I really wanted to win mom-of-the-year this Halloween. It’s not a real award, but there’s this horrid inescapable, aspirational self-congratulatory Stepford Wife nonsense that has been inadvertantly drummed into me — not only should I be intelligently conversational, fertile and nuturing, but I should also participate in traditional festivities with great adeptness and abandon. The test of household ingenuity and maternal ability, the key performance indicator of the third quarter, I convinced myself, is Halloween. Is your house well-stocked for trick-or-treaters? Is it decorated in a suitably scary but affordable fashion? And above all, do you have matching costumes with your progeny, and did you make them yourself?
My daughter Cece is all of two years old and change, and her favorite character is a toss-up between Buzz Lightyear and the Gruffalo (“ga-koo!”). By sheer coincidence (or, if you like, a superior understanding of the children’s literature market), Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo has a sequel about The Gruffalo’s Child (“babby ga-koo!”), so I went with that, not just because a space ranger was beyond my crafting means. The day before Halloween I found myself in a two-dollar shop harriedly hoping for some things I could cobble together with none of the home-making skills I picked up while failing home economics, buying candy at 2 in the morning, and thereafter staying up till five in the morning bringing forth some of the ugliest hand-stitches in the history of mankind.
Among the things I have learnt from my first family-oriented Halloween:
- A choice must be made between tropical trick-or-treating and toddlers in headgear. Having a picture with you and your toddler in full costume? A distant dream.
- Even if you assemble affairs competently under pressure, there’s no fun in festivities if the whole family isn’t involved in preparations. Even if you manage to out-do yourself in the costume-making department, if no one is around to witness your startling, against-all-odds triumph, it is as hollow and empty as the stomach of a mother who’s forgotten to eat all day running festive errands.
- In my mind, I was going to waltz into my new neighborhood with an epic costume, an adorable child, and a winning personality that would make every family in my estate want to be friends with mine. I didn’t realize how exhaustingly social the neighborly visitation interaction would be, or just how many kids over a hundred kids is.
You can’t be everybody. You can’t be a crafty goddess, excellent home-maker, ecstatic mother, financially independent going-pro photographer consummate freelancer, festive neighbor, and enjoy Halloween while taking pictures of it too. At least not all on your own — and besides, there’s no fun in that level of organizational genius, sitting in your solitude marvelling at how good a monster hat you made at short notice.
It’s a strange thing, being a mother, working together/competing with your spouse, juggling work and children or prioritizing household management. Or any of the gazillion other permutations of parental roles that I hope exist, beyond the well-worn traditional paternal financial productivity and the maternal child incubation-production-management cycle that seems to be our social and biological imperative regardless of what else we may be doing with our lives. Every moment I’m failing someone, sometimes my husband, sometimes my child, but most often, myself. I don’t think that’s something we grow out of, but I do think that as we exceed, meet, or approach expectations of subjective, less structured spaces of increasing complexity as we’re propelled further into adulthood, showing up is in itself admirable.
Next year I’m making my own Halloween treats. If you’re not trying harder, you’re not even trying.