The Great Decline: One Mom’s Halloween Timeline

You should have seen me 20 years ago. The magic I could pull off with a cardboard box and some construction paper was not to be believed. And on top of that, I had unwitting subjects to work with. I could do anything I wanted to do to them.

I drew goatees on baby girls. I dressed my son up in a Barney costume one of our friends had given us as a kind of joke.

Sorry, kids.

Sorry, kids.

I spent hours spray painting boxes and working with stencils to make this circus train with the big brother engineer and the baby lion in the caboose.

Back when people did what I told them to do.

Back when people did what I told them to do.

Even later, when they wanted to be more conventional characters for Halloween, I put costumes together out of our ever-growing dress-up box (Please notice the artful way I worked turtlenecks into princess costumes for both warmth and modesty. No whore-y princess outfits for my girls. They are still pissed about that)).

My princesses.

Pretty, pretty princesses.

Even as my kids got older, I still tried to stay creative with their costumes, as evidenced by this very-amazing Wayne from Wayne’s World (Garth was pretty awesome, too).



I even made an adorable cape for a Little Red Riding Hood costume using felt and a glue gun but since it was for one of my younger kids, there is no picture to use as evidence.

But, maybe due to the invention of the Internet and Facebook in particular, I’ve kind of dropped the ball on Halloween costumes with my younger guy. Lame Wolverine.



Ho-hum Harry Potter.


The year everyone was the Boy Wizard.

The only creativity coming out of this house nowadays is when my Baby Girl got involved, like the time a few years ago she used YouTube videos to teach herself how to sew the backpack for Finn from AdventureTime (a cartoon I am convinced is geared towards stoned college kids and not 11-year-olds).

But this year, my 22nd Halloween as a mom, kind of tops them all. I neither worked with a glue gun nor visited one of those pop-up Halloween stores to buy a costume. We picked pumpkins out of a big box in front of our grocery store and not a field. And I didn’t even bother getting the tombstones out of the garage to set up on the lawn or have one of the kids string cobwebs along the shrubs in front of the house.

My little guy, who’s in the sixth grade, said initially he was going to be one of the guys from “Men in Black” (presumably Tommy Lee Jones),  but later modified that, keeping the suit and calling himself a “businessman” instead. Interesting. It’s the one day of the year you can be anything you want to be and he wants to dress like he just got off the boat from Wall Street.

He had a hand-me-down blazer in his closet and got his sister to tie his tie (what can’t she teach herself how to do on YouTube?). He came down this morning with his hair all gelled and squeezed into his black band concert khakis from the spring and I had to laugh. All he needed was an American flag pin on his lapel and he could tell people he was either a CEO or a Young Republican.

My very own baby CEO.

My very own baby CEO.

My neighbor came over to exercise this morning and I showed her the picture of my baby Master of the Universe and we laughed and then she scrolled through her photos to show me what her 15-year-old-son pulled together about 15 minutes before his bus came this morning.

I got a rock.

***I got a rock.

And how we get from spray painting boxes to cutting a couple of holes in a sheet, I’ll never know. I just know that I kind of miss drawing scars on their faces, the Halloween parade at the elementary school and reminding little ones a thousand times as they raced from house to house to say “Trick or treat” and “Thank you.”

Tonight my little guy will go off with his posse to fill their pillowcases with as much candy as humanly possible as I drink red wine with all the moms back at home. He’s at his dad’s this weekend so I’ll miss seeing his loot poured out and categorized on the floor and swiping all of the candy he deems gross (come to me, Almond Joy bars).

I’m going to meet up later with another single mom and mother to older children and maybe we’ll reminisce about the good old days — the costumes and endless trick-or-treating. How much we miss it.

Or maybe we’ll just drink a cocktail and dance like moms who have done their time in the pumpkin patch.

Want to give yourself a treat this Halloween? Sign up to receive updates from me sent directly to your inbox. Just look for “Receive new posts in your inbox” and fill in your email. Sweet.

You can also follow me on Facebook and I’d love to meet up with you on Twitter, too!

Traditions: Old and New


The Devil wears Hanna Andersson. And Barney is just a gift. Circa 1994.

I was agitated earlier this week when I got a text from my ex-husband announcing it was his year to spend Thanksgiving with our four children.

