My 8-year-old son, Lewis, talks about what he wants to be for Halloween starting in April.
Last year it went something like this: In May, he wanted to be a blood-sucking zombie. In June, he was set on Stone Cold Steve Austin, and in July he was sure that he wanted to be a ninja warrior. Although I tried to steer him toward costumes that wouldn’t incite my neighbors to report me to the authorities, Lewis has faith that every October I will be able to help him morph into whatever disgustingly morbid or macabre creature he fancies. And he might be right. I have created ghosts out of almost new, 100-percent cotton bed sheets, dismantled my dining room, put sheers to cloth to create a convincing mummy, and used up countless rolls of heavy duty aluminum foil to wrap robots, knights in shining armor and the Tin Man.
But I’m not complaining. I see Halloween as an opportunity to prove that my year as an art major wasn’t a total waste. And I challenge any abstract expressionist to make a Britney Spears costume that can be worn over a late-fall jacket.
By last August, Lewis had mercifully abandoned the ninja idea. He wanted to be a wizard. Sure, I knew that he’d probably change his mind a hundred times before Halloween. Still, I couldn’t help but be pleased. A wizard costume sends a good message to the neighbors. Wizards are rooted in literature. There’s Merlin, Gandolf and Harry Potter. If my son roams the neighborhood in a wizard costume, I reasoned, people might think that we’re well-read, well-bred and possibly even British.
And the costume itself would be testimony to my competence as a mother. The child who wears a wizard costume is unquestionably the product of a home that’s brimming with creative energy, good books and a mom who knows her way around a glue gun. A kid who’s a ninja has a mom who lets him watch too much TV. A mom whose creativity is limited to dragging her kid’s black sweatpants out of the laundry basket.
“Are you sure you still want to be a wizard?” I asked Lewis during the last week of September.
“Yes,” he said.
“You wouldn’t rather be a ghost?” I probed. “We’ve got the sheets.”
“I really want to be a wizard,” he said.
“Yesssss!” I silently cheered, and mentally made a note of the things I would need for the costume: a light-up wand, purple satin, glitter, a pointy hat and spirit gum to stick on a fake gray beard. But I knew that there was still plenty of time for him to change his mind. By mid-October, Lewis hadn’t wavered from his costume decision, so I bought two yards of purple satin. The silky material bunched up when I tried to cut it and slid onto the floor when I tried to sew a straight hem. I broke two needles on my sewing machine and used some scary language.
“You’d make a great ghost,” I said to Lewis, after the bobbin jammed for the fourth time.
“I want to be a wizard,” he replied with conviction.
So I became consumed with making the costume and even hand-sewed 12 silver stars onto the satin cloak. It was a lot of work, but the shiny purple fabric hardly showed the bloodstains from my needle-jabbed fingers. We had pizza delivered three nights in a row.
At 5 p.m. on Oct. 30, I finished making Lewis’ wizard hat, called in an order for Chinese take-out and summoned Lewis into the dining room to try on the finished product. The cloak fit perfectly and the silver stars sparkled. But when I placed the pointed purple wizard hat on my son’s head he said, “I look like a dork. I want to be a ninja.”
“But you said that you wanted to be a wizard. I spent three weeks slaving over this costume,” I tried to reason with him.
“I changed my mind,” he said. “Now I hate wizards. I want to be a ninja. He pulled off the purple cloak and the pointed hat and stood there in his black sweatpants and turtleneck.
“This can be my costume,” he said.
“We’ll have to put reflective tape all over it so cars won’t hit you,” I cautioned.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I want to be a ninja.” He tied a scrap of the purple satin around his head and began karate-chopping the air, ninja-style.
The next night, I took Lew and three of his friends (all dressed in black sweatpants) trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. The reflective tape shone against the back of his black turtleneck and down the length of his sweatpants. It didn’t bother him that people mistook him and his friends for the California Raisins. “I’m a ninja,” he explained over and over again. I followed behind him, holding the wizard costume, just in case he changed his mind.
Read more of Carol’s award-winning humor on her blog, also entitled Household Word.