My youngest daughter is very girly. Everything is princess this and princess that. With unwavering commitment she has said that when she grows up she wants to be a princess. Since she has been old enough to choose what she would be for Halloween she has been a Princess Fairy, a Princess Pirate, and this year a Princess Genie. She doesn’t understand the dichotomy of a princess in bondage to a master as a genie or a princess pirate who would otherwise be called a scurvy wench.

It occurred to me that she will likely do this princess routine until she is in high school when the descriptive “Princess” will turn to the modifier “Sexy” for every Halloween costume. Young women in high school, college, and beyond, become the Sexy Nurse, the Sexy Nun, the Sexy Baseball Player—you name it!

This made me think of my own Halloween experiences. I was a nerd for most of my life—okay, I still am. I chose clever costumes when I could. The thing with clever is that a lot of people miss the joke. Like carving a pi sign on your pumpkin for “pumpkin pi,” of course. It’s usually the sexy whoevers who condescendingly say, “I don’t get it. But oh my God, you’re so clever!”

As the youngest of four kids, Halloween was always sort of a bust for me. My costumes were usually hand-me-downs or odds and ends I put together to make something … something clever. If I did have my own, brand new costume, it was stiff with practicality. In first grade I was Miss America with a costume my mom ordered from the Sears catalog complete with a vinyl red cape, so I could sit down on it instead of the blacktop during the parade at school, my mother pointed out. It moved like a bathmat and smelled like one too.

One year, I think fourth grade, my mother was so excited that I could borrow a costume from a friend of hers. It was a spider. This woman had connected extra spider arms to the long sleeves of a black leotard. When you moved each arm, these two prosthetic spider arms moved with your arms. Your own legs in black tights completed the arachnoid’s appendages.

“Oh, it’s so darling!” my mother gushed. Right up until she made me put a coat on over it to trick-or-treat.

“Mom, it COVERS THE COSTUME!” I objected.

“It doesn’t matter, you are not catching a cold!”

The coat was tan and nubby and smelled like mothballs. The whole night people asked me what I was. “I’m a spider in Alaska! Duh!”

“Oh, that’s clever!” they’d say handing me a pack of SweeTarts.

It didn’t really occur to me in high school that people were focusing on sexy costumes until my boyfriend and I were going to one of those huge parties in a warehouse. It was one of those parties where you didn’t dare drink the punch without consequences. And you had better not want to use the bathroom because if the line didn’t get you, the lack of toilet paper would.

We were late, we hadn’t planned for costumes and were at a total loss for any clever ideas. At the last minute he suggested we go as bums. We pulled out some of my stepfather’s old clothing from a bag ready to go to Goodwill, stuffed pillows in our shirts and pants, and to look really authentic, we took advantage of his clever idea to give the impression of razor stubble on our faces.

We smeared Vaseline on our chins, cheeks and above our lips, then pressed on coffee grounds. Well, it should have been coffee grounds, but all we had in the house was instant coffee. It started emulsifying into coffee paste on our faces before we got to the car.

I was laughing, I thought it was funny and I was happy to be with my boyfriend. Then we got to the sexy warehouse party with all of his sexy high school classmates: the Sexy Witch, the Sexy Cigarette Salesgirl, the Sexy Nurse, Nun, Girl Scout, Cop, and Plumber (don’t ask).

I justified that they had to look like that because they’re single. I, on the other hand, was secure with my boyfriend, stuffed torso, and no eye makeup.

“Wow, Katie, look at you!” my boyfriend drooled.

“Leslie,” he said to me, “have you ever seen Tammie look so good?”

I hate you and I hate Halloween.

“What smells like coffee?” Sexy Bumblebee asked. “Oh, how clever!”

Since then, I vowed to never put anything yucky on my face for Halloween again. From then on, when I dress-up for Halloween, I have worn normal make-up, usually more glamorous than usual, curled my hair, worn cute clothes and perhaps added a hat. I was a sexy witch and wore a beautiful black, strapless, velvet and lace dress and a witch hat, a cowgirl with a beaded vest, a sorority girl with Greek letters on every article of clothing. No masks, no pillows adding girth, and no instant coffee.

As mom, I no longer dress up, but I make sure my Princesses get as much pink and glitter as they want at Halloween and I always buy an appropriate-colored turtleneck for each of them to wear under their costumes just in case it’s cold out. How clever!

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