I wrestle my 4-year-old into his costume as he wiggles and squirms and gloriously laughs with his head thrown back. He’s the most ticklish of the four and every time I grab his hand to pull it through a sleeve or brush his longish hair out of the way to fasten the velcro at the back of his neck, he’s sent into a fit of giggles.
Once he’s been successfully transformed into Optimus Prime, I move on to his baby sister. She’s not yet one and a half and finds it a delicious game to try to escape down the hall as I chase after her. As this is the third time putting her into her costume, we have a familiar back and forth now. I put her foot into the leg hole; she pulls it out. I shove her arm into the sleeve; she pulls it out. This continues until, through my own sheer willpower and speed, I’m able to force her into the little pink monster costume before she is able to undo all of my hard work.
The two big girls can get into their costumes on their own, but they still require Mom’s tutu-fluffing and sleeve un-twisting skills. They need their hair done. They need their picture taken. They need my thumbs-up when they ask, “Do I look ahhhh-mazing, Mom?”
For them, Halloween is magical and delicious, permission to play dress-up and eat more candy than they’re normally allowed. For me, maybe for moms everywhere, it’s misery. Getting four kids into and out of their costumes over and over and over again must be what Hell is like. I can think of no greater torture.
After our weekend trunk-or-treating festivity, there is an explosion throughout the house of costume pieces that have been discarded by the kids as they transformed back into their adorabley average human children selves. I scramble around, trying to collect them all, keeping each piece with the right costume so as not to have a complete meltdown by one kid on The Big Day (i.e. Halloween) because of a missing headset or gold belt.
It’s too much and I hate it all. Do they have a Halloween Scrooge costume? Because that’s what I should be wearing this season. It’s just too damn much.
A few nights ago, I spent a half hour searching for their trick-or-treat bags, followed by another twenty minutes laying out winter coats and boots for them to wear at the school Halloween carnival last night. I spent the good part of summer listening to three out of four of them brainstorm costume ideas. There is glitter all over my bed from my daughter’s rockstar costume. And in the kitchen, there are three plastic bags filled to the brim with candy. It’s not yet Halloween, and our lives are already overrun by Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. Earlier in the day, I had to endure The Great Negotiation of 2019 with my oldest daughter, as she argued why they should each be allowed to have five pieces of candy from their bags, plus the bowl of candy corn and Mike and Ikes that she was given at the Harvest Festival. I also had to carefully comb through her younger sister’s bag of candy to remove anything with dairy and nuts in it because of her allergies. I’m tired.
November 1st can’t come fast enough.
So then, why do it? Why engage in this annual song and dance of costumes and candy and “No, you may not eat anymore today,” and “Please stop asking” and “If you steal another piece from your sister’s bag, I will…” I mean, why put ourselves through that?
After lunch today, I was helping my son get into the shoes that matched his costume and he said so sweetly, “Thank you for letting me be Prime, Mommy. Okay, Mommy? Thank you.” He’s my wild child right now, full of energy and giggles and silliness and sometimes aggression. He’ll tackle you to the ground when you least expect it. He’ll throw a Magic 8 Ball at your head and bulldoze you as you stand at the stove cooking dinner. But of all his siblings, he is the one who always notices if someone is sad or upset. When I have my period, he rubs my achy tummy. And this crazy, unpredictable boy of mine, he has a heart overflowing with gratitude.
I think back to two weeks ago, when his costume first arrived in the mail and he was nearly shaking from excitement at the possibility of trying it on for the first time. After we did the first of many transformations, his eyes lit up as he stared into the mirror and straight into the eyes of one of his favorite characters. “Oh, thank you, Mommy,” he said. “This is the best!”
And suddenly, the answer is so clear why we do it.
The answer is so simple.
Because we love them.
We do it for love.
When my oldest daughter was almost three, she became a big sister. Naturally, it was a hard transition, especially for her. One day, I was exhausted from having a newborn (duh). I hadn’t showered in almost a week, had dried spit-up on the shoulder of my shirt, and I had dishes to do. But my daughter was whiny and irritable that morning, and the baby was sleeping and so I asked my 3-year-old if she wanted me to play with her. “Oh yes!” she said enthusiastically in her tiny voice and so we played with her princess castle for twenty minutes.
It was the most boring twenty minutes of my life.
Call me a bad mom, but I do not love playing with my kids. But I did it then on that day years and years ago and I did it over and over again, every morning, for weeks. I didn’t really want to be there. I wanted to be doing dishes or sipping a coffee or, best of all, napping. But my daughter needed me. She needed my presence. She needed my undivided attention.
I played with her because I loved her.
And so it goes for Halloween and every other task we do. Some of them we do because we want to, yes. For me, that’s the photo books I make every year and the annual Christmas Tree Interview I conduct with each child and a myriad of other things, of course. But many of the things we moms and dads do, we do because we have to. Or because we’re supposed to. And yet all of them? All of them are done because we love them.
Them, who know the right buttons to push and like to push them all the time.
Them, who turned our hearts inside out and our worlds upside down the moment they came into our lives.
Them, who we’d die for.
Because we love them, we play Barbies and cars and Littlest Pet Shop ad nauseum. Because we love them, we play Candy Land until our brains bleed. We read the same book over and over. We listen to the shrill squeak of a violin that is just learning to be played. We watch them do a somersault again and again and clap every time. We push them on the swings when we’d rather be sitting down reading a book. We sit on the sidelines of a soccer game on the coldest day of the year. We hold them as they puke, comfort their fears in the middle of the night, kiss the booboo that is barely there because it makes them feel better. We make them get vaccines, or we choose not to. We try to breastfeed even though it’s hard. We spend a small fortune to take them to Disneyland. And when we can’t do one of these things, or we choose not to, we feel guilt because we think we should. And all of it? However easy or hard, small or big, all of it is done because we love them.
So know that on Halloween, as all the neighborhood children pour out onto the streets to sweetly ask for a trick or a treat through gaps in their teeth, I will be there too, following behind four little ones of my own, reminding them not to drag their candy bags on the ground and to stay close so as not to get lost in the sea of other monsters, superheroes, and celebrities. I may be counting down the minutes until the night is over, but I will be there. Because I love them.
And after they’re tucked into their beds at night and I know for certain that they are asleep, I will sit down with a hand full of candy, stolen from the bag of the little ones I just put to bed. A little reward to myself for surviving the last week. I’ve earned it.
But also, isn’t it obvious? Cavities and sugar highs and stuff. They don’t need that. Every bite of Skittles and Twix that I take, I’m doing it in the name of love.
I’m doing it because I love them.