Halloween brings out a lot of upsetting news stories: stories of psychotic people poisoning trick-or-treat candy, Barbara Walters co-hosting an entire episode of The View as Marilyn Monroe, and parents further forcing gender stereotypes on their kids.
The "you can't be a princess, you're a boy" dilemma is as old as princesses themselves. For every Dracula costume worn this year, there's likely just as many boys who wanted to be a witch instead. What's crazy to me is the idea of a parent telling their kid they can't be something they want to be.
I grew up in Rome, Georgia, a fairly conservative town, in a family that became very into Halloween thanks to the infectious holiday spirit given off by the Roseanne Halloween episodes.
Like a lot of kids, my sister and I were obsessed with The Wizard of Oz growing up. In her pre-teen years, my sister once claimed she thought she might have actually been Dorothy Gale herself in a past life, which was ironic because as an adult, I've met a lot of guys who think they might have spent their past lives as Judy Garland.
In first grade I knew exactly who I wanted to be for Halloween: the Wicked Witch of the West. Upon telling my mom this news months before Halloween, she immediately enlisted my grandmother to make my costume and took me shopping for green make-up, a wig, a hat, and a broom. She found her old pair of pointy-toed black boots that were way too big for me, and she stuffed them full of toilet paper. I remember feeling like the most glamorous boy in the world for getting my own mother's shoes.
My grandmother finished my costume weeks before the actual Halloween deadline, and I practiced wearing the costume in the countless nights leading up to Halloween. It had come together perfectly. I was the Wicked Witch of the West.
My first-grade class was having a Halloween party the Friday before Halloween. The best part was we were allowed to wear our costumes to school! I was at lunch that Thursday before, eating some chicken nuggets and talking Halloween business with my friends. We were each bragging about how much candy we'd gotten last year and how this year would be even better, and telling each other about our costumes. Donny was the Red Power Ranger, Brian was Dr. Octopus, and Cody was Elliott from E.T.
"I'm the Wicked Witch of the West!" I shouted proudly, caught up in the moment of Halloween talk and processed chicken nuggets. All the guys looked at me like I'd just said something mean about Meryl Streep. They just stared at me for a second, then a moment later they all started to laugh. I turned as red as my lunch tray and was speechless for a second. Cody said something like, "Yeah, right!" and everyone laughed a little harder.
After a moment, I joined them in laughter, shaking my head and pretending to be in on the joke. "I'm just kidding! Obviously!" I told them, with my stomach in my throat. "I'm... actually... going as Dr. Octopus, too!"
The laughter subsided, and we went back to eating our lunch, and I began to rack my brain about who the hell Dr. Octopus was.
I went home that night and tore my room apart, attempting to put together a costume that might look like this Dr. Octopus guy. With no idea what he looked like, who he was, or what he did, and with little to no resources, I threw together one of the saddest costumes that's ever been. I took an old shirt of my dad's and roughly a dozen of his ties, tying them around my arms as octopus tentacles, and threw on some giant sunglasses just to make it more... costumey.
I convinced my mom that we weren't supposed to wear our costumes to school but instead bring them in our backpacks and change after lunch. I didn't want her to think there was something wrong with my witch costume, because the truth was I loved it more than anything else I'd ever seen.
When I got to school, I snuck into the bathroom and put on my makeshift Dr. Octopus costume. With my giant sunglasses and ragtag assortment of my dad's clothes, I looked like a too-cool-for-school homeless person wearing everything he owned.
The Halloween party ended up being fun; no one made fun of my costume or questioned it. In retrospect, they probably just thought I was from one of those families that didn't care about Halloween. A few weeks later we were each given a VHS that one of the dads had made of the party, showing each of us in our costumes, which I hid under my bed for years and years so that my mom would never find it.
On Halloween night I wore my Wicked Witch costume, proudly and with conviction, for that night I was the Wicked Witch of the West, and my makeshift Dr. Octopus costume was nothing but a blurry memory in my mind.
Looking back, I wish I had been a little bolder and secure enough to share my real costume with my class, because in truth, they probably would have liked it, but who knows. What I do know is that I am really lucky to have had a mom and grandmother who didn't question my deepest desires but instead went straight to work to make my Halloween as perfect as possible.
For every "you can't be a princess, you're a boy" or "you can't be a prince, you're a girl" parent out there this Halloween, I hope there are a dozen moms like mine, because when you let your little boy or little girl be what they want to be, it truly makes the world a better place.
Thanks, Mom. And Grandmommie. And Margaret Hamilton.