It didn’t matter that the oval eyeholes in my plastic mask were set too wide for my 5-year-old face or that my breath collected as condensation on the inside, making my face a wet mess. It didn’t matter that my costume tied in the back over the bulk of my winter coat.
I was Isis, my favorite Hollywood hero, a schoolteacher who turns into an Egyptian goddess and saves the day. On TV, Isis was strong and beautiful and wore jewelry with mystical transforming powers.
I felt transformed as well, though I had no crisis to contain or problem to solve. I was a bit disappointed the costume didn’t come with gold arm cuffs, but once I shoved the first chocolate bar into my mouth, I didn’t care.
My quest was to collect as much candy as I could before bedtime, eating enough along the way to maintain a sugar rush.
Each time I spotted another child flanked by parents or older siblings with flashlights, I peered through those eyeholes to see if I recognized anyone. Mostly I didn’t. They were all dressed like me, not as Isis but as a variety of pop culture characters styled on the same cookie-cutter costume mold – a plastic mask and a cheap smock that tied in the back. One-size-fits-all.
In later years, I eschewed those mass-produced costumes in favor of scrounging through the dress-up box and my parents’ wardrobes for Halloween attire – a backpacker, a bum, a cowgirl, a princess in an old prom dress.
I didn’t miss the moist face and limited vision but often felt wistful for the simplicity of pulling my Halloween attire from a package. This was especially true when I had children of my own.
By then a new generation of mothers had upped the ante, and the peer pressure I’d never felt as a child about Halloween costumes had begun to poison the cultural tradition like tainted candy that should be confiscated.
Of course, some families revel in transforming simple traditions into extravagant affairs, making everything from scratch, according to a theme, with lovingly scrapbooked pictures to prove how much time and money was sacrificed in pursuit of holiday perfection. I can admire those efforts but somewhere along the way it started to feel like an expectation.
It’s one of the things I don’t miss now that my kids are older and in charge of their own excitement to end October.
For me, trying to come up with costumes that matched their vivid imaginations without blowing our meager budget was often an ordeal.
I could never keep up with that and didn’t really want to. If I was going to spend time and much money costuming my kids, it was going to be a costume they’d wear more than one spooky night.
For two or three years I sewed ears on sweatshirts that were worn many months after the sugar rush wore off. And we learned that kitties, puppies and bunnies are given just as much candy as more elaborately dressed kids, chocolate always tastes good, and Halloween is a great time to practice saying “thank you.”
Then I discovered superhero pajamas. If you buy them one or two sizes too large, they fit over coats much like my Isis smock. As a bonus, my kids had new pajamas for an entire season. The year all three of them were Superman for Halloween turned into at least five years of bedtime attire for Ian, who got all the hand-me-downs. Whoever thought of attaching a cape with Velcro has my appreciation.
When they tired of wearing pajamas over coats, I gave up and did what parents are told to never do. I bribed them. Any kid who could come up with their own costume out of whatever we had on hand was given $10. Or, they could buy a costume that cost $10 or less. They usually chose to pocket the money and wear their sports uniforms, old dress-up clothes or something creative.
Sometimes they opted to wear the previous year’s costume. It never seemed to matter. Every year they ventured out, flanked by parents or an older sibling shining the flashlight and they always came home happy with a bag full of candy and the beginnings of a bellyache.
You can get that on Oct. 31 no matter how you’re dressed.
Jill Barville writes twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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