Halloween Party: THAT Mom


I forgot to take a picture before we ate all the pigs in a blanket.

I forgot to take a picture before we ate all the pigs in a blanket.

Oh my God, I am finally That Mom. You know the one. She’s a Pinterest queen, pinning origami bats and coffee filter spider webs, making masks out of egg cartons. Her kid wears a hand-crocheted full-tailed peacock hat on her head. Not only does she print out family photos, she mounts them in a scrapbook, with colorful adornments enhancing her memories for eternity.

I was never That Mom. I am not the least bit crafty. If my daughter gets me to color with her, we put my picture up on the refrigerator. But after almost seven years as a mom, I’ve found my muse.

This week we had a Halloween party. I love Halloween and I love throwing parties. This was my chance to shine.

Writing is my first love. Cooking is my second. So when it came time to plan the party menu, it was on. I did some brainstorming. I chose the kids’ food out of the Big Four – Chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs and mac and cheese. I went with the first three. Then came the hard part: how to make these foods Halloweenie. read more

Becoming Halloweenies

pumpkin sadWhat happened to Halloween? It used to be my favorite holiday. I loved to dress up. As long as I can remember, I’d choose my costume on November 1st of the previous year. All year long I’d plan it, anticipate it. When I was young, I’d ask my mom to make it and she’d plan it along with me. As I got older and lost my mom’s services, I’d have to figure out how to make my costume – no small feat since I don’t sew. And my costumes were good. They were fun. And every year I’d have a great Halloween.

When I was young, there was, of course, trick-or-treating. In junior high and high school, there was egg-and-shaving-cream-sponsored vandalism. During college and beyond, there were parties. Sophomore year of college, my mom made me an “Addams Family” Cousin It costume and once I was on my own, I made an Oompa Loompa costume. In my 30s, the annual Parrot Head convention in Key West would coincide with Halloween. I went as the “Conjunction Junction” guy and Princess Leia in the gold bikini and had a blast, every year. read more

Wardrobe Malfunction


I don’t know what I’m gonna be for Halloween. There, I said it. I’m ashamed, but I said it. Halloween’s my favorite holiday. Not for the creepy stuff. Just for the costumes. Usually I decide on a Halloween costume on Nov. 1 of the previous year, but this year I’ve slacked off. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was burned by last year’s Halloween.

It started out great. We took a cruise in April and Rose had just gotten a bob haircut. She was wearing her backpack a lot and when we took her to Camp Carnival, the counselors said she looked like Dora the Explorer. Well, a lot of people said she looked like Dora, really. It wasn’t just the counselors. She loved the attention and she loves Dora, so she ate the whole thing up.

When Halloween rolled around, Rose decided to be Dora for Halloween. Excellent, I thought. Orange shorts, pink shirt, purple backpack – done. We wound up switching the shirt to purple because the backpack was already pink, but you get the picture. Easy costume and mom’s happy. Rose does not have the luxury of an expert seamstress at her disposal. My mom designed and sewed crazy elaborate costumes at my whim. She’d always complain that she hated to sew but when she cranked out a shark or a Pillsbury Dough Boy costume you could see she was great at it.

Dora was more my speed. I just bought some Mighty Mendit glue to repair damaged clothing, rather than subject our wardrobe to my sewing “skills.” Naturally I was thrilled when Rose wanted to be Dora. I bought the shorts, we had the shirt and backpack, and Matt made a “Map” to stick out of one of the pockets. I even got her hair cut in a wedge so she’d look more like Dora.

Rose’s school has costume days – several so the kids who don’t come every day get a chance to dress up. So the first dress up day, we dressed her in her Dora outfit, Map at the ready, and brought her to school. We took a few pictures and the school took some and she had a great day. The next day she wanted to wear her Cinderella dress-up dress to school. Fine. She did and she had a wonderful time.

When Halloween rolled around, Matt and I got into our costumes. I was an Old West hooker and he was Sheriff Bullock from Deadwood. He had even grown and tailored his facial hair for the costume. We dressed Christian in a monkey suit, so he could be Dora’s monkey, Boots. Then I said, “Come on, Sweetie. Time to put on your costume.”

“Okay,” Rose said, running to her dress up pile while I picked up her shirt. We met in the hallway, her with a Snow White dress in her hands, and me with her Dora costume.

“I’m gonna be Snow White,” she said.

“WHAT? No, Baby, you’re going to be Dora, remember?”

“Nooo, I want to be Snow Whiiiite!”

“But Sweetie, we said you were gonna be Dora. We got your hair cut and everything. And your brother’s Boots. How is he going to be Boots without Dora?”

“I’m gonna be Snow White!”

I clenched my teeth, “Fine. Put on your costume and we’ll go.”

Snow White -- aargh!

