costumes

That Time Whip-Nae-Nae Saved The Day

Nothing stinky here

Nothing stinky here

As our children grow, most of their changes occur imperceptibly. One moment you are gazing into their chubby, little cherub face and the next you are looking directly into the eyes of a slender-faced, high-cheekboned teenager and wondering what wicked sorcery changed them overnight. And while their adult appearance seems to develop in the proverbial eye blink, the transformation in their personalities as they mature from tantrum-tossing toddler into too-cool-for-school teenager seems to take forever. My sons both pitched fits in public places that I swore would last longer than the Cenozoic Era. I watched with grateful glee as the tantrums decreased in duration over the years, evolving from epic, hour-long fuss fests into eye-rolling disgust lasting two seconds from start to finish. It was marked forward progress and it was much easier to notice because it directly impacted the level of peace and quiet in my daily life. Over the years, I have become guardedly optimistic about my sons’ potential to become respectful, open-minded, kind, and decent adult humans because I have witnessed their emotional growth firsthand and been present to overhear other adults as they remarked on it too.

On Halloween evening last weekend, our oldest son did something that proved he is more mature than his meager fourteen years might assert. Right around 6:30 pm, as costumed children began serenading us with Trick-or-Treat calls from our front step, our sons finally decided to get their teenage acts together and get into costume for what Joe proclaimed would be his last year trick-or-treating. For the auspicious occasion, he had chosen a demented, shiny skeleton mask in his first-ever attempt to dress in a costume that could potentially unnerve small children. As he was donning his scary costume, however, there was a wardrobe malfunction with the mask that required last-minute triage with super glue. He put the mask on after the quick-fix solution and discovered the fumes from the not yet dried glue made his eyes water. Not good. We waited a few minutes for the glue to dry and he tried again. Still no go. Everyone else in the trick-or-treating party was ready to hit the road, but Joe’s costume was suddenly out of the question. I immediately apologized for not foreseeing the potential sticky situation in my instant glue fix, but he brushed it off without another thought.

In years past, our ADHD son would likely have in the same situation devolved into a weepy mess and declared the holiday a total loss. He might have thrown himself on his bed and cried in frustration. This year, though, was different. I was the one who was irked and disappointed about the worthless $25 mask that could not be worn. He was calm and collected. Reasoning that he was already dressed in full black, he decided he could easily transition his costume from scary death apparition to scary mime with some white face paint. (Mimes are a freakishly scary Halloween costume, you have to admit.) I dug around in the costume bucket only to discover there was no viable white makeup to use for his transformation. Dammit. Joe and I started brainstorming. I ran to the basement to my containers of old Halloween costumes and searched for something he could use in a pinch. The least feminine item I was able to turn up was a headband for a skunk costume. I brought it to him.

“What about this?” I asked, adding, “I also have a black cat headband, but the ears have a glittery, bright pink in them.”

“I can be a skunk,” he announced confidently and without the slightest hint of teenage embarrassment or disappointment.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can probably figure out something better if you give me a few more minutes to dig around,” I explained.

“Nope. The skunk is good. I can be a skunk.”

We found some white felt fabric in my office and safety pinned a stripe down the back of his otherwise all black outfit. I pulled out a black eyeliner pencil and drew a skunk nose and whiskers on his face. He put on the headband and checked the mirror.

“I look a little bit like a girl,” he assessed, “but I don’t care. I’m not missing trick-or-treating. Luke and Anthony might make fun of me, but I can deal with it. I’ll just tell everyone I’m doing the stanky leg,” he said, giving a nod to Silento’s Watch Me song.

(Thanks to Joe, I spent the entire evening with the watch-me-whip-watch-me-nae-nae chorus running through my head. And now it is probably in yours. You’re welcome.)

I handed him a flannel pillowcase and he was off, taking on the mantle of leader of the pack with confident aplomb. We’ve spent years working with Joe, both explaining and demonstrating ways to transform lemons into lemonade and chicken shit into chicken salad when things did not go his way. While Luke has always been capable of adjusting quickly when things went awry, Joe has struggled for years, full of sulks and things-always-go-wrong-for-me woe and hours of perseveration. Each meltdown has brought with it an opportunity for growth, and we’ve watched it occur slowly. But this time was markedly different. This time there was zero meltdown. This time he pulled a page out of my fix-it-on-the-fly handbook and adapted to the unfortunate change in plan without a second thought. I’m not sure I have ever felt prouder than I did as I witnessed his determination to jump over this pothole on the greatest of all kid holidays. He did at fourteen something I was not able to accomplish until my mid forties. He made a conscious choice not to take himself so damned seriously. And he rocked it.

