Costume Confessions

mad-scientistI was the kid who wanted to be a spider for Halloween. Because of my lifelong obsession with Charlotte and her web, this was less scary insect and more hero worship. The adoration extended to my belief that my mother could make my costume exactly as I saw it in my head. When she finished the initial prototype – complete with knee sock legs hanging down the sides of my body and a corduroy hood with eight distinct purple felt eyes – no one could tell what I was. Undaunted, my mother devised a thread from my wrist, through the sock legs and tied to my waist. When I lifted my arms, the legs fanned and could be counted, one, two … eight! Better. Then she got a gleam in her eye. She cut out a giant red hourglass and attached it to my chest. Now I was a black widow. Unmistakable arachnid. My mother was triumphant.     

I have carried on my mother’s ingenuity with gusto. Any character my children could imagine? Bring it on! At first the challenge was to make costumes that were comfortable and age appropriate like soft little dinosaurs and furry creatures. But soon they requested whatever they were interested in at the time: a Pokemon with three heads, a smog monster from an anime movie, even arcane literary characters like Dr. Moriarty. When my children grew older, I made costumes for other people’s kids. Medusa? A headdress with moving snakes and glowing eyes. Tooth Fairy? A crown and wand made of glittering toothbrushes. Anything to make kids happy, right?

Not really. True confessions, I just want to see if I can do it. I am driven by a diabolical desire to push myself to create the uncreatable. And if peer pressure prompted my poor children to ask for something I deemed not intriguing enough, “Mom, this year I want to be a hobo!” I tried not to judge them too harshly. I patiently negotiated. “Hmmm, that is one idea, but what about a hobo harlequin from the 12th century with bubonic plague? That could be interesting …” Already I am designing shabby diamond fabric and sores in my mind.

We do a lot for those we love. We get up and make breakfast after being woken up 7 times the night before. We sit through endless sports tournaments in the heat and cold and cheer them to win in spite of knowing that will mean yet another game. We attentively listen to off key voices sing through the same choral pieces we hated when we were young. We are altruistic, sacrificing caregivers to our kids, nieces, nephews, friends and church members. Most of the time.

But sometimes, we do stuff that looks like it is for other people and really it is just for us. We get “credit” but we love it too much for it to feel like work or obligation. Maybe it is cooking an amazing dinner, or being the president of an organization, or gardening and canning what we grow. We all have that superpower that when activated, feels like we are saving the world and starring in our own movie at the same time. For me, this is making Halloween costumes. Inside there is a mad scientist wringing her hands and saying, I can do this. And when the other kids say, “cool costume” and my kid says “my mom made it,” I gloat. I do. No selfless Mr. Miyagi smile at the end of Karate Kid, instead, a silent, pure maniacal cackle. I did that and it is indeed cool.  

So this Halloween I am celebrating the Victor Frankenstein in all of us. Doing a seemingly impossible thing, not because it is right, or sensible, or a giving thing to do, even though it may look like it, but because we want to, because we can, because it makes us happy, because we rock at it. Because you want to be a video game character in three different incarnations? Bam. I am on it.


Pandora spends most of her time tinkering with bits of words, fabric and yarn. She lives in Chicago with her husband and a pug. She has two grown up sons who have many adventures.

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10 Responses

  1. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    This brings back a treasured memory. When my daughter was 5, she wanted to be a rattlesnake for Halloween. What fun! I was delighted with the originality she expressed and started planning. I sewed up a jumpsuit, attached a long tail that rattled thanks to an internal container partially filled with popcorn, and finished it off with diamond shapes running down the back to transform her into a diamond back rattlesnake. She still remembers that costume fondly. Now that she has kids of her own, she works with them to create whatever fantastical costumes they dream up. Giving others the chance to make their dreams reality is a wonderful way to show love for them.

  2. Patty says:

    You go, girl! What a fun post!!!

  3. Heather says:

    Oh my gosh I love this so much. I am a costume maniac too. And I do it for me!! Thank you

  4. Hedgehog says:

    Also loved making costumes for my kids. and was something of a perfectionist. The other mothers at school must have hated me. Though I wasn’t as adventurous as you seem to be! I’m loved the sewing angle and creative design elements, but not really beyond that. By the time my youngest finished primary school though (age 11), I seemed to be costumed out. Just lost the urge.

  5. Kirsten says:

    Okay, you just outed me… I love the challenge of making the weird costumes too! And as much as my kids loved their Halloween costume creations or the local Civic theatre the tanks for the dancing girls in “The Producers”– a lot of the reason I make this stuff is for the pure joy of creation.

  6. Emily says:

    Great post! Thank you for articulating my feelings. I don’t get into costumes, but my husband and I spend our weekends going to on adventures to zoos, children’s museums, or even different parks around town. People always laud us on our sacrifice for our kids, but secretly we just really like parks and zoos. (I’m not even sure my kids like zoos at all.)

  7. MargaretOH says:

    I love this (and you) so much. And I wish that you lived close by to help me feel inspired to bring the fun. I’m going to try to channel your excitement from afar.

  8. Rachel R says:

    I love this. My supetpower isn’t costumes, but it was one of my mothers. My mother’s greatest costume triumph was the year my 12 year old sister wanted to be a bottle of ketchup. Made primarily of red vinyl and a tomato cage it was a true glory. She stayed up late every night for two weeks recreating a vintage label and trying to figure out the perfect bottle cap. It was a thing of wonder that ketchup bottle.
    When I was thirteen we were reaching Fellowship of the Ring and she turned to me and said “Y’know, Galadriel’s dress has those trailing sleeves you like…..” I was the most screen accurate Galadriel around that year (Apart from being brunette).

  9. EmilyCC says:

    “Doing a seemingly impossible thing, not because it is right, or sensible, or a giving thing to do, even though it may look like it, but because we want to, because we can, because it makes us happy, because we rock at it.” I love this…this totally explains why I would stay up so late making Hungarian apricot mousse bars for a PTO event.

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