Lucy was tromping and harrumphing a stormy path through the aisles of the costume shop. She looked askance at one plastic-trapped costume after another. Her green eyes narrowed and her freckled brow furrowed into an angry stamp of rejection. Over and again.
We were on the hunt at the local temporary Halloween store that pops up every year. Like a mushroom. It just appears one day. I don’t know why I bring my daughter in there every year. It’s like I get holiday amnesia. The kids’ costumes are, of course, completely divided by gender. And the girls’ costumes…talk about scary. They are completely mislabeled. The tags should say: Child-Prostitute-Vampire, Child-Beauty-Pageant-Princess and the old standbys: Slutty-Witch, Sleazy-Witch and Sexy-Witch ….all beginning with size 4T.
At first, I was in shock. Even though we’ve seen it every other year I still get completely flabbergasted by the fact that there are people out there who want to make money off of sexualizing my daughter and other young girls. So I’m following Lucy around like an idiot mumbling soothing things to her about how she and I could sew things onto this costume here and glue gun stuff onto that costume there and totally transform them into whatever we want. Doesn’t that make her feel better? She's clomping up and down the aisles, ignoring me. Meanwhile, motorized headless zombies are popping out of cardboard coffins at us as we walk by and a grey rubber corpse keeps revealing its pink guts to the sound of agonized moans every time we round a certain corner. And I’m thinking…I am in hell. I don’t know why I didn’t just grab my kid and scram.
Luckily, Lucy, for one, was actually using her brain in the midst of this madness and just got plain pissed. She clucked her tongue a several times in disgust. Pushed at a couple of the hanging plastic bags impatiently, folded her arms across her chest and announced, “Mama, there’s nothing here I want to be.”
Silently, I scream: Yessssss! Thank god! Thank god! Thank god! Go back to the fires of hell you-sexy-witch-costume-that-fits-an-eight-year-old! Take that!
To Lucy, I very calmly and coolly say, “Oookay, sweet pea. What do you think you might want to be?”
In between scooping guts out of pumpkins and kicking up storms of leaves, we stare into the fire after supper in the weeks before Halloween and talk endlessly about what kind of costumes the kids should wear this year. I, of course, miss the days when the boys wriggled happily into spider and ladybug costumes, running around with pompom antennae flopping in their eyes. And when Ruby happily let me dress her in layers of tulle and silk leaves in my own rendition of an autumn fairy costume. Those days are long gone. Along with baby teeth and car seats. The kids have developed minds of their own. I seem to remember that was the general idea. This has lately become their time of year for playing at feeling powerful, for trying different identities on, seeing how they feel.
In this nonviolent household, where they’ve had to make their own guns if they wanted to play war, this is the one time of year our kids can get swords if they want to. This is a big deal. So we’ve had a lot of ninjas in recent years. One grim reaper with a scythe. A Darth Vader with a light saber. One year, Lucy wanted to be Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia because for one thing, in the movie, the courageous, diminuitive character got to carry a dagger. I draw the line at blood and gore but otherwise the kids get to experiment with evil for just that one night. All these weapons are miraculously “lost” as soon as Halloween is over and life goes back to normal.
This year Finn has decided to be an ancient martial arts master. With swords. Why a martial arts master needs swords I couldn’t tell you. Sam has chosen to be some kind of horror movie killer. The one with a chain saw. I think he was attracted to the noise the chain saw made. This is the closest to gore we’ve ever come in this house at Halloween. I feel we’re walking a fine line. The boys were with their father when they picked out their costumes. I wouldn't have gone for the horror movie killer thing or the bloody knives that the martial arts master has. Max keeps pointing out that the "blood" is contained inside the knives as if this somehow makes a difference. Henry is not as anti-gore as I am and, well, I pick my battles. I'm trusting that years of parenting will not be undone by one night of madness.
But, as for Lucy, that's a battle I won't lose. It turned out there was a woman who worked at the nefarious Halloween store who had tons of ideas for costumes beyond what they had hanging in those plastic bags. She pointed us towards some elven ears we could stick onto Lucy’s wee round ones, a tube of green goo for her face, some green clawed fingers to stick over her own and we were off! Lucy doesn’t want to be some cute and friendly little goblin either. Far into the sixth book of the Harry Potter series, Lucy wants to be a cranky, kind of mean goblin like those that inhabit the tunnels beneath Gringotts Bank. A little ugly, maybe a little smelly, definitely scary, she wants to creep around the edges of Halloween, freaking people out like a true Halloween spirit. Not prematurely sexing it up like the marketers of those costumes want her to.
There is really something evil out there that wants to us to accept the sexualization of our children. Not just at Halloween. But it’s seeping into our culture to the point where some perfectly well-intentioned moms and dads are getting confused and thinking it’s okay to send our daughters out into the night with corsets that suggest cleavage in 6 and 7 year old girls. It must be okay if that’s 95 percent of what’s for sale at the costume shop, right? But those costume manufacturers don’t care about kids. They care about making a buck. And Halloween shouldn’t be about sexy for little kids. It shouldn’t be about off-the-shoulder pirate blouses, ripped mini-skirts, thigh-highs and high-heeled boots for elementary school girls. That’s a different kind of power that we’re leaving kids to play near when they’re dressing up like that. And they’re not the ones in charge of their play then. They don’t know what is really being sold in those plastic packages hanging from the costume shop wall. We do. And it’s a nasty trick.
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