I had already committed to hosting the holiday at my house for my side of the family and was looking forward to the planning and execution of the dinner alongside my girls. We’ve had fun over the years peeling potatoes and baking turkey cakes side by side in our kitchen. I love how well we work together, how one of the girls slices the apples while another prepares the filling and then I sprinkle the sugary crumble on top.

It’s the ultimate team-building exercise.

But one of the things about divorce is that you wind up with a script of how things should go down henceforth. Somewhere in a drawer in my room there is a document that details who gets the kids when, in alternating odd and even years.

But in the five years since we’ve been apart, I haven’t really had to consult our divorce agreement for holiday issues. Things always just seem to work out around Easter and we pretty much stick to the Christmas script we always followed.

And Thanksgiving hadn’t been controversial because he’s been spending it with his girlfriend’s family. But apparently he wants to loop the kids into that this year.

At first I thought, “Well that sucks. Why would the kids want to go there?”

But after a couple of things that happened this week, I’ve decided it’s not really a big deal. It’s just one day. One meal.

I went to join my knitting group for a spell on Wednesday — and I use the term “knitting” very loosely because while we used to actually work with yarn and needles, now we mostly just really like each other and show up sans equipment to catch up over coffee for an hour or so.

We got to talking about Thanksgiving plans, as women of a certain age invariably do. Who’s hosting, who’s coming. How many.

My one friend, who’s about 10 or so years ahead of me in the mom game, announced that she and her husband were going to travel to Boston to spend the holiday with their son and his wife.

This is not the first time in recent years that they have traveled to spend a holiday with one of their three children. Last year they drove to the Hudson River Valley to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant where one of their sons works and this Christmas, they’re heading to Vermont with another son.

But it’s not what she expected, she said, all those years ago when the kids were small and they would gather with extended family in their home. It was their tradition.

“I always thought it would be that way,” she said to us gathered around the kitchen table littered with coffee cups and cell phones.

“But then, once you spend a holiday without all of your kids, you realize that you can get through it,” she said. “That it’s not the worst thing.”

And that really stuck with me.

When you get divorced, of course one of the things you focus on is the possibility that at some point, you might be spending a holiday without your children. You freak that all those traditions you carefully cultivated over the years won’t continue.

And sometimes it’s true and sometimes it’s not.

I’ve spent a few Easters without the kids and that was rough. I flew to California to spend the holiday with one sister and her family and remember just how sad I was to be without the kids that day. How sad it was to not be stuffing millions of jellybeans and pieces of chocolate into plastic eggs or finding the perfect hiding spot for a basket.

But the kids were off on some beach vacation with their dad and how could I begrudge them that? There should be some upside to having divorced parents and if that’s a trip to the Bahamas, so be it.

Yesterday was the first Halloween in my like 18-or-so years of trick-or-treating with kids that I didn’t have to actually hit the pavement. I was prepared to follow my 10 year old down the darkened streets of our little town while he and his posse ran from house to house filling their pillowcases with treats. But it never happened.

He had hooked up with kids in another neighborhood and by the time I got over there, the dads had been dispatched to oversee the kids while the moms were busy inside a nearby house setting out the fancy pigs in a blanket and Capri Sun pouches to distract the kids from candy upon their return.

I stood around the kitchen and drank a spicy blood orange margarita and chatted with the other moms until the kids started to trickle back in. They compared hauls and then ran around outside, playing manhunt in the soft October night air.

I finally pried my son away from the fun, gathering his yellow nylon costume off the pile of other discarded superhero suits on the floor, and on the drive home, he told me, “That was the best Halloween ever.”


Twin princesses wearing sensible turtlenecks.

And I thought of all the Halloweens of years past, holding little hands walking up to neighbors’ doors and encouraging my little Buzz or Woody to say “Trick or treat” and thank you upon receipt of said treat. Of being part of the stroller brigade later, when the older kids could zip independently from door to door while we moms waited in the darkness by the curb with the younger siblings in tow.

And later still, when everyone wanted to walk around with their own set of friends, I’d be off in a million different directions, trying to keep tabs on who was with whom and where.

It’s evolving, this parenting thing. One minute you’re shouting at your little Tinkerbell to keep up with the group of trick or treaters and not run in the street and the next, she’s getting on a train to the city to see the Halloween parade and eat Indian food.

