Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Who are you? Nov. 27, 2005

I had never met a kid who didn't understand the appeal of Halloween until I became the mother of one. What a delightful and perplexing little person we made.

My bewildering journey to Halloween
    Last year my son was himself for Halloween.

    His friends were decked out as Batman and Spider-Man and mythical creatures.

    "I’m a crime fighter! I save people!" one of his buddies declared, bouncing around the front yard.

    "I’m a dragon! I breathe fire!" another hooted.

    My son quietly watched his friends.

    "I’m Jack," he said.

    Yes, ladies and gentlemen, step right up, get your ticket to see the 40-year-old man trapped in a 4-year-old body.

    That’s always been Jack, though. He was an earnest, tense baby. He was a cautious, thoughtful toddler. And now he is just not what you’d call a whimsical kid.

    When I ask him to draw something for me, he meticulously covers the paper with numbers — equations upon equations, addition, subtraction, multiplication — until he has produced what looks a little like modern art.

    "It’s math," he says, smiling at his gorgeous creation. "It’s a picture of math."

    "Um, it’s pretty," says his mother, the English major. "Should we check it?"

    He looks steadily at me, silently considering.

    "It’s right, Mom," he finally says. "We don’t need to check it."

    I asked him last year what he wanted to be for Halloween. He just didn’t get it. I made him wear a little firefighter’s helmet so it would look like he was at least making an effort at the Halloween block party in our neighborhood.

    He took the helmet off after a few minutes and politely declined to trick-or-treat.

    "I want to hear the music," he said, sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of a little acoustic band performing near the sidewalk.

    "Should I worry about this? Is this weird?" I asked a friend. "Should I worry that he’s the world’s smallest middle-aged man? Or should I just be grateful for the intelligent company?"

    "Don’t worry," my sensible friend said. "Just let him be himself."

    Yeah, I know — children need to be themselves. But for Halloween?

    By this year, I knew Jack might want to be Jack for Halloween, and I had gotten comfortable with the idea.

    I have now had more than 5 years to study my son’s quirky internal architecture, and I’ve come around a little on the question of what constitutes a ‘normal’ child.

    "So," I asked him one week in early October, "what do you want to be for Halloween this year? You want to be Jack Fortune again? We’ve already got the outfit."

    "I want to be a red Power Ranger," he said.


    "I want to be a red Power Ranger," he said evenly. "Power Rangers are rangers with powers. They save people and fight bad guys."

    I am granted a sudden, cruel insight: I liked being the mother of the world’s smallest adult. I am not ready for Power Rangers.

    My son tells me he heard about Power Rangers from his kindergarten friends. I feel sure that every other mom in the world has had years to adjust to this idea and has long since made her peace with Power Rangers.

    I am not ready.

    But I got ready, right then and there, because letting my son be himself turns out to be a wide-ranging job description.

    "OK," I said. "Um, do they have costumes for Power Rangers, or should we make one?"

    "Oh, they have costumes," he said. "Red ones. With a mask."

    I go to Target a few days later. And there it is — a Power Ranger costume, red, shiny, with a plastic mask and bulging fake muscles in the arms and torso.

    It is unbelievably ugly. It costs $20. I buy it.

    Jack dons the costume as soon as he gets home from school, then dashes for the full-length mirror in the hallway. He stands, transfixed by the startling vision of his red Power-Rangerness.

    "Wow," he says. "I look like a totally different guy."

    Halloween came, and children were again hooting and hopping around the front yard as we gathered the herd to walk to the neighborhood block party. This time Jack was hollering along with them, resplendent in his hideous red costume.

    He dashed from house to house, gleefully collecting candy with his friends. They compared the relative merits of their costumes (we never quite settled the question of whether a ninja is tougher than a Power Ranger) and chased each other down the closed-off street.

    As dusk turned to dark and the festivities came to a close for us early-to-bed types, my red Power Ranger and I walked home hand-in-hand, toting a plastic pumpkin stuffed with candy.

    "Did you have fun?" I asked.

    Jack nodded, then looked up at me.

    "Mom," he said solemnly, "this was the best night of my life."

    And that ugly, overpriced costume suddenly looked absolutely beautiful to me. 

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