the neighborhood kids (no parents!). The next year, I was a princess. No princess in particular—my mom didn’t have to go out and buy a costume based on the latest Disney craze. She bought me a tiara. That’s it. I wore my tiara, my sparkly jelly shoes (remember those?) and a dress of my own. I felt totally royal.
Once I was a little older, the costumes were pretty much thrown together by me and my friends. My best friend and I were punk rockers one year. Our parents provided the colored hairspray. We sprayed our hair ourselves and also doused our clothes with it. The thing I remember most about that Halloween was the smell of hairspray everywhere, having to pee like crazy and how hard it was to walk down the street balancing my brown bag of candy with my legs tightly closed.
Last year, my second-grader wanted to be Herobrine from Minecraft (the evil doppelgänger of the main character, Steve). Everyone told me I could just take a cardboard box, get some printouts online, and make him a Minecraft box-head. He wasn’t too keen on that idea because he didn’t think it would look authentic enough. At first I was relieved, because, knowing my crafting skills, even glueing cutouts from the Internet on a box could prove tragic. But I was also a little unnerved. Since when did Halloween costumes have to look so precisely like the characters they are supposed to represent? What happened to creative interpretations (and simplicity)?
Then he began to list all the other things he needed: a diamond sword, a pickax, a torch that lit up. He wanted to coordinate it with his best friend, whom he expected to be a Creeper (one of those green guys). He kept talking about everything being just so, as though he and his friend were going to transplant themselves directly into the video game.
While I appreciated his passion and zeal, I was also a little worried about where Halloween was going for him (and us). I don’t blame him entirely. It’s part of our current culture that Halloween has turned into a buying festival, and kids naturally want the kind of costumes that other kids have. I’m sure I have bought into it as well, putting in more thought and money into his past costumes than I should have.
We ended up buying him the Minecraft box-head for $15. He bought a diamond sword with his birthday money, and that was that. I was a little concerned that we would need to find the right clothes to coordinate with the box-head, but he was surprisingly content to wear clothes of his own that looked approximately enough like a Minecraft outfit.
But perhaps the biggest lesson happened later. The day before Halloween, we noticed that the box-head was a little cumbersome and didn’t fit him exactly right. We ended coming up with a makeshift solution—putting in some padding and having him wear it with a baseball hat. But on Halloween night, things just weren’t holding together, and every time he took more than a few steps, the box-head started to fall off.
I felt horrible, like I had totally failed at motherhood and Halloween. Why hadn’t I come up with a better solution? Why hadn’t I prepared? My son sat on the curb weeping, telling me that I had, in fact, ruined his Halloween.
But then I remembered Halloweens from when I was a kid. I remembered my homemade ghost costume slipping off every five steps I took, having to adjust my tiara constantly and, of course, the having-to-pee-like-a-crazy-person incidents. I told him that it would be fine, that he could wear the box-head for a bit, and then take it off when it started to bother him. He didn’t love the idea, but once we both started to relax, he was at least willing to try.
It ended up being a perfectly imperfect Halloween. He held the box-head as we walked from house to house (OK, yes, I ended up holding it a fair amount too). When it was time to ring someone’s doorbell, he put it back on and posed as Herobrine, proudly wielding his sword with that ridiculous, awkward box-head half falling off his head.
He was the cutest Herobrine in the history of Minecraft. When we came home, he selected the four pieces of candy he would eat that night without any resistance and even tried to explain to his toddler brother the concept of restraint when it comes to Halloween candy. Then he put his costume carefully away in his closet and waltzed out smiling, telling me he’d had the best Halloween ever.