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The Halloween Dictator

Photograph by Getty Images

Halloween is here, and so is the annual treat of helping my son find that perfect Halloween costume. But the trick is agreeing upon what the perfect costume for my 11-year old son is, exactly.

Up until last year, it was easy. He, like most little boys, always wanted to be a superhero. And being that there was usually at least one superhero movie out every year, he didn’t have to look far to be inspired. And since for so many years it was just the two of us, I would dress up as his superhero counterpart. That made things easy for me, as well. When he was Batman, I was Robin. When he was Spiderman, I was the black Spiderman. When he was the blue Power Ranger, I was the red Power Ranger. There I was, always getting in on his costume action, in a boy’s size large with a massive wedgie. And he didn’t mind. In fact, he loved having me by his side as his superhero backup.

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But a few years ago my son decided he was over the superhero thing. I was a bit sad that the little boy superhero phase was over, but I did realize that we’d played that crime-fighting duo thing out, and it was time to switch it up. Since my son has a killer sense of humor and wit, I thought maybe we could move on to doing famous comedic duos. We could do Abbot and Costello, The Smothers Brothers, Cheech and Chong! I settled on us being the popular '80s duo, Hall and Oates. I bought the wigs, mustaches and located muscle tees and Members Only jackets. But alas, not only did he have no idea who the hell Hall and Oates were, but he was also still very much a little boy wanting to wear little boy costumes. Instead that year he chose some weird, generic SWAT team costume. And much as I wanted to be his cool SWAT teammate, I couldn’t get on board with it (i.e., I couldn’t find a boy’s large SWAT costume). He was venturing into a new costume zone. “Oh no," I thought, "we’re not on the same costume page anymore!”

Last year I put my foot down when he begged me for one of those weird “morph man” costumes. You know, the full-on, monochrome body suit which also covers the head and face. As much as I wanted him to be happy with his costume, once I saw him try it on, I had to say no. “You are basically wearing a unitard,” I said to him in an annoyed tone. “A cheaply made, overpriced, ill-fitting unitard.” I get that my son was going for the funny by wearing something weird. But his young age canceled out the funny and just made it super awkward and strange. At least, that’s what I thought.

After I had shot down two or three more of his 10-year-old boy ideas for a funny costume, the big day had snuck up on us, and we ended up having to pull something together last minute. He wore his football uniform and I painted his face and he went trick-or-treating as a zombie football player. We were both pretty bummed about it. It was neither funny nor scary, and definitely not a costume about which he was excited. I felt bad that I had shot down all of his costume ideas. But I felt even worse knowing that I took all the excitement out of his experience, and undermined his ideas just because I was so focused on my own idea of the perfect costume. I had become a Halloween costume dictator. I’d become a Halloween costume control freak!

I insisted that there was a better costume out there and took him to the Halloween store where we walked the aisles four or five times, at least.

Last week I asked my son what he wanted to be for Halloween this year. He looked at me and confidently said, "Duck Dynasty. I want to be one of the dudes from Duck Dynasty." What!? I started to get annoyed. "But you don’t even watch Duck Dynasty! Have you ever even seen one episode of that show? Everyone will be wearing a Duck Dynasty costume this year. You can do better than that." I insisted that there was a better costume out there and took him to the Halloween store where we walked the aisles four or five times, at least. He couldn’t find anything he liked, and we left empty-handed. I kept telling him, “We’ll go home and think about something really funny. We’ll figure out your outfit.”

Later that night, I called my son over to the kitchen table and motioned for him to sit down. Rubbing my hands together in anticipation of a Halloween costume brainstorming session, I said, “So, what kind of costume would you like to wear?” And he answered, “Since I’ve already told you, and you thought it was dumb, what kind of costume am I allowed to wear?” Ouch.

How did I allow myself to do it again? What kind of asshole am I? He had already chosen his costume. And though I found it unoriginal and weird—being that he’d never even seen the show—it was what he wanted to be for Halloween. I had totally cut off his decision-making ability at the knees. I’ve tried to raise my son to be independent, to be himself and not care what others think. So why was I sending him the opposite message regarding a Halloween costume?

Tomorrow I’m going to take my son back to the Halloween store to purchase a Duck Dynasty costume. It’s all right if it’s not original. Or funny. Or clever. It’s even all right if my son has not ever even seen the damn reality show, I guess. I need to allow him his opinion, his decisions, his own creativity. I need to allow him to be an 11-year-old kid. As long as he’s choosing costumes appropriate to his age, I can do that.

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Lucky for me, I now have an 11-month-old baby girl, which means at least seven more years of Halloween duos! I’m already preparing for a Cinderella and Wicked Stepmother costume situation. For the mother-daughter Incredibles duo. For Winona and Naomi Judd...

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