Moms everywhere welcome October with its woolly sweaters, pumpkin spice everything, and leaves crunching beneath our feet. But we only get a few days to savor the season before our front lawns are turned into graveyards and the kids begin to ask each other What are you going to be for Halloween?
Moms ask each other this too—it’s a conversation starter in the breakroom or at the bus stop. What’s Sam going to be for Halloween this year? Is little Becca dressing up as Ariel or Jasmine? When I answer that my child is wearing the same costume he wore last year, I’m usually met with raised brows, looks of disbelief, and questions of why.
The first time it happened, I couldn’t believe it either. The year before, my four-year-old had asked to be, very specifically, a “ghost with chains.” I made a mental note to tell my husband to cut back on binge watching Scooby-Doo with our toddler, but happily obliged so a “ghost with chains” he became.
The following year when I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween, he responded, “A ghost with chains.” What? Again? Where was his originality? His need for new and novel? I eyed him suspiciously. Could my son lack that classic consumerist tendency so necessary to be a good American?
I suggested a half dozen other characters that were popular that year. I showed him the flyer from the Halloween store, pointing out the updated Spider-Man costume, the super-cool ninja, a swashbuckling pirate!
But he just kept shaking his head no and finally, in an exasperated voice foretelling of his future adolescent opinion of me, asked if it was wrong to be a ghost with chains again. Had he been fifteen, instead of five, his question would have been accompanied by a deep, frustrated sigh and exaggerated eye roll. How could I, his mother, not know this most obvious answer? It was so clear to him, yet a mystery to me.
So, I took a different route and tried to change him, to make him into a different kind of ghost. Maybe he didn’t want to carry chains again —we could give him a new prop this year. Maybe carry a lantern or be a green ghost instead of white. They have those on Scooby-Doo too, right? Nope. He’d have none of it. My son was set on wearing his ghost-with-chains costume again, and so he did.
As my boys walked the neighborhood, filling their bags with treats, I worried what the other moms would think. Would they assume I’d forced my son to wear the same Halloween costume two years in a row? Would they think we couldn’t afford a new one? Would they say I was too lazy or too busy at work to go out and buy one for my kid? Or that I just didn’t care?
And what would the other kids think of my son? Would they call him weird for wearing the same thing? I mean, aren’t kids supposed to get a new costume every year? Aren’t they supposed to want to?
Yes, I worried too much. In the end, I chalked it up to the fact that my son was five and liked what he liked. He knew nothing of the seasonal sales expectations that drive our country’s fourth quarter economy, and I knew that he’d outgrow the ghost eventually.
Sure enough, the following year, he turned the chain-toting apparition garb over to his little brother, and selected a black-robed ghoul costume instead. And yes, he wore that ghoul costume for three years running.
Part of me feels good about my son bucking the system. I like that he knows what he wants and stands up for himself, even if it’s me he’s standing up to. I feel good that my family isn’t contributing quite as much as we could to the vast sea of only-worn-once costumes donated to Goodwill or dumped in a landfill.
But most of all, I like that my son did what he wanted even when all his friends were talking about being the latest big-screen superhero or small-screen meme.
Now, when that first glorious week of October comes to an end and I’m done scattering plastic femurs and tombstones on my front lawn, I pull out the bin of Halloween costumes and offer it up to my boys for their perusal. Sometimes they pick one they’ve worn before. Other times, they have a new idea in mind. I sit back and let them be what only they know they are supposed to be.★
Kathleen Buckley is a writer and designer living outside Chicago with her husband and two sons. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Paper Darts, and Superstition Review, and her stories have been selected for inclusion in the Chicago Listen to Your Mother and Expressing Motherhood Shows. She is the Book Reviews Editor for Literarymama.com and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She is currently working on her collection of essays about (dis)belief, motherhood, and the troublesome intersection of the two.