'90s FAMILY : No Disguising What This Mom Learned


It's true. What goes around, comes around. I thought I'd find myself applying this to the big things in life. I never thought the idea would take hold while I was standing in front of a rack of shiny, synthetic Halloween costumes.

My 4-year-old daughter wants a store-bought costume. For the past three years, I've made her a cowboy, a cat and a ghost. I've worked painstakingly on these creations and I've garnered the praise and adulation of friends and family, but my daughter is impossibly taken with the hope that I will walk into a store and buy an assembly-line product of cheap man-made fibers that will snag and unravel if a toenail catches on it.

I try to reason with her. "Honey, you'll see yourself coming and going. If Mommy makes your costume, it will be so special."

Then it hits: the going around, coming around. I hear my mother standing beside me in front of a display of glittering Cinderella gowns. "Everybody at your school is going to be that. When Mommy makes you a tree, that will be really different."

And she did make me a tree. Because what choice did I have when I was 8 years old? I had no money and it was 1967, so I basically had no rights as a child. Mom took one of Dad's old white shirts, colored it brown and stapled autumn leaves to it.

I don't want to break her heart, so I will say that she did work very hard on the tree get-up. I trick-or-treated the neighborhood crunching, shedding, being chased by small dogs. And all the while, I mooned over the girls dazzling ahead me at every door in Cinderella gowns I was sure were spun of silk and golden threads.

Now my own daughter eyes the gleam of Power Ranger prefab duds and has fallen under the spell of the shapely contours of Pocahontas' off-the-shoulder look. So what's a mother to do? I know my homemade Indian princess costume will be warmer, sturdier, more practical, but will she remember it as sackcloth she was forced to parade in?

I stare deep into the abyss of faux cartoon characters (who are these Sonic Hedgehogs?) and come to a compromise. I will make the costume, a labor of love. But she can have the last word with accessories--the plastic "heirloom" necklace, the "authentic" paper-thin polyester moccasins and the beaded purse--which I'm sure Pocahontas was only too happy to carry through her hectic days in 1607.

And so I get through another "when-I-was-a-kid, but-now-I'm-a-Mom" crisis and I wait for the day when my daughter's little brother grows up to write the story of how he was forced into the role of John Smith, when all he really wanted to be was Barney.

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