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[Halloween excerpt from Life Begins When The Kids Leave Home And The Dog Dies]


I used to be a good mother.

Before the birth of my first child,  I read thirty-seven instruction manuals warning of her possible future as an ax-murderer or Republican if I failed to diaper, dress, or dose her with natural fibers. I followed their instructions until that fateful day early in her second year when my husband took her into Chez Mac’s to escape the rain. By the time I got there, it was too late. He bought her an ice-cream cone and she was having a spiritual experience. Through the chocolate, I could see her thinking, “This stuff was out there and I’ve been eating yams?”

It was all downhill from there. Of course, I tried to keep up appearances. But the problem was that although my kids hadn’t read my Raising-the-Macrobiotic-Whole-Child manuals, each of them carefully studied the cultural treatises known as commercial advertising. Results?

While I bought whole grain flours to bake macrobiotic breads so dense they weighed more than bricks and doubled very usefully as doorstops, my children insisted on eating only store-bought white bread. (In national taste-tests, consumers preferred Kleenex™.)

While I bought natural fiber fabrics to sew their nonsexist playwear, my daughters insisted on wearing their girl-colored Better-Living-Through-Chemistry dresses to their tea parties, and my son refused to appear without his plastic superhero cape.

While I bought developmental, non-gender-specific playthings, my daughters held fashion shows for the stuffed toys and dolls, and their brother built the blocks and Legos into weapons of mass doll-destruction.

I asked myself, “If my children are fed, dressed, and entertained by a bunch of men on Madison Avenue, how come none of those guys are ever around when a table, toilet, or tush needs to be swabbed?” 

⇒Mothering tip: talking to yourself is a common side-effect of motherhood. Generally speaking, bystanders will be more comfortable if you buy a small dog and pretend to address all comments to it while in public. (You should be concerned, though, when you start getting answers.)

Luckily, there are two occasions in our child’s year where the compulsive guilt-driven mother gets the chance to really go all out: birthdays and Halloween. For example, angst-Mom will spend several months and the better part of her life savings on birthday activities which her child’s guests complete in two and a half minutes, ignore, or throw up on.

On Halloween, angst-Mom (who refuses to spend $15 on a cheap plastic Miss America or armed turtle costume) will cheerfully spend the week’s food budget on fabric and sew non-stop for days to create adorable little animal costumes.

What Mom spent weeks sewing

What actually went out trick-or-treating.

By the time I was the maternal veteran of ten Halloweens and seventy-six costumes [each of the four kids had at least two costumes per year—the adorable one I create and the one they actually wear], I could offer the following Halloween tips:

You can justify spending a small fortune on the costume by telling yourself that your child or your child’s sibling will wear it next year. (This will be easy for most women, who have at the back of their closets a number of bridesmaids dresses which they were supposed to “cut off and wear to parties later.” That will happen in the same fantasy where those animal costumes get re-worn.)

If you have been attempting to raise an egalitarian, non-sexist child using any means other than extensive genetic engineering, Halloween is the time to admit total defeat. I was driving a group of eight and nine-year-olds on a field trip before Halloween and asked about their costume plans. “I’m going to be a fairy/butterfly/princess,” said the girls. “I’m going to be a ninja carrying a star with blood and guts and an eyeball on it/ a guy escaped from a toxic waste dump after all his skin is peeled off/ zombie,” said the boys.

Five minutes before the school Halloween parade when your kids refuse to be caught dead in the little animal costumes, you can make a great ninja-turtle-shell with a garbage can lid, and your best silk bathrobe will do for Miss America.

When good costumes go bad