My family has cultivated something of a reputation for manifesting the spirit of Halloween Awesome. Beginning in 2006, when our eldest (back then, our only) child asked us to dress as a family of devils. Since then, each autumn, friends and family eagerly await the unveiling of our family theme; often asking for hints months ahead of time. My favorite years are the ones where our costumes are such an ensemble they function as pieces of a puzzle. Like this year, when we wandered the local mall. We were following each other, single file. First someone would see me, smile, then the little one, and smile, then my mister, and smile, then the eldest….and upon sight of the eldest it clicks. They get it. The big picture. The story we’re trying to tell. And, young or old, they always gasp, their eyes light up and they shout, “OH! THAT’S SO COOL!”
I love that. It makes me happy, my spouse happy, our kids happy and makes others happy: a whole lot of positive juju for a supposedly wicked holiday.
And…so….the story goes…..on a dark and stormy desert night…….
2006: Family From Hell
Our daughter asked if we could be a family of devils. My husband, who stands 6 ft. 5 inches tall, painted his bald head red, super-glued horns to it, attached pointy ears, shaded his eyes and mouth black, inserted fangs, donned a heavy black robe (which has served for many a costume since), added leathery wings, clawed hands and made babies cry. Truly, though, he unwittingly answered the door for a 10 month old trick-or-treater. That poor baby gazed up into the eyes of Satan and started bawling. And my husband, approaching the little guy, with his clawed hands out, saying, “Oh no! Oh I’m so sorry, little guy!” with his razor rows of teeth flashing, somehow managed to make it worse.
2007: The Addams Family
The eldest was five years old and had come home from a summer at her Nana’s house announcing she would be Wednesday Addams for Halloween. She pointed at me and said, “You’re Morticia.” Then pointed at my husband and said, “You’re Uncle Fester.” DONE. For a couple of former goth kids, who love horror flicks and have a cabinet in the living room full of (completely tasteful, beautifully ornate) skulls, it was like Christmas! We stole the Halloween show! And Miss Wednesday stayed in character the whole night. Never smiling for a photo. We were so proud.
2008: The Wizard of Oz
The eldest, officially in charge of our Halloween theme, had fallen in love with the land of Oz. Again she assigned roles. Mommy: Wicked Witch. Daddy: Flying Monkey. Finding a flying monkey costume to accommodate my husband’s giant (figurative) ass was not exactly easy. We ended up ordering online (for something like $120), some essentially chintzy blue/grey carpet suit with wings. And, October in Arizona isn’t like October in a place that actually has seasons. It’s warm. It’s especially warm dressed head-to-toe in Muppet. I was also 8 hundred years pregnant at the time, dressed head to toe in black Wicked Witch regalia. And Dorothy, six year old Dorothy was an absolute doll and had a marvelous time.
2009: Alice in Wonderland
We’d added a member to our costume crew by 2009. She was 10 months old and had little say in the matter. Big seven year old sister was still commanding the Halloween Family Troops, and was enamored of Alice in Wonderland. By now, she wasn’t dictating costumes to her parents; it was more of a collaborative effort. Of course she would be Alice, but we were free to choose the funnest, most feasible characters we could be. It was the first year I attempted to make costumes. My Queen of Hearts gown was (a lukewarm mess) not what I’d envisioned, and my baby’s Cheshire Cat was just okay (though I was proud of the fluffy tail). My husband had an old-timey suit and pocket watch on hand, just adding whiskers and rabbit ears. And little Alice was the star of our show.
2010: Universal Studios Monsters
It was purely collaborative that year. The baby, fast approaching age two, was obsessed with dogs and had been randomly howling for several months, “Ahhhhhh-wooooooooh!” Cutest thing EVER. Meanwhile, big sister wanted to be a vampire. My husband was the genius who suggested the Universal Studios Monsters theme. He was Frankenstein, I, his electroshocked bride, and the girls were Dracula (in drag) and baby Wolfman. We didn’t get a family photo until the very end of the night. My makeup had run off, my mega-wig was limp, the eldest had discarded her own wig hours before, the baby’s wolfman’s cowl never fit properly, but Franky rocked the party all night long.
