With Halloween begins the mean season for women. Worse even than the three months of summer and bathing suits.
Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Three months of unfulfilled expectations -- yours and those everyone has of you.
A time when you are required to change decorations more frequently than you change sheets. A time of family rituals you can't quite get off the ground.
First comes Halloween, to test your skills with a sewing machine and a glue gun. Then Thanksgiving, when someone says, "Oh, is this Cool Whip?" and you burst into tears or a rage. It all peaks at Christmas, when those you love buy you things that tell you once again they don't know anything about you.
I start each fall behind in my preparations, and each day the department store displays remind me I am behinder still.
This holiday season has begun ominously. My children's Halloween costumes are not homemade. I bought them. Hey, I'm not proud of it. But right now, I'd buy a pre-cut pumpkin if I could find it.
I don't even have time to steal ideas out of magazines as my sister does. Her daughter is going to be a picnic table -- draped in red-checked cloth, plastic food hot-glued all over her, and carrying a picnic basket. Is that cute, or what?
My husband handles all the creative aspects of our family life, like school projects and science fairs, but he has been locked in mortal combat with our son for weeks over the construction of his fifth-grade castle project.
Gary has always made the Halloween costumes, but I don't feel I can stress the system, if you know what I mean. We either look like the ideal family for one night of the year or our son makes it into middle school.
So, on the advice of a friend, I pile the kids in the car and head for Party City, a kind of Halloween nightmare. Everything in the store is either orange, black, gross or emits an electronic scream if you bump it. I have a headache before we are out of the plastic spiders aisle.
Jessie decides to be a flapper. She doesn't know what a flapper is -- try explaining the Jazz Age to an 8-year-old -- but the sparkles and the swinging fringe on the dress in the brochure touch the Barbie that is very close to her surface.
Joe, my 10-year-old, wants to be "G.I. Joseph." He likes the gun. Hey, Joe would dress as a nurse if nurses carried rifles.
All over Party City, clerks wearing headsets like the drive-through workers at McDonald's bark out commands to the stockroom. "No. 53. Flapper. Child, size medium."
Word comes through the headset that they are out of flappers. Out of "Jasmine," too, so Jessie asks for a generic harem-girl costume that could pass for Jasmine.
(The clerk asks if I want that in an adult size or a child's size. Are you kidding me? I have two kids. I haven't exposed my midriff in eight years.)
When I point out to Jessie that the boys in her class will see her bare midriff, she thinks better of it. "I can't decide between the French maid and the sorceress," she tells me. "I know what you mean," I think to myself. "A couple glasses of wine and I can't decide, either."
Jessie briefly considers being a slave girl, but she is confused. She just finished reading "Follow the Drinking Gourd" in school, the story of the Underground Railroad, and she wonders why the costume comes with a veil and harem pants. "Different slaves, Jessie," I tell her.
She goes with the sorceress. The gold glitter wand sold her, I think.
(At home later, I am subjected to much second-guessing. "Fails the first test of a Halloween costume," my husband pronounces after seeing Jessie in her sorceress costume. "It doesn't work if people have to ask, 'And what are you?' Scars the kids, too," he says. "What famous women sorceresses were there?"
("I think they turned men into toads," I mutter, seething.)
Party City is out of G.I. Joseph, too. I push the ghost costume. "This is a classic," I say. Joe rolls his eyes. He finds a $12 toy rifle and tells me he will build his costume around that.
"Do you want a mask?" I ask Joe. "No," he says, looking at me as if I am an idiot. "Why would I want to hide my face?"
"Just one of those old-fashioned Halloween traditions," I reply.
We are near the exit when the kids spot the plastic pumpkin buckets for collecting candy. No deal, I say. I will make your candy sacks out of old pillow cases.
' That much I can handle.