The King and Queens of Halloween

Early Saturday afternoon, after gymnastics and a quick lunch, June was in the bathroom applying her corpse makeup. She was already in her corpse clothes, a long-sleeved black t-shirt and jeans from the thrift store she’d distressed the weekend before. Most of the holes were in the front of the clothes, though, and I was looking at her from the back. As a result, when I first saw her (without focusing on her gruesome-looking face), it felt as if I was catching a glimpse of June in high school or college, in her black top, skinny jeans, and ankle boots, putting the finishing touches on her makeup. This was a disconcerting vision, but Halloween is all about being unsettled, isn’t it?

I was actually kind of unsettled for the three weeks leading up to Halloween. It was for a happy reason. My sister was in China, picking up her newly adopted daughter and her business was temporarily closed. I had some small work projects to do and I picked up a big outside editing job so I had work, but not as much as usual and I was continually uncertain as to how I should be divvying up my time and spent a lot of time fretting about it, which made the extra free time feel less like leisure.

Worse still, very few of the big housework projects I had in mind, other than the usual cooking, cleaning and laundry, actually happened. I dealt with a drawer full of papers and cleaned most of the fridge, but I didn’t even finish that. I did read more than usual. I read an Agatha Christie mystery and Stephen King novel I somehow missed when it came out (Blaze). I got about of a third of the way through Daniel Deronda (which my book club is reading this fall) and I spent the last two hours of my furlough before June got home from school on Friday finishing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which seemed like an appropriate thing to do the day before Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween—this is a post about Halloween, so I suppose I should get back to Halloween—as I was watching June in the bathroom, we were all getting ready to leave for the Halloween parade. Noah’s Fiji Water bottle costume was so big we needed to go in shifts. Beth drove June and me to the Co-op parking lot where some carnival games were in progress and then she went back home for Noah.

June entered a contest to guess how many plastic spiders were in a jar and then she won a tiny checkers set with cardboard pieces in the shapes of pumpkins by throwing a football into a net with holes. Mostly, though, we wandered around, looking for people we knew. We found Keira, a fifth-grader from June’s school, who always has great costumes. This year she was a contortionist. She achieved this by covering her own legs with drapery and having fake legs bent over her shoulders. Then we met Grace (the witch from Wicked) and Lottie (Mozart), who in real life are two sisters June knows from years of drama camp. Lottie said, “June, I can’t look at your face. You are freaking me out.” I think this was exactly the reaction June had for been going for when she and Beth covered her face with peeling latex flesh and bloody wounds. It might have been especially satisfying because Lottie is two years older than June.

One of the parade officials announced the parade would start in fifteen minutes, which made me nervous because Beth and Noah hadn’t arrived yet and I didn’t want him to miss the judging. His water bottle costume was beautifully executed and he’d been working on it for several days, unlike last Halloween when he basically threw together his (still impressive) calculator costume in less than a day. Indulge me and take a close look at the details—the QTY line at the bottom of the front is one of my favorite parts, as is the whole back panel.

I caught sight of Noah shortly after the announcement. Shuffling along in the big blue box that covered most of his body, he was hard to miss. I directed him to the section of the street where teen and adults were supposed to stand. Luckily, it was right next to the nine-to-twelve area. Beth was parking the car, so she didn’t arrive until later, just in time to adjust the straps that attached June’s coffin to her back. Noah was having trouble keeping his lid on his head, so I was staying near him to balance it as needed.

Noah scoped out the competition and decided the motorized cupcake was the only real threat for Most Original. At first I thought it was a wheelchair costume, but when I looked more carefully at the wheels, they didn’t look like wheelchair wheels, so it might have been constructed over an ATV. In any case, the cupcake-on-wheels was getting a lot of attention. There was a zombie with a zombie dog, but I figured she was probably shooting for Scariest. A judge did complement Noah on his costume as she passed through the area and later a teenage girl ran up to him and said, “Fiji Water, I love you!”

“Do you think she’s a fan of Fiji Water or is she in love with you?” I asked him and he gave me an irritated look. (What’s the point of parenting a teen if you don’t embarrass him every now and then?)

There were photographers circulating, both journalists from the Takoma Voice and regular parade-goers. Both kids had their picture taken multiple times and June was interviewed. But the judges took June’s name and not Noah’s. In our experience, having a judge take your name doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily won (June’s was taken last year for instance and she didn’t win that year) but Noah’s never won without having had his name taken, and he’s won Most Original in his age group three times. I held out a sliver of hope, though, because I do remember a few times a winner being announced by costume only. It doesn’t happen often, though. Trust me, we are pretty close observers of the ways of this contest. It’s serious business to our kids. June’s been gunning for Scariest for a few years and so far, she had never won.

I don’t know if it was a desire to win that made her insistent on the gory makeup, or if it’s a developmental stage. At the a Halloween party at her friend Claire’s house the weekend before Halloween, Claire was a “psycho clown” and June’s friend Zoë was a “zombie triathlete” so maybe they are all just ready for scarier costumes. This does seem to happen at an earlier age than when I was a kid, though. And even as a fan of things scary, I’m not sure that acceleration is a good thing. The only thing I did to put the brakes on it, though, was not to offer to buy her a little wooden axe at the Takoma Park street festival two weeks ago. I saw it, thought it would be perfect for her costume, then wondered what I’d say if she asked for it. As I was thinking it over, she picked up a dagger from the same stand and pretended to fence with it, but then she just put it back and didn’t ask for either weapon and I didn’t suggest we buy them. I think having a weapon stuck in her mid-section would have been over the line for me…this year anyway.

