“That one.” he pointed.
The most cliched get-up they had to offer. Red synthetic fiber over cottony puffs fashioned to look like a T.V. samurai’s chiseled physique. I’m not good at it, but I try to be one of those moms that doesn’t let their kid get suckered into idolizing all the same marketing ploys as everyone else, like characters on T.V. that aren’t at least educational. Cartoon Network is the enemy. It’s the equivalent for moms of boys to Disney princesses for ones who have daughters, which is ironic in a sad sort of way for me considering I was an animation major in art school. I don’t make the rules though, and everyone knows that’s just how it is. Parents who let their children watch t.v. now are what will cripple our society down the road, which kind of makes me glad that I
got pregnant ducked out of a career in animation when I did.
I love that he likes lesser known gems like Dino Dan or even Umi-Zoomi (“Nick Jr. – It’s like preschool on T.V.!”). That way, when I have reason enough to flip it on as a last resort, I don’t feel so much like I’m letting him eat candy for breakfast. (Which I’m not afraid to admit that I do the morning after Halloween and Easter simply because, frankly, I have a soul.)
Some phases are inevitable, though. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t care about this. It’d be neat if he wasn’t one of a dozen and a half trick-or-treaters all wearing the exact same get-up. (It’d be even cooler if he didn’t mind me dressing him up like funny people he doesn’t know like Dwight from The Office or Nepoleon Dynomite’s Kip, holding the Lafawna sign). But this holiday’s about the kids and I feel strongly that it should be. Little boys will always wish they had samurai muscles and the ability to wield weaponry without accidentally dismembering themselves. For one night, they get to live it out. They get to be the hero people depend on for safety and security – kind of like the president, or, you know, Rick from The Walking Dead. So on Halloween, he was the red power ranger. Not even a classic superhero, like Batman or Donatello. He was one of a million kids around the country who chose to be the 3rd or 4th replacement spin-off of a show that sucked even it’s hay-day.
For a few minutes, helping fumble him into the right leg hole in a cramped, pitch dark dressing room with no mirror, I thought about what people would think of me because of this costume. That I had a lack of creativity? That I don’t even try teaching him to avoid gender stereotypes? That he wakes up everyday to an hour and a half of violent television? A whisper of doubt leaked into the room. I wondered if I should have tried harder to talk him into something else. I mean I know that I want him to choose for himself and be proud of the choices he’s capable of making on his own, but come on.. half this store is some variation of red Power Ranger. Evil Red Power Ranger. Sexy Red Power Ranger. Red Power Ranger costume for your dog. Sexy Red Power Ranger costume for your dog.
Then, he stepped out. I saw him.
And damn it all to hell, if he wasn’t cuter than a basket of puppies on Christmas. And happier, too. Suddenly there wasn’t, not even the dustiest corner of my soul, a shit that I could give about what his costume displayed about my parenting.
In the last episode of The Office, I chortled a little laugh into my drink when Pam dressed up as “Doctor” Cinderella for her daughter; a commentary on how little girls this generation don’t get to just like princesses anymore. There’s a stigma there, like little boys wishing they had big muscles, that disapoint a parent who’s worked so tirelessly to teach that they don’t have to reach for a stereotypical preference over any other. We go to such lengths teaching these kids that they’re free to choose only to visibly deflate when they don’t choose something gender opposite/neutral. Because… ehh, there’s just something about shaming your daughter for wanting to be a princess that seems more conscionable than shaming your son for wanting to be one.
Like anyone, some of my proudest moments are when my child shows a little stark individualism. But it strikes me that no matter how many thousands of parents avoid the Magic Kingdom on Blue-Ray like an outbreak of Pertussis or ban foam weaponry in a house of boys only to find that boys will still reach for the stick in a yard full of toys and girls will still twirl in an over-sized t-shirt, pretending it’s a gown – they won’t be convinced it has anything to do with a natural preference.
Not to say that’s a huge problem. I think even if maybe we do put a little too much weight into how imperative it is sometimes, exposing children to new experiences is not a bad thing. But I don’t think it hurts to be reminded (usually by our own children) that equality doesn’t just mean not shaming boys for wanting to play house, it also means not shaming girls for it either. If I wouldn’t want my son being a pirate because the costume at Kmart comes with a sword, then I shouldn’t jump on buying it for my daughter just because it’s the first costume she reached for all afternoon that didn’t have a trace of purple on it.
Especially if we stay focused on what started this movement in the first place, which was to avoid brainwashing them into believing they had to take on certain gender roles in the first place. I think like so many other things that a few of us have let this fight deviate from it’s original intent and become instead about a specific number of wins. We worry about Toys “R” Us categorizing their website into “girl” sections and “boy” sections (a website, by the way, children are unlikely ever to see in the first place, to be so destructively swayed), but we whine and sulk over their actual preferences time and time again – often, to their faces – if they aren’t radically different from everyone else’s.
This year, Scarlett was an elephant. My oldest daughter, who has successfully outgrown her year and a half long “I’ll throw up on you if I even smell pink” phase emotionally and socially unscathed, opted out of a red Ninja Turtle costume at the last minute and went for a giant pack of SweetTarts instead. We finished off the look with a pair of matching hot pink leg warmers and a bow that had a little bit of tulle for her hair.
All of the kids had an incredible night, falling asleep much too late on a school night to sugar-buzzed dreams while dad and I made off with a few Milky Ways in the dark. Maybe it isn’t popular opinion, but I tend to think that as long as a mom ends Halloween night with caramel in her teeth and pictures this shamelessly beautiful on her SD card, she has every right in the world to deem it a glowing parental success, and no one should stop her. I mean Halloween should not be about wearing our kids around like a fashion statement about our parenting. It should be about teaching them that strangers offer all the best candy, most super-fun things really do happen outside after dark, and Mom calls dibs on Milky Ways. End of story.