This is real-time anxiety happening here, as I write at the coffee shop while C is at kindergarten. This morning I sent him to his school Halloween celebration as half a vampire.
Weeks ago, C decided he wanted to be a vampire for Halloween. His Dad bought him some rubber teeth and face paint, so he’s set there. So what else does the costume entail? I struggled to think.
I’m not that creative when it comes to sewing or Halloween costumes. And I’ve never really enjoyed trick-or-treating that much. For me, as a nervous kid, it was just another avenue for rejection – who would invite you to their party? Would you have to go out alone? What if your costume wasn’t any good? So you see what my start-point for Halloween is.
The cape was crucial to C’s transformation to vampire. “I’m going to wear my superhero cape,” he declared. It’s royal blue with a big yellow thunderbolt on it.
“But a vampire wears a black cape,” I told him. No. He doesn’t want to wear a black cape. OK.
I looked online to see what a kids’ vampire costume looks like in the marketplace.
No. That’s ridiculous. I just can’t. And come on, I thought, trying to cajole the Halloween spirit out, I can make a costume myself! Isn’t that what Halloween is all about? That should win points. With whom, I should have asked.
I scoured the local craft shops (O look at me! Aren’t I great for avoiding the big-box stores!) for more vampire accoutrement. Since grown-up, sexy lady vampire was out of the question, I didn’t find much. Just an adult-sized wig that I thought I could trim and gel, but it just ended up looking like a shedding black cat. So I bought a white dress shirt, by “Joey Couture,” which felt like tissue paper. I added some navy sweatpants, for comfort. I found a medal he’d won as a party prize. With the teeth, the pallid face, black-rimmed eyes, and blood-red lips (I am confident in make-up, at least), C should be good to go.
Then the notice came home from school. No fake blood. No face paint. Nothing violent. The teeth would definitely be confiscated, ala A Christmas Story. Rats. Maybe I can turn him into a True Blood-style vampire, ala Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgaard). He’s already got the hair and the J.Crew sweaters. No cape and Dracula gear required…no, probably not.
This morning, C gamely put on his sweatpants, his shirt, his cape. “These are the most important parts of a vampire costume anyway,” he said.
We opened our front door and headed to school. Heading down the steps, I noticed someone stole our pumpkin. No jack-o-lantern tonight. Keep going. A group of C’s classmates was walking up the street. A witch, a tiger, a princess. “Are you a superhero?” the witch asked.
“I’m a vampire,” C said quietly.
“He’s a baby vampire,” I said, to the parents, I suppose. “His teeth haven’t come in yet.” I felt the need to make excuses, not for him, but for myself, as I started to get the feeling I let him down, with his dressy-yet ready for gym class-superhero get-up.
When we got to the playground, the place was swirling with store-bought costumes of every variety. More tigers. More princesses. Superheroes of every stripe. A ninja. And C, with his halo of blond hair, his blue eyes and long, drooping eyelashes, hardly looking like a creature of the night. “Are you Superman, C?” asked one of his friends, dressed as a superhero whose name I didn’t catch, resplendent with fake muscles.
“No!” T spoke up, marching up to this macho man, in his Snoopy Halloween t-shirt. “Vam-pah!”
The bell rang, and C got in line. He was quiet, but he always is when he heads into school. Yet my sinking feeling was growing. What if I’ve failed him? I worried. What if my poor attempt at making a genuine Halloween costume, with my lack of skills and vision, is going ruin his first schoolboy Halloween? What have I done? Good grief.
My face was a mask of cheer as I said goodbye. “You look so great!” The parade of costumes started moving. “Good-bye, Vampire!”
Even T was in on it. “Bye!” He jumped and waved. “Arrgghh!” He did his best scary monster sound.
We trudged home through the hurricane-tossed leaves. It’s my job, I thought, to fill C with confidence, so he’d be dashing around the schoolyard, cape flying. And just because I didn’t press click on a costume because I thought it was tacky, maybe he feels less-than. And the fears started gathering strength and speed as they swirled through my mind. What if he, because of this botched first attempt, never likes Halloween again? He was so excited about it this year. He drew a jack-o-lantern in the October 31 box on the kitchen calendar. He decorated our house with orange streamers and webs and fake spiders. He told everyone he was going to be a vampire. And now, as they are probably at this moment marching through the school hallways showing off their costumes, is he?
My mother made incredible Halloween costumes for me as a kid: a parrot with crepe-paper wings, the Statue of Liberty, with green face paint and a dyed sheet. I was Halley’s Comet the year it appeared, as a giant painted sandwich board affair. One year I was Where’s Waldo, that was pretty good. And, despite all my worry, when I think back, I did go to parties, and trick-or-treating; I roamed streets with silly string and shaving cream. I did have fun. So this anxiety comes from me, not my experiences – and it’s still in me. As I write, I am making a vow to not dump all that in C’s trick-or-treat bag, as it were.
Maybe Halloween is never going to be like it was in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I’m not going to be able to cut holes in a sheet, throw it over the boys, and send them out into the night, all innocence and sincerity. There are going to be store-bought costumes, and stickers instead of candy, and rules to follow to make Halloween palatable for the modern school day. But it will always be there, and C loves it. So it’s time for me to put aside my inner Charlie Brown, so that C doesn’t become the same: all good intentions sidelined by worry and fear. Better to be like Linus, willing to look a fool in a pumpkin patch, because, pure in spirit, he believes in the Great Pumpkin.
As as for T? I think he’s a Lucy-type, so we better all beware.