It was October 1997, and our first child was two years old. When he was an infant, I didn’t want to be like those parents who dress their babies up as pea pods or puppy dogs and parade them house to house. Everyone would know I was just showing off … and collecting candy for myself.
But now that Hayden was walking and talking, there was a plausible excuse to go trick-or-treating.
Admittedly, Hayden would have been perfectly happy spending the night at home watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on our VHS tape player in his footed pjs. Furthermore, we lived in a village near my husband’s duty station at JAC Molesworth, England, where no one trick-or-treated on Halloween anyway.
But I wasn’t about to let English custom ruin my fun.
I took advantage of Hayden’s happy oblivion, and formulated a costume idea without his input. In a pathetic ploy for laughs, I decided to transform my chunky little boy into a perfect replica of Elvis Presley. A battery-operated microphone and toy electric guitar would ensure that Hayden would play along.
Before Halloween, I measured, cut, and pieced together lilac polyester gabardine into wide bell-bottomed pants, an open shirt with huge tab collars and flared sleeves, and a purple metallic lamé cape. My grandmother’s old costume jewelry produced a tacky medallion necklace to complete the ensemble.
On Halloween night, I wrestled Hayden into the outfit while he whined for the comfort of his Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls. The shirt I’d sewn didn’t quite cover his toddler belly, but this added authenticity. He was portraying 1970s Elvis after all, when pills, booze and too many fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches had widened the icon’s girth.
After I slicked Hayden’s fine hair back with gel and drew pork-chop sideburns on his cheeks with an eyebrow pencil, he was ready.
We headed to the American military housing on RAF Alconbury, where trick-or-treating had been planned. Once there, our friends could not stop laughing at Hayden’s retro get-up. They snapped photos, while Hayden gazed obliviously at their jack-o-lanterns, and I grinned with self-satisfaction.
Hayden’s interest in the whole charade piqued early, when our friends gave him a King-sized Milky Way to kick off his first trick-or-treating experience. Although Hayden had eaten plenty of birthday cake, he had never tried candy. We peeled the wrapper down and handed the bar to him. Like the toy microphone, Hayden did what toddlers do — he put it in his mouth. His eyes widened and his chubby fist gripped tighter around the bar, where it would remain the rest of the night.
By the time we left our friends’ house, it was 7:00 pm. Normally at this time, Hayden would be in my lap, sleepily twirling his fingers through my hair. No sooner did we approach the next porch, than Hayden whined to be carried. Not wanting melted chocolate in my hair, I buckled Hayden into his stroller and we carried on.
Try as we might, Hayden would not say, “Trick-or-treat!” So, we did it for him, while he sat, semi-reclined with chocolate around his mouth, one hand twirling his own sticky hair, and the other one still gripped around the half-melted Milky Way.
Elvis would be so proud.
At the fourth or fifth house, I realized that it would be cruel to go on. Hayden had mouthed the Milky Way down to a gooey nub, and was whining for his binky and teddy bears.
Hayden fell asleep on the ride home, where I carefully peeled the costume off his pudgy frame, and used diaper wipes to swab away melted chocolate, sideburns and hair gel. Finally in his beloved footed pjs, I lowered him gently into bed.
In the glimmer of his Winnie the Pooh night light, I paused a moment to wonder if I’d been a bad mother. As if on cue, Hayden’s heavy eyelids opened, and he smiled up at me before nuzzling back into his teddy bears.
“Love you, too, punkin’,” I whispered, silently promising him many Happy Halloweens to come.