And whether you get to that point slowly over time or a divorce or other catastrophic life event helps accelerate the process, at some point, we all get there.

Traditions are broken or need to be changed. But that’s just how it goes.

I think the key is flexibility, and remembering what’s important. What really counts.

Because while those big holidays are great and go down in the photo albums and memory books for the ages, it’s the slow slog over all the days and weeks and years that really matters. Being there for the kids on a Tuesday afternoon in September when one is feeling the pain of a failed romance or a Friday morning in December when another thinks she can’t go on one more day.

That’s the tradition I hope I’ve created for my children that neither divorce nor growing older will ever break.

The Thwarted Ninja

IMG_0642The kids and I crossed a lot of things off our to-do list this weekend. We stocked up on milk and Greek yogurt at Costco, cleaned out about seven contractor bags worth of outgrown clothing, old magazines and Nerf guns from our closets and finally got around to buying the 10 year old’s Halloween costume.

That last one was the biggie.

He had been talking about what he wanted to be for Halloween this year practically since last Halloween. Maybe it was because in this neck of the woods, there was no trick-or-treating last year thanks to Hurricane Sandy.

But other than my inclination towards procrastination, one of the things holding up procuring the kid’s costume this year had been a differing of opinions. While he is totally cool with playing the role of assassin or ninja with a full battery of weapons, I just couldn’t get on board with endorsing violence.

More specifically, what he really wanted to dress up as was a character from Mortal Kombat, and even though his older brother spent a few Halloweens walking around town dressed as a Ninja – nunchucks dangling from the costume’s flimsy belt – 10 years later I would rather not see my child masquerading as a murderer.

Even if it’s makebelieve.

Plus, they wanted like $65 for the costume online.

So after our Costco outing on Saturday we ran into one of those pop-up Halloween shops that mysteriously transform vacant mall and highway stores around here at this time of year.

Number one, I don’t know how people with young children are able to shop in these places. My kids would have had heart attacks as soon as they eyed all the creepy stuff that assaults you as you walk through the door.

Like, my kids cried the first time they saw the characters at Disney World. Chip n’ Dale had them weeping with a wave. And once we took them to the Rainforest Café in Orlando as a big treat and they almost passed out when it started to storm and the fake animals surrounding us came to life.

Anyway, we walk in and it’s just like a weirdo-fest in there, with employees walking around in creepy costumes and spooky animatronic dead things shrieking at you.

My mission was to get in and get out asap, but my son is a slow decision maker, especially when he’s being told to choose something other than what he wants to pick.

He drifted around for a while and inspected the big, rubbery Gru mask and the section with all the Adventure Time costumes (which didn’t exist in 2011 when he wanted to dress up like the character Finn from the then-obscure Cartoon Network show; we had to piece together the costume, which included a backpack his sister sewed using a YouTube video as guidance).

Then we came to what I like to call The Violent Section, which included an array of Ninja style-costumes and an extensive selection of weaponry (but, alas, no Mortal Combat). He spent some time inspecting the various daggers, swords and shields lining the wall before reluctantly moving on.

In the end, he quickly chose one of those one-piece skin suits in yellow that’s styled to make him look like a crash test dummy. He seemed pleased with it and it fit him so perfectly when he tried it on that it was pretty creepy how much he actually looked like one of those dummies.


I feel bad that I thwarted his dream to be the Mortal Kombat dude. That I needed to control his fantasy. I just couldn’t endorse a character based on a video game that is known for its extreme violence.

A video game we probably have right now in our basement. My 21-year-old son has all those terrible games, but he didn’t when he was 10.

So maybe I’m a hypocrite, but I just preferred my youngest pick something else.

And he did, because he’s that kind of guy. He didn’t argue or carry on. He didn’t threaten to boycott Halloween if he didn’t get his way.

He just found something else.

Pretty soon it won’t matter anyway. They stop dressing up by the end of middle school and then I’ll just see pictures posted on social media, if I’m lucky, of them dressed up at costume parties in college. I saw my oldest guy dressed up like a nerd at a party last weekend and thought it was pretty cute. It got my Mom Seal of Approval.

But until then, my little guy will be stuck humoring me. It could be worse. He could have been a girl and then I’d be up against all the sexy fill-in-the-blank costumes that are out there. Then maybe I’d be wishing she’d cover herself up as a Ninja.

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 3.25.23 PM