2011: The Year Off
The mister was stationed in South Korea, decidedly placing a damper on (everything!) our usual festivities. It was the first year the baby, at that point almost 3, but still “the baby”, requested a costume. Having forsaken dogs after a friend’s ill-tempered one had bitten her, she said, “I wanna be a kitty!” Big sister was big into Monster High Dolls and wanted to be Abbey Bominable (the Abominable Snowman’s daughter). I decided last minute to throw on some ears and be a kitty mama. And that was that.
And it was kind of nice to have the pressure off (…our wallet).
2012: Horror Movies
Back in black, yo! A long black wig for big sister who played the scary Asian ghost girl from “The Grudge”, that same old handy black robe for the mister who underwent five hours of latex makeup to transform into Pinhead from “Hellraiser”, and a black cloud above me as I showered myself in fake blood and mimicked 1970s “Carrie.” Oh, and a black spider costume for the little one, who said, “I wanna be a spider! A black widow!” And we all wondered how we’d fit that into the family theme. My husband replied, “Okay…..uh…you’re from ‘Arachnophobia!’” And it worked out all right.
Incidentally, on a grown-up costume party night out, walking around with Pinhead, I found out what it would be like to be the non-famous person married to someone famous. Five minutes after entering a Halloween block party in Bisbee, Arizona the crowds started forming around my husband, requesting pictures. And slowly, I was pushed back and back until I was outside the circle of his adoring fans. It took fifteen minutes to reclaim my date – and that was just the first adoring, cellphone pic-ing throng.
NTS: Never marry anyone famous.
“Cinderella???? After all that? You’re going DISNEY PRINCESS? Nooooooo!” – general consensus when we leaked the news.
We’d decided to let the baby (who is almost five now, but will forever be “the baby”) assign costumes the way her sister had done at her age. We couldn’t very well tell her, “No. Sorry, sweetie. You can’t be what you want to be for Halloween, because the family is doing Star Wars this year and you’re going to be R2-D2. Now, practice beeping and blooping.” Though we really get into the spirit of the season, we’re not assholes.
We also knew, with her, we’d likely be heading down a magical Disney princess alley – she’s obsessed with Cinderella – and no one was thrilled about that. We realized we’d lucked out with the older one, and all her creepy/cool picks. Big sister was never a tomboy, but she wasn’t a girly-girl either; she was just wonderful. Little sister is equally wonderful. And, believe me, she may like pastels, tiaras, frilly dresses, and fairytales full of love everlasting, but she will also CUT YOU. I don’t worry about empowering her as a female. Future her will stab you with her Prada heel. Repeatedly. I advise you to let the girl be girly.
And as it turned out, with the baby as Cinderella, big sister as the Fairy Godmother, Daddy as Prince Charming and myself as the Wicked Stepmother, we had a lot of fun! I took another go at creating costumes from near scratch, and won. The mister built his (spray-painting canning jar lids gold and adhering braided tassels to create epaulettes on the shoulders) from the bare bones of an old air force jacket. Big sister and I lucked out at the diviest thrift store in town. I’d had a hell of a time finding a Victorian dress, anywhere, for under a hundred dollars, yet found my gown at St. Vincent de Paul for 3 bucks. Sewed on a brooch. Wicked Stepmother. Done. Sewed pink satin ribbon into a baby blue hooded bath robe, shaped and attached a pink satin bow via clasps. Fairy Godmother. Done. Big sister made the baby’s choker, I painted her blue headband, daddy worked diligently on his sashes, awards and braiding. And unlike the Alice in Wonderland year, our crafty efforts paid off. Or at least, they seemed to. We made people smile.
I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to float this family-themed boat. We have a preteen who willingly, happily dressed up with us this year, but only half-heartedly trick-or-treated. How long before her attitude changes: “Um, you guys are, like, hella dumb and stuff. Oh. Em. Gee. I, like, totally hate my life. And you. But mostly just you.” And what about the little one? What if next year her pick is My Little Pony? And the year after, Lalaloopsy? What if our once spooky family Halloween gets hijacked by pink unicorns sparkles of glittery princess cheer?
There’s an end somewhere. There always is. Family traditions aside, these girls will grow up and move away. At which point I imagine sitting home on Halloween nights, having set up spooky lights and strobes, fog machines, with many a robotic monster in the yard, costumed-up and ready for trick-or-treaters – with a bowl of the GOOD candy! I want all the kids in my neighborhood to be excited and enchanted by my house, year after year. I want to create that one super cool place you remember from your childhood. And, with any luck, my grandchildren will stop by.