By Claire Mullen
It’s usually just about early August when my eagle-eyed, ever holiday-ready children notice that the spooky script, orange and black banner has officially been hung outside one of the several pop-up Halloween costume stores around town. And then the begging begins. I’ll endure almost two full months of “Mooooom can we PLEASE go look at the costumes? It’s almost Halloween!”
Cool it, kid. It’s 101 degrees and the vampires are waiting in line behind the mosquitos. I will eventually relent and allow my two to peruse the aisles (upon aisles upon aisles) of the store stocked full of neatly packaged costumes organized by size and just about every theme you could possibly imagine.
If tradition holds true, my 4-year-old will pick up every single superhero accessory in the store and air-fight an imaginary villain to test the overpriced cheap plastic for battle readiness, while also testing my patience.
He will accidentally wander into the “adult horror” section and catch a glimpse of the picture on the package of a Freddy Krueger get-up that will inevitably give him parent-waking nightmares until Christmas.
My highly opinionated second-grade daughter will announce that just about every costume is “too babyish” before finally settling on the one perfectly age-appropriate, up-to-her-standards costume that also meets my approval. And, of course, they won’t have it in her size.
We’ll finally accomplish the seemingly impossible task of choosing two Halloween costumes that make everyone happy. We’ll take our selections to the register, and I’ll swipe my credit card for $100, more than I’ve spent on a (full-sized) outfit for myself in I don’t remember how long. I’ll load a bag full of the makings of a “Wintery Witch” (really, what the heck is a Wintery Witch but the more expensive, white and silver sparkly version of a normal old witch-for-
all-seasons?) and a mini Captain America (complete with a flimsy plastic shield that I already know will be broken before the first day of autumn) into my trunk and think about the evolution of Halloween costumes since my days as a trick-or-treater.
My siblings and I were blessed (as we know now, although growing up, we oftentimes swore we were cursed) with a mom who was a Martha Stewart of sorts. I swear the woman could have built a legitimate, habitable house with nothing but her trusty glue gun and bits of fabric and recyclables from her craft bin. She could draw, paint, and sew like nobody’s business.
So, naturally, the four of us kids knew that there would be no arguing with Martha Jr. nor would there be annual September outings to Wal-Mart for costumes. We would, year in and year out, roam the streets of Huntington Park on All Hallows’ Eve in homemade costumes. In retrospect, it’s easy to appreciate the amount of time and love that Mom poured into always handcrafting outfits for her four children. But, over the years, having an amateur costume designer for a mother did result in a handful of now-hilarious holiday snafus.
The most memorable of all was the year that Mom decided that my youngest sister, Susanna, would make an adorable picnic table. She sourced a giant piece of sturdy cardboard, cut it into a square with a hole in the middle just big enough to allow for placing it over the head and onto the shoulders of a tiny 8-year-old. Mom cut an identical hole in the center of a red gingham cotton tablecloth and, armed with her glue gun, affixed it to the top of the cardboard. She decorated the makeshift tabletop with real soda cans, paper plates and napkins, plastic cutlery, and an entire (well-balanced) meal of food that she hand-cut from colorful construction paper. She thought of everything, including a trail of ants fashioned out of twisted black pipe cleaners. Everything but the fact that she was transforming little Susanna, with a red bandana tied like a kerchief around her head, into a picnic so giant that she wouldn’t be able to fit through the doorways of any of our welcoming neighbors or turn around without knocking into another trick-or-treater.
Poor Sueboo, looking cute as a button, would spend the evening in tears (the paper napkins came in handy) as her sympathetic older sisters fetched candy for her goodie bag (a miniature picnic basket, of course) from homeowners with stoops too narrow to accommodate an enormous walking picnic. And then there was the year one of my sisters went as a grandma. As she remembers it, “I was a grandma, complete with white baby powder in my hair and one of mom’s bras filled with two low-hanging balloons.” The Halloween that Mom imagined up a werewolf costume for my little brother and hand-sewed patches of itchy, hot brown fur from who knows where or what to his jeans and flannel shirt.
But, along with the mishaps, I remember Mom sprawling on the living room floor for hours on end every evening for a week,
hand-drawing an exact replica of the Queen of Hearts on two pieces of poster board for an elaborate playing card costume. Cutting up her own clothing to create patches for a
homemade scarecrow. Sitting me down at her vanity to expertly paint my face to match my mime costume.
When I think about all of that effort times four, every year until each of us kids proclaimed ourselves too old for dress up, I realize that it’s actually quite easy to
sacrifice an hour of my precious time and a little too much of my money once a year on two Halloween costumes from a warehouse full of factory-made, pre-packaged outfits.
Maybe one year I’ll pull out the ol’ glue gun and try my hand at a homemade Halloween. After all, the pictures are priceless.