So we went trick-or-treating and she was Snow White. And everyone at the doors said she made a beautiful Snow White. I was so mad. First she decides against Dora and now people praise her for it. This happens when she decides to wear her sun dress in the middle of winter too. I tell her how inappropriate it is, we have a fight, and I say fine, wear it and freeze your butt off. Then everybody she sees tells her what a pretty dress it is, reinforcing her choice. Why doesn’t the world cooperate with me? It takes a village, people. You’re making me look like the village idiot.

This year, Rose wanted to be Ariel, the Little Mermaid, “with the tail.” I bought her the costume, but I’m worried. On the first dress-up day at school, she wore her costume. I didn’t even have my phone to take a picture but she was adorable and very happily dressed up. The second costume day, she told me she wanted to wear regular clothes. I said okay, and she said she didn’t want to wear a costume anymore. Trouble, I thought.

“What about Halloween on Monday, Sweetie? That’s another costume day and you have to get dressed up to go trick-or-treating,” I said hopefully.

“I just want to wear regular clothes,” she said. Crap.

Who’d have thought that having a kid would ruin Halloween? I thought it was going to be fun. She’d be all cute in her outfit and we’d take her trick or treating. I’d inspect the apples for razors and she’d flit around on a sugar high. Halloween the way it’s supposed to be. At least now we live in a trick-or-treating neighborhood. For Rose’s first Halloween we walked for blocks and blocks looking for friendly houses and we only got to about three. And here everyone goes into town and trick-or-treats at the shops downtown. I’m a Halloween purist. You trick or treat in your neighborhood and that’s what we’re going to do.

I don’t know what to expect from Rose this Halloween, and I’ve made up my mind not to care if she doesn’t wear her 30-dollar-outfit-that-I-bought-with-a-gift-card-that-was-supposed-to-be-for-me-because-I-didn’t-have-enough-money-that-day. No, I won’t care.

I’ve invited some families to join us for trick-or-treating and more importantly, drinks. Because if I’m gonna get through this Halloween, I’m going to need some help. I am looking forward to the company and the drinks and I’ve decided I’ll focus on that instead of costumes. I do have my Old West hooker costume to drag out in case I want to dress up. I know I’ll get the urge that day. But this year I’m going to ignore my Halloween control issues and just let kids be kids.

Ghosts of Halloween Past

“Hold still,” my mom said through the pins clamped between her lips. She tugged as the gray fabric pulled at my arms. “We’ve got to cut this more if we want it to look like a shark,” she determined, her eyebrows crinkled, “Hmm, now how do we do this?” She studied the fabric. “Ok, take it off,” she said.

She laid the costume on the ground, took a pencil, and under the arm, she drew an arc. “That should do it,” she said. She slipped the piece beneath the needle of the machine, and stitched the line she’d drawn. Exactly. I couldn’t even see the pencil line anymore. “I hate sewing,” she complained as she cut the ends of the thread.

It was Halloween Eve – mischief night to some — but to me, wardrobe and dress rehearsal. The day before my favorite day of the year. The next day I’d go to school and everyone would compliment my costume or shout out in the hall. This was the best costume yet. So far I’d been a chocolate chip cookie, a nun and the Pillsbury Dough boy. The chocolate chip cookie in third grade started it all. Our neighborhood ran a costume contest every year. I was too old for it now but my cookie costume had placed second years ago, when Amy’s Statue of Liberty won first prize. I was mad because my costume was better but they gave it to her because she had brain cancer. I didn’t forgive those judges until after Amy died.

I loved when people recognized my costume in the halls. “Michelin Man,” they’d say about my dough boy costume, and when I told them who I really was, they’d kick the stuffing that’d collected in the bottom and I squealed “Tee hee.” On Halloween, I could start a conversation with anyone. People really wanted to talk to me. We didn’t have a contest at school but it didn’t matter. That day I was the belle of the ball.

My mother hated to sew. She went to fashion high school. I don’t know why, because the piano was her first and only love, but that’s the story. She loved fashion but she hated sewing. But I benefited from my mom’s misdirected education. Every Halloween my mom would make me a costume. It was great having a mom who could sew because I wanted such elaborate costumes. Besides the chocolate chip cookie and the Pillsbury Dough Boy, I was a shark, a nun, and my personal favorite, Cousin It from the Addams family. We’d work on the costumes all week and then on the eve of Halloween we’d finish, with my mom sewing furiously and me yawning and rubbing my eyes until 11:30 when they were finally done.

Then I’d get to the bus stop at 7 a.m. and my day in the sun would begin. I woke up tired, but all the compliments and attention electrified me. I spent class time writing notes to my friends about all the attention, and tugging and primping my costume for my next curtain call between classes. Then the shouts and laughs started again.

After school the younger kids would trick or treat. The little kids had the afternoon, but the night belonged to us. That was when the bombs dropped on Lake MacGregor. I’d toss aside my painfully elaborate costume and dress as a bum with a pillowcase groaning with eggs and shaving cream. I’d meet up with the other bums and we’d bomb some houses. We’d bomb people we didn’t like. No tricks, just vandalism. If someone’d ratted on us smoking, we’d bomb their house, or their car, or their mailbox. But mostly we bombed each other.

Halloween was the night that gangs roamed the street. Upscale, suburban, honor-student gangs. Red Mills would meet up with Lake MacGregor and we’d throw eggs at each other. We’d break eggs on heads. We’d bump into someone in the dark and shower them with shaving cream. Shaving cream was just fun. Breaking an egg on a head hurts. And I never did it, but sometimes the older kids would mug the little kids for their candy. Somebody mugged me and Alison once and I still had bad memories.

On Halloween night, the cops would cruise our neighborhood in an effort to mediate the mayhem. Anyone caught with eggs or shaving cream got a free ride home in the squad car. Once they took Joel, from the richer side of town. Everybody joked that he went down yelling, “You can’t do this to me! My Dad’s a doctor!”

So when I returned home last year for Halloween I was understandably excited. It was Rose’s first real Halloween and she’d spend it in my hometown. She’d meet my best friend, my sister really, and it would be just like the old days, except this time I’d had to make my own costume because we’d come to bury my mother.

I’d been making my own costumes for some time now. I was 41 and just starting a family. It was the first time my father would meet Rose. In a month, she’d be two.

My mom had been gone for eight years by the time she died. Alzheimer’s slowly encroached upon every system in her body, making it a slow, painful death for everyone. By the time her body gave out we’d grieved, and lamented, and lashed out enough to accept the dull feeling of relief. Throughout the 13 years of her decline my helplessness had evolved into numbness, dry tears and a longing for her final breath.

So Halloween was a fitting time to go home. I loved costumes but never warmed to the creepy aspects of the celebration. Halloween was the day my own tormentors couldn’t get to me. Even my father got a kick out of my costumes. He’d take pictures and compliment my creativity. But this year it was death that brought us together.

We spent the first day at the funeral. After a cookie-cutter Greek Orthodox ceremony at the church, I’d read my eulogy and we loaded into the cars. We rode with my dad, who drove straight to the cemetery leaving the procession to sort itself out. As we drove down the back route my dad had dictated in the directions, I fielded calls from lost cousins. “You’re supposed to wait for the HEARSE!”

“I know, Dina, I know.” But my dad never noticed nor subscribed to proper decorum.

At the cemetery, we waited for the lost cousins but people complained that they had other commitments so we started the ceremony. I watched the pallbearers carry the coffin to its perch above the grave, and set the two flower arrangements – from my best friend’s family – our neighbors for 35 years – and my office –around the coffin. My dad didn’t want flowers or donations or anyone to know, really. Although my mother had taught piano to half the town, my dad insisted a wake was superfluous. If we’d had a wake, he’d have been forced to admit that Mom died of Alzheimer’s. And of course, it would have cost money — a concept to which my dad was most averse. It was safer to pretend that mom was like a stone dropped into a pond – she caused some ripples then disappeared, as if she’d never existed.

He got his wish. Her brother and sister didn’t stay for the luncheon. Her sister was too upset and her brother’s son/driver had to work an evening shift, so we had lunch with the few remaining mourners and our family priest. My dad had chosen an Italian restaurant, God bless him, so I got my New York food fix my first day home. No matter how numb you feel, a good veal marsala will bring you back to the pleasures of the flesh.

We spent the rest of the week at my best friend’s house, watching Rose fall in love with her aunt and uncle and rehashing the funeral. We tried to figure out what to do for Halloween. Rose had to trick or treat – she was old enough now and for God’s sake, she was my daughter so I had to teach her about Halloween. We had to coordinate with Cathi’s sister’s kids and we considered doing it in our old neighborhood – her parents still lived next door to my dad – but in the end, her sister’s kids chose their own trick-or-treating territory.

And it was fun. I dressed as a polygamist from a radical Mormon sect, Rose was a parrot, and Matt had planned on a traditional all-white suit to compliment my outfit, but the funeral had pre-empted his costume hunt, so he followed us, drinking “coffee” out of a to-go cup and taking pictures.

Polly want some candy!

Rose loved trick-or-treating and bugged us to go back out once we’d come in for more “coffee.” We laughed amongst the mayhem that only nine young kids in a 1950s-era cottage can provide, and left tired and happy, feeling lucky to have spent my favorite holiday with my chosen “family.” I realized that much as my dad had tried, my mom’s life wasn’t just a ripple in a pond. She left me with 40 years worth of treasured memories, a line of custom-handmade costumes and the opportunity to spend Rose’s first Halloween with the people I loved the most.