The other day, during a marathon cleaning/rearranging session, I unearthed our old Clue game and couldn’t resist taking a peek. All I found was the board, a pad of worksheets, and a couple of pens rattling around in the bottom of the box. No cards, no pawns.
“What happened to this game?” I asked my daughter, Rachel. “Where are all the pieces?”
Fixing me with a look I know all-too-well — the one in which hostility and resignation war with affection — she said, “Halloween. That year I had to go as a Clue game. You took all the cards, poked holes in them, and attached them to that belt with the holes that went all the way around. You stuck the other pieces on a hat. I was supposed to be Miss Scarlet but we only had the red cape.”
Oh. Yes. I dimly remembered that costume. One of the many “creative” ensembles I made for my daughter during the course of her elementary school career. (That muttering you hear, by the way, is Rachel repeating, in a mantra-like drone, that I’m the reason she will one day be in deep and expensive psychotherapy. I just remind her that at least she will have a concrete starting place — many of them, actually — so her therapist will be able to pinpoint the issues that much sooner. Perhaps I’ve done her a favor.)
The truth is that my family makes Halloween costumes the way Rube Goldberg would if he worked with fabric. There is usually a plan, but it’s rarely apparent to anyone else.
It’s true: Rachel really didn’t have much of shot at avoiding homemade costumes. Unfortunately, while I’m mentally creative, I’m manually challenged, so the costumes she ended up with were always on the fringe. Actually, that was literally the case when I made her the Pocahontas costume. We had the suede side of a large piece of leather and I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to make her a little dress from it. After all, Pocahontas didn’t have a sewing machine either. So how wrong could it go? My plan was simple: fold the leather in half, sketch the outline of a vaguely T-shaped garment, and cut it out. I would then punch holes at intervals along the sides and the underside of the arms, and stitch the dress together with strips of leather. A few snips for fringe (see? I said there was fringe), a few colorful beads attached to the front with more strips of leather, and she’d have a great little leather costume. Very authentic.
Did I mention that I have zero manual dexterity? I did manage to produce the dress. Okay, so it was a little crooked. One arm was longer than the other and the fringe looked more like our cat had gnawed it. Still, I was proud of my effort.
I showed it to Wyn, mother to Rachel’s then-best friend. Wyn is a lovely person, who numbers among her talents the ability to sew beautifully. She looked quietly at the leather garment I laid before her and said something about originality and creativity. Then she said, “Well, I know you don’t have a sewing machine. Would you like me to just reinforce the seams a bit? You know how rough the kids get when they are playing.” I handed it over to her, thinking it was just as well to be safe. When she returned the dress to me, I once again congratulated myself on what a good job I’d done. The sleeves weren’t uneven the way I remembered them to be. Perhaps I’d just been holding it crookedly. I brought it home for Rachel to try on and, you know? she really seemed excited about wearing it. I’m glad she was able to get with the program. Finally.
She found it more difficult to get with the program the year she went to school dressed as a petting zoo.
In grade school, field trips to the Petting Zoo are ubiquitous, especially around Halloween. Pumpkin Patch, Hay Ride, Petting Zoo. The big three. Returning home after one such farm outing, my eye happened to fix on our kitchen apron with the 3-D fabric cow on the front. That my brain would associate these unrelated incidents was almost inevitable, and so the idea of the Petting Zoo costume was born. It wasn’t hard to make and we didn’t have to buy anything. We had the apron. We also had Rachel’s large collection of Beanie Babies ready to hand, as well as enough safety pins to furnish an entire punk city.
Here’s what we did: we selected the most farmyard-looking Beanies and pinned them all over the cow apron, leaving the giant cow head as the focal point. Under the apron, she wore her denim overalls and a sweater. On her head, she wore a battered hat with a floral design and straw edging. Yes, the costume was both heavy and bulky, and when she wore it to school for the Halloween parade she was unable to pull her chair up to her desk. As you can see, though, she was a good sport about it.
Rachel told me that she and her friends were reminiscing, recently, about Halloween and the school parades. They all remembered Rachel’s “weird” costumes. Sort of. For some reason, their recollection of the Petting Zoo ensemble was as the “Road Kill” costume. I don’t think Rachel appreciated that at all, but I pointed out to her that if she hadn’t already started skewing vegetarian I might have made her be a deli counter.
The Butterfly Garden costume, though, her friends remembered with crystalline clarity.
I blame this costume on the Brownies — not the little creatures that crop up in folk tales, but the troop of which Rachel was a member. One year, Rachel’s troop chose as its project, the planting of a butterfly garden. You know — a plot of bushes and flowers whose primary attribute is to attract butterflies. They planted it in the spring and then took turns watering and tending it over the summer. The garden was the source of much excitement and focus, so when Halloween costume time rolled around, the butterfly thoughts that had fluttered around us all summer alighted in my brain and whispered that they wanted to be a Halloween costume. Of course, just having Rachel be a butterfly would have been simple. My thought, though, was why stop at a single butterfly when she could be the whole garden?
The costume was easy to assemble. For a “base” we used an old flower-printed tablecloth with a head-hole cut out so it could be worn poncho style. The large butterfly (note: the WHOLE butterfly, not just wings) served as the gigantic focal point. Maximum impact but also maximally inconvenient for sitting down. I then decimated an old silk flower arrangement and stuck individual blossoms around the tablecloth. We had a bunch of butterfly hair clips and barrettes lying around (one of my can’t-remember-why-I-bought-these bulk purchases), and those went in her hair. They took a pretty long time to put in; they were excruciating to remove because her hair got stuck in them.
Not Every Costume Was a Fail…
Of course, not every costume was a disaster. The law of averages pretty much dictates that sometimes you win one. Well, in our case, not so much a win as a “place.” Eventually (and mercifully), Rachel and her friends outgrew the need to have their parents plan their Halloween costumes — although not the need for financial assistance. To my knowledge, though, Rachel never did choose to purchase a commercially produced costume, preferring to create her own visions. Makes a mother proud.
I’m happy to report that Rachel, now a fully-functioning adult, still enjoys the Halloween experience. She still creates her own costumes and they are always quirky (and quick — she’s pretty busy). I like to think I had something to do with the creativity, but she is much more coordinated than I ever was, so her results are a lot better. She said (yes, there was a little eye rolling and sighing) it was ok for me to share a few of her efforts. So here they are: