A piece of bubble gum and a starlight mint candy.
That was what my two daughters told me they wanted to be for Halloween last year. I immediately texted the information to my husband, punctuated by three words: “We freaking rock!”
It was actually the first time we’d given them a choice. Previously, Halloween had been a totalitarian regime. Blair, six, had trick-or-treated in years past wearing only mother-sanctioned attire: a giraffe, then a bumblebee, then a jaguar. All fuzzy. All cute. All little-girl-y. Drew, our four-year-old, had worn all the same costumes in the same order, because that’s what happens when you’re the younger sister and not old enough to care about what a control freak your mother is.
Last year, though, they both most certainly cared. And even as I asked the question, I was terrified of their answers. I expected requests for things along the lines of “cheerleader,” “mermaid,” “Hannah Montana” or “bunny,” knowing each would have translated in my mind to “stripper.”
When, instead, they asked to dress up as the things they happened to love most at that particular moment in their lives—gum and mint—I felt as though I’d won. That “Sexy and I Know It” song, which they’d heard somewhere and wouldn’t stop singing, be damned. And that second-grade girl who wore makeup to school? She was invisible to us. My fascism had paid off: My little girls were still little girls.
And so like Martha Stewart on meth I rushed to Jo-Ann Fabrics, spending way too much on white poster paper (which I cut into two big circles to make a sandwich board) and red tempura paint (which I used to artfully draw swirls on those circles). I bought shiny silver wrapping paper (which I spray-adhesived to a vest I’d cut out of cardboard to make a “gum wrapper”) and a pink balloon (which I blew up and tied to a pink headband to be the “bubble”).
When the girls first saw their costumed selves in the full-length mirror, Drew began jumping up and down very fast, and Blair screamed like, well, like a little girl, then ran and tackled me in a hug: “I love you, Mommy!”
That night, they couldn’t walk fast enough to the Monster Mash party at their elementary school. Drew the Starlight Mint charged right into the fray of kids doing the limbo. But Blair the Bubble Gum? She stepped through the gym door as though she fully expected a spotlight to shine down on her, to be followed by wild applause and, maybe, a gong. She zipped over to her group of friends—among them a gypsy, a genie and a black kitten—and I sat down on one of the metal lunch tables pulled out from the wall.
“Did you make those?” one mother asked.
“Those are the coolest costumes ever!” she exclaimed.
Yet just as I was about to explain that they were the girls’ own ideas, a pink balloon was tossed into my lap. Standing in front of me was a six-year-old with tears in her eyes.
“I’m embarrassed,” she whispered in my ear. “I should have been a gypsy.”
And I realized: This was it. This very moment was it: the beginning of the end.