I was already irritated about my town’s Halloween event being deemed a “Fall Family Festival” when I opened my first-grade son’s school folder to find an orange Halloween flyer.
It requested parents send in each kid's costume in a bag labeled with their name, and it laid out strict rules for costumes at school: no masks, no makeup, no weapons.
I was hit with disappointment.
These rules, which have become common at schools around the country, are well-meaning, but they make me nostalgic for the Halloween celebrations of my childhood. While I acknowledge that my recollections may be imperfect, as I’m now in my late 30s and my memories were likely forged in the throes of a sugar high, I don’t remember any restrictive rules like these during my own school years. It makes me sad about my son’s sanitized Halloween experience.
On the rule prohibiting weapons, I should first point out that I’m not a fan of guns, pretend or otherwise. Whenever my son talks about buying a toy gun or about guns in general, I usually respond with, “I don’t like guns.” During a recent visit to the toy department at Target to use a gift card, I successfully steered him away from his first choice of a Nerf gun to the more benign Nerf walkie-talkies.
Once it’s stripped of lightsaber and mask, all that will remain of my son’s costume will be black robes.
Still, couldn’t the school replace the “no weapons” rule with one that simply specifies no toy guns? My son, a "Star Wars" fan, is dressing up as Kylo Ren this year, and with the current restriction, he can’t bring his lightsaber—a pretty essential prop for the costume. I also see some gray areas with a “no weapons” pronouncement. Is Harry Potter’s wand a weapon? The books make it clear that wands can kill. What about a "Ghostbusters" proton pack? If the school is worried about kids whacking one another with play weapons, teachers could explain to the students that a single inappropriate use of a costume prop means it will be confiscated immediately.
The reason for the ban on masks is less apparent. I do vividly remember the Halloween safety warnings we received as kids, which, along with, “Have your parents check your candy before you eat it,” included, “When you go trick-or-treating, don’t wear a mask that makes it hard for you to see at night.” But inside my son’s classroom, and in the bus loop where he and his classmates will march in a Halloween parade, it won’t be dark at all. And so many costumes revolve around masks—or at least include them—that this rule seems a bit ridiculous.
The “no makeup” part makes even less sense to me. The only thing I can think of is that face paint can be messy and could rub off on clothing and other things, but my son occasionally comes home with remnants of lunch on his shirt or dirt on his pants anyway, and I’m sure plenty of kids bring potentially messy foods for their daily snack time. I recognize that a bunch of 6-year-olds applying costume makeup at school would probably be a disaster, albeit a colorful one, but then why can’t kids come to school already wearing face paint? It’s Halloween! (Actually, that’s how I want to respond to each point on the flyer: “But it’s Halloween!”) Taking away the options to paint your face or cover it with a mask truly limits the number of potential costumes for kids. (So why is my son dressing up as Kylo Ren, you ask? We bought the costume this summer so he could wear it at a Comic Con we went to—so it’s doing double duty. #savingtips)
Once it’s stripped of lightsaber and mask, all that will remain of my son’s costume will be black robes. This will not suggest Kylo Ren at all, but instead, a Benedictine monk. I imagine our family years from now, looking at photos from the school Halloween parade and trying to figure out what my son’s costume was supposed to be. A tiny goth, perhaps? A fangless Dracula? Severus Snape?
Speaking of books, one final request on the flyer read, “For our Halloween celebration at school, we encourage all children to dress up as a character from a book.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I love books. I want my son to be an avid reader like I was as a kid (and still am), and we read together every night at bedtime. But this is yet another condition placed on kids’ costumes. The school already does so much to encourage reading, which is great. My son’s homework requires him to read or listen to a parent read for 15 minutes a day, his teacher carves out time for “D.E.A.R.” (Drop Everything and Read) every afternoon, students go to the school library every week to check out books, and Scholastic book order forms come home every month. It wouldn’t hurt to simply let kids dress up in any costume they choose on Halloween—that’s half the fun. (The other half, of course, is gorging yourself on candy.) In response to this part of the Halloween flyer, a friend of mine whose child goes to my son’s school asked, “Why can’t they just let kids be kids?”
Besides, it’s clear—to me at least—that “book costumes vs. non-book costumes” isn’t a simple good/bad dichotomy. My son’s last two Halloween costumes were a germ and the Mars Rover (his own ideas), and they were fun, creative and even educational. And with so many movie novelizations and merchandising tie-ins today, many children’s “books” are simply based on movies and TV anyway, from "Pokémon" to "My Little Pony" to superheroes of all sorts. While Kylo Ren’s origin is a film, technically he is also a character from a book. But the school’s flyer still makes me worry that my son’s choice of costume will be viewed in a negative light—not by other kids, but by teachers and staff, and not of my kid but of me.
We’re going to follow the rules, of course. On October 31, my son will get on the school bus with his costume in a bag, leave his lightsaber and mask at home, and refrain from painting his face. That evening, he’ll get a chance to go trick-or-treating with his full Kylo Ren costume. I just wish his school’s Halloween celebration had a little more of the Dark Side.
Image via Kate Antoniades