I know the department stores are busy celebrating Christmas, so this post is not exactly timely but….
I love Halloween. Halloween is not charged with religious complications. It brings no expectations of gift giving and it has no requirement to cook anything difficult. So long as a zeal for Halloween is accompanied by a comprable zeal for brushing teeth, it is pretty much a perfect holiday.
This year, I responded to the lack of pressure to do anything “big” by dropping a frightening amount of money on decorations and costumes. I also decided to host a haunted house in my apartment. Anyone who has seen my kitchen would understand that I wouldn’t have to do too much to scare people away, as there is no way of knowing what might crawl out of my sink, but this year I wanted to look like I was frightening people on purpose. Accordingly, I made “Jello Jigglers,” turned on some creepy music, and hung a lot of fake spiderwebs from the ceiling. I kept the lights on low so, too, so that guests could get into the spirit without actually dying of fright: I didn’t want anybody reading the ingredients list on the Jello box.
This was all in good fun, until the people at the leasing office in my building decided to host their own party, which included a costume competition.
Generally in favor of any effort to compel enthusiasm for Halloween, I welcomed a companion party to my party. But the specter of the costume COMPETITION was freaking me out.
Why? Anyone asking this question has not met my son, who (not so very unlike his mother) really likes to win and who (also like his mother) has not quite figured out how to do it.
He opted to be a ninja this year. (This was an inspired choice for a child who, despite his gift for mass destruction, has never done anything quietly in his life.) He wasn’t alone. I saw at least two other ninjas in the lobby, spinning and catapulting themselves over the furniture while eating Doritos.
There were about 30 kids in all. Other than my son, I don’t think any one of them was thinking about the costume competition. They hardly stood still for the judging. But my son, who knew his costume was the BEST, especially if he suited himself up with all the extraneous doodads–the hood, the face mask, the ankle and wrist ties, that were too scratchy to wear on an ongoing basis—he was anxious and excited to participate.
No, I mean he was anxious and excited to WIN.
I was just anxious.
I knew he was not going to win. I was old enough to understand that a child only wins a costume contest if his parents do something a little more creative than point and click on “Ninja costume”
Like the siblings dressed as a train engine and coordinating railway crossing. Like our neighbor wearing the hand sewn Dracula costume. Like a dozen other kids whose costumes I cannot remember now but whose outfits were much more memorable than that of an online store-bought ninja.
I needed a cocktail. Or my mommy. (She and my dad went as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich this year. See? That’s the sort of thing that wins.)
As the judging progressed, and as we drew closer to the moment when I knew my son was not going to win, I thought we could creatively recast his costume as a banshee or a nightmare— Then I realized that this wouldn’t work, the striking resemblance to these entities would only become apparent upon his defeat.
So I waited. I rehearsed the comforting words I planned to offer to help him through his time of trouble.
“You can eat all the gummy worms you want.”
As I reflect on that moment right before he learned of the judges’ decision, when I think about that eager, expectant face I knew he was making (even though it was obscured by an broad swath of black polyester fabric) my heart breaks a little.
There he was, flush in the belief in his own greatness. He was doing all the things winners need to do to win, “trying hard,” “wanting it the most,” etc. but he was on the brink of failure. I knew there was no way that the judges (i.e. 20-something-year-old employees of our building’s leasing office) would realize that he was, quite simply, the best ninja EVER!!!
He didn’t win.
As I predicted, he was not happy about it. My efforts to placate him were mostly ineffective. He did sound a lot like a banshee.
But, in a rare moment of perspective that everyone else seemed to have already, I realized that this “loss” was not a big deal. Unlike the chilling cry of a real banshee, my son’s piercing wail did not foretell of an individual’s imminent demise.
This “crisis” was nothing more than “a teaching moment” dressed up in scary clothing.
After his initial cries died down, I summoned my best grown-up calm voice and explained. Adults and kids don’t always think about things the same way. To a kid, the best costume could mean the most popular one, as in the coolest thing to be this year, as in a ninja. To the adults judging the competition, however, the best costume meant the most original one, as in the costume no other kid thought to wear, as in the least popular costume.
As if by magic, his disappointment disappeared. It was replaced with righteous indignation. Well that makes no sense!
Faith in his own judgement restored, he shook his head knowing that once again, the adults had just gotten it wrong.