I hang my head in shame as I write this, as it’s dawned on me that for the first time ever, I have become a complete failure in all-things-Halloween. My house is bereft of festive seasonal decorations, we practically have to do scissor-paper-rock around here to see who is stuck having to go get a pumpkin that no one wants to carve, and the inevitable all-nighters that had been a predictable occurrence in my life on the eve of All Hallow’s Eve are now a thing of the past.
I should back up and explain. As a child, I was the ultimate Halloween—and especially Dracula—junkie. I went from dressing in adorable costumes my mother made me straight to ashen-faced, bloody-fanged, cape-donning vampire-wear, and I only sought to improve upon the costume, year in and year out, for ages. My favorite cereal was Count Chocula; I couldn’t get enough of the Munsters. And The Count, from Sesame Street? Of course he was my favorite muppet.
I relished Halloween, and even though I’m definitely a wimp with really scary things, I was fascinated enough with vampires to enroll in a class in college titled “Literature of the Occult” (and stayed up all night reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula because I was too terrified to go to bed). Yeah, yeah, my father—a rabid University of Pittsburgh alum—cited that class plenty of times as an example of the lame “basket-weaving”-type classes he claimed Pitt’s arch-rival Penn State offered its students. [Truth is he was just jealous he didn’t get to attend Penn State].
My Count Dracula days continued well into adulthood, ultimately yielding to parental fatigue: with small children I no longer had the desire or energy to deal with costumes for me for Halloween—I was far too consumed with ensuring that my children had perfect outfits each year. The kids and I looked forward to Halloween for months beforehand. Each August we’d trek to the fabric store (which is a real test of one’s stamina, as fabric stores are usually understaffed and overpopulated with fellow overly-ambitious crafters at holiday time). We pored through Butterick, Simplicity and Vogue patternbooks in search of the ultimate costumes for each of the kids.
I’ve been sewing with varying degrees of success since I was a young girl. Trust me when I say you’d never want to wear something that I’ve sewn—that is, something that needs to be perfectly tailored and hug your curves in all the right places. But when it comes to costumes, doll clothes, things that have a lot of wiggle-room when it comes to need for accuracy, I’m your man. My son’s first costume was a penguin—an award-winning (well, from the neighborhood Halloween parade) outfit that yielded him a cute little Halloween book as a prize and me the confidence to one-up myself from that day on.
Each year and with each child, my costuming ambitions grew exponentially. To the point that I was pulling all-nighters to ensure that the kids had their costumes perfected in time for the big night. Occasionally wrenches were thrown into the plans: an earlier-than-usual Halloween party the kids would get invited to; seams that refused to meet; fabric I forgot to cut on the bias and so it didn’t give when they wore it. My youngest daughter’s Carmen Miranda fruit hat was a disaster—I practically had to follow immediately behind her while trick-or-treating to prop the heavy faux fruit up.
But there were lots of successful ones—a very complex 8-piece Power Ranger costume, the Tin Man (and let me tell you, silver lame is something you never want to run a needle through), an elephant, a panda, a Dutch girl, a princess, another princess, a witch (and honey, my witches weren’t your run-of-the-mill cheapy black fabric draped; that baby was an Academy Award candidate witch costume). There was a bumble bee, a plush dalamation, a furry yellow Labrador retriever (this the year our labrador died), a black cat, a geisha, a genie, a bunny, a wizard, a tiger, a Lego Man, and the inevitable poodle skirted 50’s girls. In all that time, only once did I bother to muster up a costume for myself—with spare dalmation fabric I rendered a mediocre a Cruella De Ville cape for a party we were attending.
The holiday seemed to take on a life of its own. Aside from the costuming frenzy, we bought and read every children’s book on Halloween ever written. We learned to raid the library long before Halloween and keep re-checking out books. Eventually pumpkin-decorating became part of the mania. We sought out elaborate pumpkin patches with corn mazes and hayrides and we purchased enormous pumpkins for each of us to carve into elaborate patterns that took, well, patterns (complicated ones!) to design.
I admit as the kids’ grew older and their Halloweening enthusiasm went from a full boil to a gentle simmer, I heaved a sigh of relief. Eventually the pressure was off of me to out-Halloween ourselves each year. Until this year, when Halloween has been all but forgotten.
To what do I owe my lax Halloweening this year? Well, life seems awfully full right now. Certainly no more so than when I had three kids under the age of four. But in a more expansive way, time-wise. We just bade farewell to two French foreign exchanges students we hosted, which took up much of my October. Collaborations for marketing/publicizing my novel are gaining momentum. My son is gearing up for college applications. My kids have loads of extracurricular activities that keep us away from home frequently. Plus I kept waiting till I cleaned the place to decorate it, and so far, that hasn’t seemed to happen…And while decorating for the occasion was always fun, the house did become awfully cluttered each October, and putting-away afterward was always an anti-climatic let-down.
Some day I’ll tell you about the birthday cakes I used to make for my kids. The roller coaster; the dogs (one with a patch over its eye to match the black eye my daughter’s best friend had given her); doll cakes (my own favorite—the cakes where the Barbie stood in the middle and her gown was made of cake); the Cinderella castle (that collapsed as I finished making it at 5 a.m. and had to be propped up with sticks I gathered from the yard and whittled the bark from so as to sanitize them–the things you do under the cloud of exhaustion!); the camping scene complete with marzipan campers; five little monkeys jumping on the bed (including facsimiles of our cats in icing). Yes, there were all-nighters involved. Often there were two cakes per birthday (one for the actual birthday, one for the party). Glutton for punishment? You bet. Overachieving mom? Meh. Maybe so. A lot of fun memories now that we can look back on them with the clarity of a good night’s sleep? You bet.
Despite my early vampire fascination, I never got into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and totally eschewed the trend toward vamp fiction that was the craze the past couple of years. But I have begun to inch my way back into dracu-wear. I needed a cowboy vampire costume for a conference I attended last year. Strange combination, for sure. But I used it as an excuse to indulge my former fashion passion with my favorite color, and the result was a pretty awesome black satin cape with hot pink lining (what can I say? Red is so not my color!). Perfect with pink cowboy boots…
I look forward to repeating these traditions some day with grandchildren, if my kids will indulge me. Nowadays I’ll reserve my all-nighters for writing deadlines. But in the meantime, there’s still time to break out the Halloween decorations. After all, there’s still one day left until the Big Night, right?
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