Every Halloween, My Family Tortures Me By Refusing to Do This

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. All my life, I’ve loved carving pumpkins, trick-or-treating, decorating, and above all, dressing up. I’ve been dreaming about the amazing family costumes I’d one day have since before I was pregnant with my first kid; I was seriously taking notes from Neil Patrick Harris’ family, and their over-the-top perfect costumes. That was the kind of Halloween-obsessed family I wanted to be.

But then, reality set in.

The first couple years of adjusting to motherhood– and then adjusting to having more than one kid–  caught me totally off guard. I managed a very cute wolf and little red riding hood situation when my son was two and my daughter was six months, but our Halloween game, for the most part, was pretty weak. We still hosted the yearly pumpkin carving parties that I instituted back in my college days, but with Neil Patrick Harris’ family as the gold standard, I was obviously slacking.

The next year, my husband was out of town. Solo-parenting your way through Halloween is hard.

But the next year? I was ready. I started plotting out fabulous family costumes in the summer. I had a series of brilliant ideas: a Dr. Suess themed bunch, the Addams family, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan. I was going to be so good at this. I brought these ideas to my now 4-year-old and to my shock, he vetoed each and every one. His costume of choice?

He wanted to be a vacuum.

We started watching a lot of Peter Pan in hopes of changing his mind, but it didn’t happen. (For the record: I did not make a vacuum costume, because WTF even is that? He went as Captain America, a character he did not know at all, but whom was very alluring because the costume was on display in Costco).

I thought perhaps the next year I would fare better, especially since I now had a third child (who could not yet talk) that we could dress as we pleased. I was really gunning for Khaleesi and dragons of Game of Thrones fame, because of course I was, but you know who wanted to be a dragon?

No one.

Basically, as soon as my kids could talk, they decided that themed family costumes were not going to happen. My daughter has spent two years being a cat and is prepping for year three of mermaid/princess. My oldest son? Still very much into whatever random costume he finds at Costco, even if he has no freaking idea what it is.

Last year, my youngest decided on a Lightning McQueen costume which he abandoned at the 11th hour. We moved quickly and used our face paint to transform him into a scarecrow. By the time we were ready for trick-or-treating however, he went out as “kid in overalls with smeared face-paint.” That’s when I first began to resign myself to the fact that we may never be a Neil Patrick Harris-worthy Halloween family. (Yes, it has been seven years of Halloweens. What can I say– I’m not a quitter).

This year, yet again, there will be no matching. I didn’t even have the chance to fantasize about it. Their costumes were locked in before the summer was over. We’ve got a mermaid/princess, a fire fighter, and am Army dude — all courtesy of my husband taking them all to Costco in late August, and badly wanting to leave the store with his dignity intact.

And yet, I still can’t totally give up on my matching family dream. If I just plan long enough and passionately enough, I still believe it’ll happen. My new plan is to spend the whole next year (or four?) subtly influencing them to do a family Harry Potter theme, because I have a red-haired Ron child and a girl with long Hermione hair, and my oldest is five books deep into Harry Potter.

But let’s be honest, when next Halloween rolls around, I’ll probably end up with a fourth year of “princess mermaid” and a few tasteless, mismatched Costco costumes.

Nevertheless, I’m persisting.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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