Friday, October 28, 2005
Stress, procrastination, costume anxiety: it's Halloween again!
Is it really late October already? I've been using the warm weather as an excuse not to notice, but there's no avoiding reality. We've reached the season of stress, insecurity, doubt, procrastination, and sewing anxiety.
At least that's how it is for me.
Not until November do the covers of women's magazines post headlines about how to cope with holiday stress. Apparently most of the American public — or American women in their thirties and forties, to narrow in on a specific demographic — gets anxious when it's time to baste the turkey or hang the Christmas lights. Not me. I'm perfectly serene about creating a Thanksgiving menu, figuring out what to give the teachers for Christmas, and drafting my family's holiday newsletter. It's Halloween that scares me, and not the way it's supposed to, with keening ghosts and spooky black cats. No, I'm afraid of Halloween because it's the one major holiday that draws on all of my weakest abilities. Artistic creativity. Inventiveness. Time management. Sewing. Makeup application.
I come from a family good with words and with ingredients but dismal with felt, needles and glue guns. When I was growing up, I'd watch my friends' mothers create fairy princess dresses and orange pumpkin spheres complete with green pumpkin-stalk headpieces, while the best my mother and I could manage together was to cut arms in a big cardboard box of Tide. And even that costume took me until 4 p.m. on Halloween afternoon to dream up. I had hoped that once I slid my way into the neon orange box, I'd look like a racecar. Needless to say, I went trick-or-treating that year as a box of detergent with arms.
There was one year that I wore a costume I could be proud of, and I still have a snapshot to remind me that it really did happen. In middle school, my best friend was Hope Johnson, whose mother Rosalie was a seamstress of extraordinary talents. When Hope invited me one year to be Raggedy Andy to her Raggedy Ann, I was more excited than if I'd been fifteen and gotten asked to the senior prom. If I was part of a matching pair with Hope, Rosalie would make my costume! Problem solved! For that year, at least. Resplendent in overalls, a handmade checked blouse, and an orange yarn wig, I felt like a Halloween princess that year. Or a princess cross-dressing as Raggedy Andy, anyway.
It was a relief to reach high school and be too old for trick-or-treating. My Halloween anxieties became a thing of the past, and for the next twenty years, I didn't have anything more to worry about on October 31 than whether I'd bought enough candy for any kids who rang our doorbell.
But when my two children reached trick-or-treating age, it all started up again. What would they dress as, and more importantly, how would we ever pull it off? Now it wasn't my own appearance that mattered, but how incompetent I would prove myself to be as a mother if I couldn't dress my children as anything more clever than a box of Tide with arms.
And then came my big discovery a few years ago when I visited a party supply store for the first time. It was early October, and when I reached the Halloween section, I felt like Dorothy as she glimpsed the Wizard behind the curtain. Racks and racks of fully designed costumes. Lions, vampires, baseball players, cartoon characters. "So this is how you do it if you can't sew!" I marveled to myself. My children were shocked by my change in attitude. "Sure you can be a Holstein cow, Dora the Explorer, a knight, a member of the Green Bay Packers, a basket of fruit," I could finally say with unchecked magnanimity — having learned the secret of what non-sewing folks do for Halloween costumes. I, who have never let a storebought cookie cross the threshold of my kitchen, have the same attitude toward The Party Store that some of my friends have toward Slice-and-Bake dough. It exists so that people like me have one less thing to worry about.
So these days, Halloween is a breeze. Or so it seemed until last week, when we received an invitation to an adult Halloween party. A costume for me? After all these years? It was like that anxiety dream where you're back in college and having to take an exam for a class you forgot to attend. I lay awake in bed for two nights suffering from a reprise of my childhood costume anxiety. What would I dress as? How would I make my costume? Would it come out the way I wanted, or would I look simply ridiculous? The idea of having to figure out a costume for my husband as well only doubled the stress for me.
But then I checked my calendar and realized that we were due to attend a baptism in Rhode Island first thing the morning after the party. That meant we'd be out of town that evening anyway. With enormous relief, I wrote my "regrets only" RSVP. Saved by a baptism from the fear of Halloween: how perfectly symbolic.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito