Until a chance encounter with a Family Fun magazine from my pediatrician's office — it just fell into my purse, I swear — my role when it came to Halloween costumes was strictly that of purchaser and last-minute tear wiper when something went awry.
(Things always look better on the rack, don't they? Sad to learn this so young.)
Then I saw a bat. The cutest little bat costume imaginable. And the instructions in the magazine made it seem so simple. So easy.
It practically taunted me off the page: "If you want to be the lamest mother ever, go ahead. Buy a costume again this year. So much for imagination. Ignore that your youngest, your very last baby, wants nothing more than to be a bat this Halloween, but no, better to crush hopes early on. Life is tough."
A black knit cap, a black sweater, black tights, lots of black felt and a few tears of my own — I had to swap out glue that wouldn't stick for lots of frantic, last-minute stitches — our youngest, then 3, emerged a bat.
A glorious, homemade bat.
Seeing her so happy, her face so full of the bat-girl within, well, it made all those years of buying seem so silly, such wasted effort.
Halloween was about creating, not being part of some larger seasonal economic stimulus or Snooki wig craze. From here on in, I'd think hot glue gun before Bob's House of Halloween.
Why did it take me so long to get it? After all, didn't I have a mother who sewed a three-piece Laura Ingalls outfit from scratch when I was a kid? And didn't she actually have six more children than I do?
I think sometimes we fear too much appearing as a failure to our kids, that if they walk by and squeal over a $50 Bob the Builder costume or fairy princess boxed set, there is no way we can fabricate something better. But Bob will soon be crushed into the bottom of some playroom bin, not a treasured childhood memory.
Which brings me back to the Laura Ingalls costume.
I could never, ever overstate just how much I loved Little House on the Prairie or that costume.
Every book lovingly read over and over. Every TV episode watched again and again. No detail remains unremembered — the oranges at Christmas! Almanzo and the exploding potato!
I won't admit how old I was when I started wearing this beloved costume, with the perfect white prairie bonnet and just-so apron set off by my Laura braids. It's probably enough to know that as a kid I was closer to Sue Heck in The Middle than the oldest child in Modern Family, the coolest of the cool girls.
All that mattered was that I was Laura Ingalls when I wore that costume. It was a feeling that can't be purchased. For a night (and many, many days after Halloween) I was completely transformed, a feeling every child should have and hold for as long as possible.
It was the time and attention I knew my mother put into making it only for me. It was the knowledge that no one else was going to have a costume exactly the same. It had meaning.
It was just like bat girl.
So what's on tap this year? We'll have to see. Perhaps my pediatrician's office has more inspiration.
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