As for me, I am going to follow Joe’s example and continue to work at not taking myself quite as seriously. Also, I will never again hear that ridiculous Watch Me song without thinking about the way inspiration and strength can come from the oddest things…like the stanky leg.

Halloween Ain’t Over Until I Have Burns From A Hot Glue Gun

The year he wanted to be a Lego.

The year he was a Lego

It is a story as old as time. On September 20th, Mom asks sons what they want to be for Halloween. Sons shrug. On October 1st, Mom asks once again what they want to be for Halloween. Oldest son replies with a vague, “something scary.” Younger son shrugs. On October 15th, Mom tells sons the shipping deadline for their dream costume is rapidly approaching and asks if they want to look online with her for costumes. Nope. On October 24th, Mom urges sons to get it figured out or risk spending Halloween handing out candy to other children. Oldest son says he will be “something scary” but he still doesn’t know what. Youngest son says he’s working on an idea. On October 26th, five days before Halloween and one day before the school Halloween party, youngest son announces in the car on the way to school that he would like to be his favorite Pokemon character, Mudkip.

“I’m not sure where we are getting you a Mudkip costume at this late date,” Mom says.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ve got it all figured out,” says ridiculously imaginative youngest son. “I know exactly what we need to make it. It won’t cost much. I just need a blue sweatshirt with hood, blue sweatpants, and some fabric, probably grey, orange, black, and white.”

The year he was Pacman.

The year he was Pacman

“Uh huh,” Mom replies warily. “You know I don’t have time to shop for all that stuff today. I have plans.”

“We can get the stuff after school. I will pick out everything I need. I will make it,” says I-am-too-cute-to-say-no-to youngest son.

“Uh huh,” sighs frustrated Mom who now knows how she will be spending her entire Monday evening.

So I resigned myself to my fate. I spent my day painting the family room at the new house before heading to pick the boys up at 4. As soon as they were in the car, we drove over to Hobby Lobby for costume supplies, except we weren’t entirely sure if we would find what we needed.

Luckily for Luke and I, we’re great in clutch situations. We were gifted with the ability to pull something from nothing. We go in with a Plan A, but when Plan A falls apart we quickly devise a Plan B. When that doesn’t work, we run our way through the alphabet. I’m not sure we’ve ever had to go beyond Plan D to find a solution to the problem at hand. When we couldn’t find the right color blue hoodie (and I quickly ascertained that finding one at this point would require multiple trips to various stores across town that we had neither time nor gas for), I got Luke to settle for a blue t-shirt in exactly the right shade. From there we figured out how to create a suitable headpiece for the costume, and Luke agreed to forgo matching bottoms to make the costume a bit more age appropriate. I mean, what kid at age twelve wants to be wearing the equivalent of the pink bunny suit from A Christmas Story to school?

When we got home, I fished out the hot glue gun, my sewing kit, some polyester fiberfill fluff, and got to work. Luke was costume designer. I was seamstress. He wanted to do more hands on work but I relegated him to cutting because, honestly, that hot glue gun is a nasty bitch. I couldn’t see how landing my son in the emergency room with burns was going to expedite our costume creation. We dumped out the supplies and took turns devising schemes to turn our meager $14 in supplies into an adorable costume. We cut and recut shapes for the eyes and nostrils until they looked right. Luke stuffed some of the pieces to adequate fill, and I glued and sewed until we ended up with something Luke could live with. It wasn’t exactly what he had pictured, but he accepted that it was his lack of expedience that led to this backup version of his whimsical plan.

The year he was Mudkip.

The year he was Mudkip

As I was busy using my fifth-rate sewing skills to attach the tail to Luke’s costume, I thought about why I end up in this predicament year after year with this kid, slaving away on a costume that will be tossed out once the pillowcase comes home heavy with candy. It’s partially because he’s my youngest and he’s growing up too quickly. It’s partially because his ingenuity and enthusiasm are contagious. It’s partially because I enjoy seeing how close I can come to executing his perfect costume. But it’s mostly because I don’t want to be the kind of mother who isn’t willing to give herself second-degree burns (yes…I earned a blister) with a hot glue gun the night before her son’s Halloween party at school. It’s my way of letting my sons know there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them, including pouring my blood, sweat, and tears out for them when they need me the most.

