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Store-bought or handmade? What Halloween costumes say about your parenting

Amber, 4 months, as an owl

Kim Hunt , Whistler, B.C

I'm not quite sure how I came to be staring at a DIY tomato costume on a cheerful parenting website, contemplating making it in the spare few hours of free time I had left before Halloween. But there I was.

My son, who is 3, had just proclaimed that he needed to be a tomato this year – this after deciding, with equal conviction at various points in the week, that he wanted to be a lion, a tiger and a ghost. Looking at the screen with me, he threw the tomato idea out the window and declared that it was an apple or bust.

The reality started to sink in. I was a goner. I don't make things, except the occasional meal. Yet somewhere in the past week or so, an idea had sneaked its way into my subconscious; I became accidentally obsessed with making a clever, cute costume for my son by hand.

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And, unlike other whims I have given up for the sake of convenience, my obsession didn't waver, even in the face of a dwindling clock.

Halloween costumes have the capacity to paralyze a well-meaning, but conflicted parent. Does a store-bought costume show a lack of imagination or care? Isn't a homemade costume a sign of family ingenuity, a cozy home life – not to mention a stand against branded crap? Is this about making my son happy, or polishing my parental image?

The answers almost don't matter. As with most issues in parenting, any decision comes with the fear (and reality) of being judged. Buy a store-bought costume, even if it's one your child begs for, and you obviously don't care enough to craft one yourself. Stitch one by hand and you're a big parental show-off who wants to make all the other time-pressed parents feel bad. Make and tear apart five costumes in the lead-up to Halloween and you're a slave to a toddler's whims. Decide to avoid all the madness and stay in this year, and you're a killjoy whose kid won't have any sense of fun.

I admit that for a fleeting moment on Sunday night, staring at that cute kid online in his chubby tomato top, I did imagine that I would relish saying, "Oh, yes, I did make it," to all the impressed parents in our neighbourhood as we went door to door. But my own personal costume purgatory exists solely because I want to make my son happy – and entertaining his changing costume desires is really low stakes when you think about the scale of battles to come.

So I kept quiet when he dismissed the idea of wearing last year's alligator costume outright. I hid my disappointment when he frowned on wearing the superhero cape and crown he wears all the time (a kid can always tell when you're looking for the easy way out). I went along the bumpy ride from lion to tiger to ghost to tomato to apple reluctantly, but willingly.

Just as I was crowd-sourcing ideas for how I was going to pull this off – a stuffed red garbage bag! A two-dimensional foam cut-out! How about a cardboard box with an apple painted on the front!? – my husband e-mailed to report that en route to preschool, my son said he now wanted to wear the store-bought alligator costume (or crocodile, I can never tell) we had in the house. I was told, in no uncertain terms, to seal the deal after school.

The key, I thought, was to act as though I didn't care. So I nonchalantly asked about the alligator as we stomped home in the rain on Monday evening. Yes, he was still keen.

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As the conversation moved to more pressing matters – Where was the Halloween candy and could he have just one? – I suggested that we try the costume on, and pretend trick-or-treat. One alligator parade and one mini-bag of M+Ms later, my job was done.

Yes, I used candy to persuade my son to commit to a costume, in which he'll score bags and bags of more candy. That should probably bother me – but it doesn't. I have energy for only one all-consuming parenting anxiety at a time. Now, where can I get a pumpkin, stat?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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