Every parent’s nightmare: the horror of a high-stakes Halloween | Emma Brockes

You can’t win, whether you decide on a shop-bought or homemade costume for your child. Especially in the US, where everyone is watching

One of the worst aspects of parenting, apart from the mess and the exhaustion, is the arts and crafts element. Halloween is a particularly tough time for this. For girls at least, the choice of costume is between a horrible $40 princess kit or the hell of going hand-made. The former, aside from the expense and whatever squeamishness you might have about pink synthetic fibres, is full of irritating gender bias; and the latter, for those of us who hated doing things with glue and glitter the first time around, is a reminder that life is too short.

To date, the gender thing hasn’t intruded too aggressively on my 20-month-olds; they have a lot of boys’ hand-me-downs from friends, and although the babysitter occasionally tries to sneak frills and bows into their wardrobe, most recently a headband with “Mommy’s Little Cupcake” printed across it, most of the time what they wear elicits neither interest or comment.

Halloween is different. I remember last year a girl of two running around in a fireman costume which, in my neighbourhood of New York’s Upper West Side, attracted vaguely disapproving looks, and in certain neighbourhoods of Brooklyn would have been grounds for counselling about gender identity, but either way is considered a problem. Meanwhile, if you’re making your own costume, no matter how much you claim to hate Halloween, it is hard to stop a competitive edge creeping in. “Can’t I just put them in plaid shirts and fake beards and call them Brooklyn hipsters?” I said to a friend last week. “No one’ll get it,” they replied. “Why don’t you do literary ladies? Cynthia Ozick and Virginia Woolf.” “Too hard,” I said. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg?” “What will I do for the glasses?”

Her son wanted to go as a pillow. “They’re going to think he’s a badly made ghost,” I said, and rejected her suggestion that I let my children decide their own costumes, too – as right now, no matter the question, every answer they give is either “park” or “I don’t like that”, neither of which lends itself to fancy dress.

The best I have right now is sending one as a pumpkin, and the other as a rabbit, which means head-to-toe pink, but at least doesn’t involve a tiara. I’m going as a sour-faced ghoul, no makeup required.

‘The colouring books themselves are clearly something people buy to address a perceived deficit and then never look at again, like home exercise equipment or bestselling books about the economy.’
‘The colouring books themselves are clearly something people buy to address a perceived deficit and then never look at again, like home exercise equipment or bestselling books about the economy.’ Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Take a (felt) tip from me

Perhaps I should relax at the local library, where last week a notice went up above the desk advertising a new “adult colouring club”. The librarian said interest in the event had been brisk, in spite of what struck me as its slightly puzzling nature: an attempt to turn an activity everyone has talked about but that I suspect no one actually does into a real-life event.

The backlash against the idea of adult colouring has gone so far now as to have inspired whole books about the infantilisation of adults in western culture, but I see no particular harm in it. The colouring books themselves are clearly something people buy to address a perceived deficit and then never look at again, like home exercise equipment or bestselling books about the economy. Sometimes just ordering a thing is enough to make a problem feel solved.

Nightmare scenario

The other thing about Halloween in America is that it is very hard to opt out of. You have to be that person who turns off all the lights and crouches in the kitchen for three hours, so the trick-or-treaters think you’re out, or else you actually have to go out – and even then, you’re supposed to leave candy at your door. I’m not usually such a scrooge. (See my fun thoughts about colouring.) But Halloween is so overblown and labour-intensive, and such an invitation for screeching, that it really has become a meta-exercise in realising my nightmares. Now if I could just think of a way to express this in costume form.


Emma Brockes

The GuardianTramp

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