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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Wednesday, July 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Whether Frenchie or Rizzo, Halloween costumes have meaning

I’ll be Rizzo this Halloween with a group of The Spokesman-Review Pink Ladies, but many Halloweens ago, I went as Frenchie with a group of girls at the Catholic grade school I attended in the Chicago suburbs.

I was the weird kid in a small school. I entered kindergarten with braces on my legs because I’m pigeon-toed, accidentally called the teacher “mom” on more than one occasion and got lost going to the bathroom all while being let-me-pick-you-up little and incredibly loud. I was weird in ways I could not identify even though I was sure it was clear to everyone else.

Being invited to be part of a group costume meant something huge: I had friends. I had finally managed to leverage my weirdness as humor. I told Mom the plan, and she said she would get to work making my costume.

I didn’t understand why we couldn’t buy costumes from the store like everyone else. It wasn’t a money issue; Mom just wanted everything to be special. I was sick of special. Instead of having a Pink Ladies jacket, she had me wearing a black turtleneck with “Frenchie” monogrammed on the neck and a pink sweatshirt over.

I told her I hated my costume. I was a weird girl trying to be normal, a road that leads to heartbreak where every possible misstep – even having a slightly different costume – could lead to social catastrophe.

Mom’s response? Deal with it. You deserve better friends if they don’t like you just because your costume is a little different.

But in the picture from that Halloween, I look happy. A fellow Pink Lady is grabbing my hand, and we’re off to the Halloween parade that St. Raymond’s had every year so the kids could show off their costumes. Mom is the one taking the picture, and I’m looking back flashing her my real smile.

Now I know how scary it is to be a mother and worry about the happiness of your child.

On March 9, I found the head of the Charmander costume Mom made for Robby. I posted a picture of it to Instagram with the caption, “Saturday afternoon heartbreak includes running into the custom Pokémon costume my mom made for Robby.”

Mom died in February. When I saw the Charmander head, I remembered Facetiming so I could give her the kids’ measurements.

The costumes are a snapshot of Mom giggling while Joe is trying to wriggle out of my arms, squeaking “Pika! Pika!” because I had explained to him that Grandma DD was making him a Pikachu costume. The costumes are measurements for Robby and Joe: This is how much space you filled on Earth when you were 2 and 6. This is how big your Grandma DD loved you.

Robby is pigeon-toed like I am. I’m walking a fine line of pointing out to him to straighten his feet without making him feel self-conscious. The same line Mom walked. She also was pigeon-toed and undeniably weird. I’ve superstitiously connected being pigeon-toed and odd, like whatever allele that decides I walk inward also is making me weird in all the ways I can identify and all the ways I still can’t.

Robby has friends who care about him so much that they hug as soon as they meet up. But, he’s weird. If he walks too long, he complains like an old man that his thighs are burning. He told me he doesn’t like Fortnite because of its senseless violence. One of my friends – and fellow Pink Lady – described him as “too good for this world.”

My kids aren’t going to wear handmade costumes this Halloween and probably won’t ever again. I have been fighting feeling bad about that. I don’t have the skill nor the motivation or energy to learn. I know Mom wouldn’t want me to worry about that. She would want me to make sure Robby and Joe know that anyone who doesn’t like them just because their costume is a little different isn’t worth their time.

She was always trying to tell me that, and, honestly, I’m still getting there. After more than four years, Spokane is starting to feel like home. I have been the cat’s pajamas, a member of the Beyhive, Amy Winehouse and a flapper. Now I’m Rizzo with a group of women, which means something huge: I have friends. My kids have friends. We go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

I’m not the same mother she was, but I am trying to keep the important things: big love, little weirdos.

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