Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Since October is Monster Madness Month here at A Mom Amok, I'm posting this essay I wrote about my son's first Halloween which appeared in the Park Slope Reader's Fall '05 issue. Gives you a sense of the boy's humble Halloween beginnings. Prepare to be wowed by this year's costume design, Primo's brainchild. Let's just say it will be a family affair and it won't be pretty. Cackle cackle, hiss hiss. Ok, I'm a wierdo.


I’m a die-hard Halloweener and I haven’t let an October 31st go by uncelebrated in three decades. I don’t mean that I erect life-sized motion-sensor witches and skeletons in font of door which cackle and shriek "Boo!" every time someone passes by. I don't host a haunted house or anything. Nohing wierd or beyond the pale. I just love dressing up and I tend to take it very seriously.

It helps that as a little girl I had a personal costume designer. My grandmother was an expert seamstress, her skills honed through years working at a swimsuit manufacturing factory, and come Halloween, the magic of her needle was devoted entirely to me. Over the years, I masqueraded as such iconographic figures as Little Bo Peep, Princess Leia, Barbara Eden’s Jeannie and -- our masterpiece, the crown jewel of my grandmother’s costume trunk – Tara’s own Scarlet O’Hara, in a lemon-colored three-tiered hoop skirt. With a start like this, how could a girl not love Halloween?

As a kid, the thrill of Halloween was all about busting out of the humdrum to achieve a taste of the extraordinary, if only for a day. That, and the twenty tons of candy I amassed. In adolescence, Halloween was an excuse to wear as few clothes as possible, to find new and exciting ways of re-inventing the basic streetwalker costume. And then, in college and my early twenties, Halloween was an invitation to showcase my clever wit through the high-concept costume piece. But there comes a time when even the most innovative trick-or-treater runs out of steam, when you’ve sipped martinis as Kafka’s cockroach and flirted as an electrocuted fairy, when you’ve made the rounds as a post-Y2K cyborg and peaked at Bloody Mary, and you think, “Halloween’s just not what it used to be.”

This is when you should have a baby. Because one of the compensations motherhood offers for the pain of childbirth and months of sleep deprivation is the privilege of dressing your progeny in whatever costume your want to, for at least one or two Halloweens. After this point, your child will demand a woefully uncreative costume, typically the mass-produced habiliments of a cartoon character which will reveal to your neighbors that your child watches TV, a lot of it, and will do so until you hit the jackpot and get a live-in nanny. But for one or two Halloweens, the pipsqueak will get no say whatsoever and will happily serve as a canvas for your creative genius.

The July before my Primo’s first Halloween, my grandmother started making inquires about our plans. She reminded me that we’d have to make an appearance in Bensonhurst since her neighbors were dying to see the baby in his costume. They’d never forgotten me in my Scarlet O’Hara glory and now wanted to witness the debut of this next generation of my family’s trick or treaters.

“You betta start tinking about what’s he gonna be,” she advised, and offered to pull one of my old costumes from her dusty trunk to mark the occasion. I politely declined. This was an important Halloween, an inauguration for Primo into a lifetime of make-believe and candy; it warranted serious consideration. The problem was, the possibilities were really endless. He could go classic, as the Velveteen Rabbit; literary, as Don Quixote; local, as Uncle Louie G. Where to even start?

I consulted with Primo to get some input, but despite our intense mother-son bond, I couldn’t understand his baby talk. The weeks rolled by as I waited for inspiration to hit and eventually the abundance of possibility stranded me in a no-man’s land of inaction. Which is to say, I froze under pressure. And I found myself on October 30, with two choices: head to the Atlantic Mall and rifle through the remaining animal costumes at Old Navy or ask my grandmother to creak open the old costume trunk.

So on Halloween afternoon, Primo hit the streets of Bensonhurst in a pink clown costume circa 1976. With matching pom-pom hat, of course. We made our rounds, with my grandmother shouting to her friends to, “Come to da window! He’s coming!” And the Italians hung out of their windows in their mumus, oohing and ahhing, shouting bilingual benedictions and affirming that the baby was as pretty as his mama in her Scarlet O’Hara costume. Occasionally someone would come down to their stoop for a closer look and press a one dollar bill, or even a five spot, into Primo’s sweaty little clown palm. I counted our booty on the R train back to the Slope-- twenty five bucks. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

When my husband came home and saw his son in his pepto-bismol pagliaccio get-up, he raised a brow but said nothing. He had followed the entire “Boy’s hat found” thread on parkslopeparents and knew better than to make a fuss about a little fuchsia. Now, had we been Halloweening in Eastern Tennessee, in my husband’s hometown, a boy in pink would be worse than a boy named Sue. But here in Park Slope, Primo can, and does, enjoy the freedom of wearing his mother’s sequined slippers while clutching a vintage leopard skin handbag and pushing a babydoll stroller.

So we took our baby clown to his first Halloween parade on 7th Avenue without a qualm in the world. And as we strolled down that candy highway, the thrill of the kids all jacked up on sugar was infectious enough that I began wondering if I couldn’t get back in the costume game myself. Next year, I mused, Primo and I could plan a his-and-her costume – Bonnie and Clyde perhaps, or Fred and Ginger. There was always Kafka and his cockroach, and it was only fair to let the kid take center stage as the bug.

And so, a Halloween legacy is born.