I was seven years old when I got my first big break.
“Okay, everyone line up along the back wall, shoulder to shoulder,” my second grade teacher instructed the class.
She made her way from student to student, slowly sizing each of us up. She claimed she was looking for the five tallest to act as lions in our upcoming school play but looking back I know the truth — she was looking for suckers.
“Mom! I get to be a lion in the school play!” I announced after school. “And the best part is that you get to make me a costume!” She eyed the McCalls pattern I held in my outstretched hand with the same regard as if I was handing her a bloody, severed head.
There was no way out for her, or any of the other moms who spent the next three days locked in their bedrooms with nothing but a sewing machine and a carton of Camels. Occasionally my dad would slide some food under the door, scared to get too close for the explicit language wafting in from the other side. I'd never heard anyone have such contempt for a zipper.
Finally, on Sunday night, she emerged victorious. A self-proclaimed martyr was born. Some moms guilt their kids with stories of a 30-hour labor, or perhaps a stomach bug that lasted for what seemed like years. To this day my mom still recounts the story of the weekend of the lion costume from hell.
After my successful theater debut I returned home and tossed the costume in the back of my closet.
“What on earth are you doing?” she shrieked, rushing over to pick it off the floor as if it was baby Jesus. “We're wearing this for Halloween! Let's not get it all wrinkled.”
What I didn't know was that by “wearing this for Halloween” she actually meant “wearing this for every Halloween until you die.” By the time I finally retired that thing the elastic ankles were just below my knees and there was more than one moment I feared the crotch section had permanently affixed itself to my cervix (one word — jumpsuit).
It is for this memory, among others which would come later in home economics, that I will never be the mom whose kids show up at doorsteps on Halloween eve as anything other than what you can buy in a bag. No – mine are the children sporting the “five-piece pirate suit” and answering the question of “What are you this year?” with “A medium.”
We kick off each Halloween season by driving to the nearest Wal-Mart costume aisle and I extend my arm as if I am presenting lost treasure and tell them to “pick one.”
And everyone's happy. The entire process takes roughly twenty minutes and zero guilt. My generic, store-bought costumed kids file in on Halloween night with other kids dressed up as tubes of toothpaste and bowls of spaghetti and sprinkled cupcakes happy as clams (also a cute costume idea if you're into that sort of thing).
My hat's off to any parent who chooses to tackle the homemade costume. Your kids are adorable and I'm sure they take pride in being original. But the mere thought of sitting before a sewing machine makes me clench areas still jumpy from the Little Wedgie that Could.
Feeling somewhat nostalgic this week, I emailed my childhood friend and fellow second grade circus co-star to ask if she had any pictures of us in costume from that night. Apparently my mom has since destroyed any photographic evidence from that experience in an effort of self-preservation.
“Oh it's interesting you're asking me about that now,” she replied. “I just bought our costume supplies to make an English rider and a piece of bubble gum!”
I guess it's true that we all process trauma in different ways. Or maybe her mom just had a less colorful vocabulary.
Engage your young scientist in science-related learning at the Saint Louis Science Center's Preschool Science Series. Through interactive stories and hands-on exploration, children learn about science, as well as language, problem-solving and social skills.