Every year there is a new trend in Halloween costumes, it seems. One year it was the Scream mask, another year Harry Potter, and this year, judging from a number of the tweens we know, Hannah Montana will be featuring right up there. Not at our house, thank the Halloween spirits, but at least I know what she'll look like when she knocks at our door, and I won't be forced to do my usual spritely "Oh, wow - great!" routine like I have done in years past. Once our neighbour's daughter dressed up as Kim Possible and came to the door with her little brother, who was a more recognizeable Furry Bear. I took one look at her long red wig and said "Cool! Are you a Power Puff Girl or something?" and she burst into tears. Her mother said, rather exasperatedly, "Don't you know who Kim Possible is?" but alas, I did not. Poor kid. Apparently she had similar receptions all night. Fortunately this would not phase my kids: either they are oblivious to the reactions of total strangers or they like being obscure characters. I'm not sure which. But they find it positively delightful when faced with a perplexed Person At A Door. They LOVE to explain just who and what they are.
In the early days I used to sew Halloween costumes. Max, being the first child, was the first recipient of my costume ambitions. His first Halloween, at 10 months, was spent as a Colorado Potato Beetle. Next I made a velvet jester tunic, with little Indian bells on the trim, diamond-shaped patchwork, and silky golden tassles. Once he was a kitten, with soft furry ears and a long spotted tail. He related to that kitten costume big time, and often wore it after Halloween was long past. We have a lot of funny pictures of him preening on the arm of the couch, or curled into a ball on a cushion, or lapping milk out of a saucer on the floor, our own cat looking on perplexedly. As he got bigger he had more elaborate costumes: a lizard, a giant black furry spider, a pirate.
Then the twins came along. It was harder to sew for three, and for some reason the twins seemed more opinionated about their costumes. Dominic never would wear that lizard costume, and Katie couldn't keep her balance in the spider. Besides, she wanted to be "Green Things" and Dominic insisted on being "Yellow Things." So I made more: fairies, elves, bats and pumpkins. Katie spent many happy Halloweens dressed in a glittery green fairy/butterfly costume. One year Max and I glued the contents of a Tube O Bugs to a cricket hat and his Cub shirt and made him a name tag that said "Dr. Arthur O Pod." Amazing how many people in the neighbourhood knew what an arthropod was. The next year we turned him into a television, with the channel tuned to "3D Vampire Vision."
So, after all this relatively gentle Halloweenishness, I found it all the more disconcerting last week when we went to search out a few last minute items for the kids' costumes. Dominic wants to be one of those little nodding Forest Spirits (kodama) from Princess Mononoke and he needed a white mask. Katie initially wanted to be Hermione Granger, but at the last minute changed her mind to Athena, one of the Greek goddesses, so I was hoping to find a big white sheet somewhere. And Max, caught in that space between feeling too old to trick or treat yet still wanting to, simply wanted to see what was Out There.
We went into a couple of regular department stores, those big cheap places one goes for big cheap costume accoutrements. All they had in the white mask line were bleeding horror masks or skeleton masks that had flashing red eyes and horrible decaying faces. We stood there, staring, at all the bleeding costumes for sale. I felt a dreadful pang of dismay that the new trend this year appeared to be The Bleeding Item. Even the swords and daggers bled. And everything seemed so, how do I put it, bleak and terrible. Not a speck of wit or irony or laughter or goofy childish naughtiness anywhere - instead everything was nightmarish and cruel and rotting and malicious. The pirates were creepy, the bank robbers were creepy, the ghosts were creepy, even the skeletons were distinctly fetid-looking. There was no ambiguity anywhere in that aisle. I longed for the days of the innocuous and freely inventive Toddler Costume, and gazed across the aisle at the little kid costumes. I cleared my crushed sensibilities briefly with a few Girl On A Horses and a Clown Kid or two, well, that is, until I saw some of the adult costumes adjacent: Gross Fat Man, Really Drunk Man with Beer Gut, and Man in a Diaper. I feel compelled to point out here that I really do have a sense of humour, but this was all way too depressing. That Fat Person in a Diaper might be ME one day and I don't see myself laughing about it then, either.
So we went to some other stores. We went to second hand stores. We even went into drugstores, desperate for something a little kinder and gentler than those bleeding, menacing nightmares. And finally, we found it: a second-hand alien mask for Dominic. It even looked like the kodama faces. I would paint it white and add some kodama-ish touches. Dominic was happy.
As for FDPG and Max, well, we went to the recycling bin and Micheals for the rest of their costumes. Then we went home and I consoled myself with some chocolate covered raisins from the Halloween stash, trying to banish the Incontinent Old Fat Person in a Diaper images floating in my brain.
Now, if you see a little kid in a white alien mask with a scythe in his hands at your door this Halloween, and a small girl with a gold lamé covered Girl Guide cookie box on her head waving around a shield with a Medusa head on it, not to mention a taller kid with a black hoodie and a light sabre, hanging back a little, just say this:
"Ah, what interesting costumes! You must be —?"
That's all you need to say. They can do the rest. They LOVE to do the rest. Trust me.