A fish. A car. A bear. No, scratch that—Winnie the Pooh. A baby. A cowgirl. A bumblebee. A fox. A firefighter.
These are the answers I have gotten so far to the question, “What would you like to be for Halloween?”
The first couple of years were easy. As a new mom, I loved looking through the catalogs that appeared beginning in August. Tiny pumpkin costumes, little ladybugs, miniature cowboys. The choices were plentiful and, most importantly, I got to choose.
With a preschooler in the house, offering limited choices is usually the name of the game. Would you like the orange cup or the green cup? Milk or water? Would you like to put your shoes on by yourself or shall I help you? The parenting gurus will tell you that this is one way of getting compliance from someone for whom the need for independence is as hardwired and developmentally important as is the desire to jump in puddles or dig in the mud. I know from experience it’s the only way to avoid losing my mind while my daughter develops hers.
But with Halloween costumes I feel like the choice should be all hers. I want to see where her imagination takes her. Which means, of course, that I have to be prepared to accept her choice—not something she picks from a pre-approved menu.
It’s not going to be easy. What if she wants to dress up as something I can’t stand? What if her classmates don’t get it, or someone pokes fun? What will the neighbors think? What will her choice say about me as a parent?
This is good practice for the type of surrender I will become all too familiar with as we graduate from Halloween costumes to choices in friends and clothes, colleges and careers, lifestyles and significant others. I can offer suggestions, give honest opinions and support her decision process, but after a certain point I will have to step back and accept her choices.
The good news for my more controlling side and general sanity is that I have several years to work up to this level of letting go. We still have a sturdy set of training wheels on this quest for independence and the limited choices scheme will resume Nov. 1. (Would you like to have your two pieces of candy after lunch or wait until after dinner?) But little by little her freedoms will increase and our limits will loosen. I will watch the distance between us expand even as—I hope—the bond we share remains close.
I don’t expect it to be easy, like picking a cute outfit from a catalog, but I don’t know any other way to do it. Plus, I’m pretty sure that easy wasn’t on the job description for this gig.
So if you happen to answer the doorbell this Halloween to a trick-or-treater wearing some kind of hybrid fox/bear/bee/fish getup with a cowboy hat and two different shoes, I’ll be the one standing at the curb, proud to be her mom, letting her choose a piece of candy from your bowl.