I think a lot these days about the legacy I will leave with my sons. If I’m gone suddenly tomorrow, what will they remember? What will they miss? Will they recall that I made up crazy dances to sitcom theme songs or that I fashioned a makeshift triage in my office for their injured stuffed animals? Will they look back fondly at the times when together we coaxed something from nothing in the clutch? No matter what they will recollect someday, I live at peace today in the knowledge that I gave this motherhood bag my all. I never backed away, even on the worst days when my car sang the sirens’ song of the open road. I left it all in the ring and I have no regrets about the time I invested in my children and their dreams while putting my own on hold. It’s just too damn bad I still haven’t mastered the fine art of the hot glue gun.

One Lego Brick Shy Of A Load

The most creative object on earth

A few days ago I was looking through Halloween costume ideas online. Not exactly sure why I was doing this given the fact that our boys made us buy their costumes about a month ago when the Halloween costume stores began popping up in previously abandoned retail spaces every five miles or so. Joe has his Captain America costume, a costume that fits his personality so well that I think he should wear it 24/7. It’s just my favorite thing ever. Joe is all about being an upright citizen, protecting the innocent, and keeping an eye out for the bad guys. Luke, on the other hand, is the bad guy. He picked an elaborate, black, ninja costume complete with face mask and two swords that attach to his costume in the back. He would also be carrying nunchucks and throwing stars if we let him, but we decided that was a bit more weaponry than is actually necessary to obtain a pillowcase full of free candy.

At any rate, during the course of my random costume search, I came across homemade costumes to match the Lego brand. Luke is a Lego fanatic, so I thought they might interest him. Against all greater wisdom, I showed him some of the costumes and told him that if he liked one maybe someday I could make him one…the operative word there was “someday” because he already had a costume and therefore didn’t need a new one. Then, last night, four nights after my original mention of the Lego costumes, Luke casually mentions that he’s excited to wear his Lego costume. What???? I froze.

“Luke, honey,” I said, “I thought you were excited to be a black ninja.”

“You said I could be a Lego dude,” he replied. “I like that better.”

“Ummmm….I didn’t mean for this Halloween, sweetie. Halloween is in a couple days. I’m not sure I can make a costume on such short notice,” I said.

Oh, what hot glue can do!

His brow furrowed.

“Oh,” he said, clearly disappointed.

I sat there silently loathing myself for bringing it up when I knew there was no way I’d have the time, energy, or inclination to create a Lego minifigure costume with paper maché head in a two short days with oodles of other obligations in my way. That was a rookie parenting mistake. I knew better. Still, Luke looked sad. I hate that. So, you guessed it. I made rookie parenting mistake number two.

“Well…I might be able to make you a Lego brick costume,” I said. “I know it’s not a minifigure, but it would still be in the Lego theme,” I said with doubt in my voice. “Would you like that?” I asked.

“Yes. Definitely,” he said. Then, he added for punctuation, “Perfect.” It was a done deal.

“Okay,” I replied. “If I can find the materials and if I can find the time, I will do that for you.”

So, this morning after I dropped the boys at school, I got to work. An employee at Joann’s was emptying out a box of freight on the sales floor. From half a store away, it sure looked like exactly what I needed. I swooped closer, stealthily eyeing it from an aisle away and sizing it up before approaching the employee and asking if she’d be willing to give it to me. She did. First task completed and for free. After that, I was off to Michael’s for blue, satin-finish spray paint. My last stop was Hobby Lobby, where I found the round boxes I would need. Roughly $37 in supplies, and I was ready to assemble.

Insert child here

At home, I pulled out my ruler, a pencil, some big scissors (although a box cutter would have been much nicer), and my trusty glue gun. When I bought that stupid thing, I had no idea why I would ever need it. It was on sale and someone had told me once that everyone should have one, so I bought it. I have since come to a great appreciation for the beauty of the hot glue gun. It helped me put together a burlesque costume, adhere badges to a Cub Scout uniform, and patch together several book report projects. There’s nothing like the smell of hot glue in the morning. I fired that thing up and in less than an hour of measuring, cutting, taping, tracing, and gluing, had the whole costume assembled and ready to paint. Two cans of spray paint later and she was done. Is it perfect? According to my perfectionist mind…no. There are things about it I would do differently if I had another $40 in supplies and a couple more days to fiddle around with it. But, I don’t, and it’s definitely workable as is.

When Luke walked into the house and saw it, I realized why I had my moment of weakness and made my rookie mistake. My mom sewed our Halloween costumes. I used to think she did it because she was trying to save money. After today, though, I no longer think that. When you make something for your child and you see their face light up when they see it, for just a minute you almost feel like Superman. For a split second, they know you’re amazing. And, as cool as that is, you know that somewhere in the deepest recesses of their minds, they not only know that you are amazing but also that they are cherished and important. And, that’s way cooler.