Soon the judging was over and the parade started moving. We’d find out who won at the end of the route. Noah’s costume proved cumbersome to walk in, so sometimes he’d hike it up higher, which made walking easier but seeing impossible. I held his hand, which stuck out through a slot in the side of the box and told him when to slow down or stop to avoid trampling small children. When he got tired of not being able to see, he’d lower the costume again and walk more slowly. After a while he gave me the lid and I wore it on my head. I told him we were a group costume now. He was the bottle and I was the lid.

Once we got to the end of the route, the Grandsons, Jr. were playing. In between numbers, Rec Center employees announced the winners of the contest, starting with the four-and-unders. June and I went in search of a bathroom because we knew there would be at least one song between age groups and we both had to go.

We got back in time to hear the winners for the five-to-eight group. I have to say this particular set of judging was mystifying. A girl dressed as Hermione won Scariest. Hermione is many fine things, but scary is not one of them. A girl dressed as Katniss won Funniest. Again, Katniss is many fine things, but funny isn’t what comes to mind. Now we never saw Katniss so I allowed maybe it was a joke costume, maybe a cat with a bow and arrow or something. But then a Rubik’s cube won Most Original and I gave up any hope of things making sense for the poor five-to-eight year olds, one of whom was wearing a Montgomery County basketball league t-shirt and had half a basketball on her head, her face painted to resemble the rest of the ball, and was walking around with her head in a hoop with a backboard behind her. Clearly this child was robbed. But that’s how it goes sometimes.

We could only hope for better judging in the nine-to-twelve group. Scariest was announced first and it was June! They mangled her last name, but she didn’t care. She’d finally won! Beth looked relieved and said, “Thank God.” June’s been more gracious in recent years about Noah’s string of wins than she was when they were five and ten, but she’s seen him win several times and never won herself and they have at least the normal allotment of sibling rivalry, so she really wanted it. It helps that they’re never in the same age group and thus not in direct competition with each other, but still…

June went up to collect her bag of prizes (candy, pencils, a $10 gift certificate for Rec Department programs we can use for drama camp, etc.) A boy dressed as a ninja in a mechanized contraption along with dummies of the villain from Scream and a mummy with all three of them hooked up to each other to move in unison won Funniest and a girl in a shower stall won Most Original.

More songs, more waiting… Finally, they announced the teen and adult results. Scariest was predictably the zombie with zombie dog. Funniest went to the cupcake, which I thought might leave an opening for Noah to win Most Original after all. But it went to the lamppost from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. None of us had even seen said lamppost, which was odd because the teen and adult area was not as crowded as some of the kids’ groups where it would be easy to miss someone.

Noah was disappointed, as were Beth and I for him, but he took it okay. He’s generally a pretty easy-going kid. I hope this doesn’t sound like favoritism because I don’t think it is, but I seem to feel his disappointments more keenly because of that. He’s the one who doesn’t ask for as much, so I want him to have those things he does want. But you win some and you lose some. That’s life. We all know that. And he takes satisfaction and pride in crafting his costumes for their own sake, even if he also likes the outside validation. (He ended up getting some of that by tweeting a picture of his costume to Fiji Water. They re-tweeted it and by the time he went to bed he had more than a dozen shares or re-tweets or something. I don’t really understand Twitter.)

We waited to see who won the group competition, out of curiosity, and because June’s friend Marisa’s family always enters that and they’ve had some spectacular costumes over the years. This year they were the “Atoms Family” according to a sign they carried. They were all in black clothes, with hula-hoops orbiting their bodies at various angles. They won Most Original. We exchanged congratulations with them, and headed home to 1) make some adjustments to Noah’s costume (trimming it for easier walking and making a chin strap for the lid), 2) watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 3) put the finishing touches (spotlights, fog machines, etc.) on our yard display and 4) to eat a supper of butternut squash ravioli and broccoli.

The kids left for trick-or-treating around 6:45. Last year they went with friends, but this year they decided to go together, which I thought was sweet. I stood on the porch watching the corpse and the water bottle go around the corner while I stayed behind to greet a few dozen trick-or-treaters. The first one came while we were still watching Charlie Brown. She was a tiny Princess Leia who was too shy to say either “Trick or Treat” or “thank you,” despite her father’s gentle reminders.

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” the dad said, gesturing to the skeleton and zombie emerging from the ground and all the ghosts, skeletons, etc., hanging from the trees and porch.

The kids were home and trading candy with each other by just after eight. Based on their walk around the neighborhood, Noah reported we were still “the king and queens of Halloween decoration.” Of some of our neighbors he said, “It’s like they don’t even take it seriously.”

The kids had today off school and June spent the day going from makeup violin lesson to first play date to second play date. When the second mom brought her home, she surveyed our yard and said, “You went all out.”

We go all out. We take it seriously. Don’t you worry about that.

  • Nicole MacPherson

    Those costumes are amazing! Absolutely amazing. I’m gobsmacked.
    I’m so excited for your sister! And for you, Aunty!

  • allison

    I get disproportionately upset when the judging is screwy like that, and other times when things seem unfair. I try not to let the kids see it, because I KNOW life isn’t fair, but COME ON. Also, I’m confused about why a cupcake needs to be on wheels. Anyway, the costumes are awesome. We didn’t take Halloween terribly seriously this year – just too busy. But I love the line from the Simpsons about Halloween skippers: “how can you not love Halloween? It’s a holiday when you can SERVE CANDY FROM A SALAD BOWL.”

  • Whew, those costumes ARE impressive!
    Sounds like quite a display – next time we want yard pictures as well!