Who Are We Going To Be This Year?

Eight years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) While I’m trying to take it easy on my carpal-tunnelled wrists and still try to keep up with New Wineskins editions and work on my book, I thought I’d re-post a few of mine, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.”

(originally published October 25, 2002)

I can only remember a few of the Halloween costumes I wore as a kid: a tiger, a clown, and a dog costume.

I can clearly remember, though, the annual reaction of my neighbor, Mr. Loudermilk, upon seeing my disguise at his door. No amount of trickery could fool him. A child photographer, he was a keen observer of his son’s neighborhood companions and could recognize us a block away. So he would always say, “Hi there, Keith! Who are we this year?”

Well, we’ve finally managed to encourage our two children to decide who they would be this year. For Laura, it was not as much of a challenge. Early on in the shopping, she fastened on a sparkling pink bunny costume (Easter, not Playboy; she’s only 6). For Matthew, at 9, it was more of a struggle.

Yesterday, he settled on a shuttle astronaut’s costume with a clear faceplate and a cool inflatable backpack — kind of a sequel to last year’s Stealth fighter pilot.

That decision was the culmination of many trips to five stores and flipping through racks and racks filled with a dizzying array of choices.

I couldn’t help but notice how the selection had changed since I was a kid. Not so much the range of choices, but the proportion of scary to non-threatening options.

Sure, there were plenty of cartoon character and classic hero costumes when I was young: Mickey Mouse and Superman and Batman (though the hero costumes didn’t have built-in foam pectorals). But there were lots more of the frightening variety: vampires and wolfmen and Frankenstein monsters and witches and goblins and spooks.

You can doubtless tell by the costume choices my mom made that she read Dr. Spock, whose child manual dithered over the wisdom of “giving 3-year-old Keith a toy gun.” (Discovering it later, I wondered why in the world he had to choose MY name.)

Angi and I discovered early on with our all-boy boy that it didn’t really matter that we wouldn’t buy him a toy gun; he’d just create one from Lego blocks and go around “shooting” everything in sight. As he got older, he picked up on our distaste for guns and stopped shooting his sister, then the cats, then anything.

Then last year, about six weeks before Halloween, the world changed. Something happened that made us all long for the days when the scariest masks we could find were of former presidents.

We saw a hint of a change in Matthew’s choice of a Stealth pilot costume last year as the war effort in Afghanistan geared up. He bypassed the Jedi lords for it, since he thinks all the Star Wars movies look too violent and won’t watch them.

This year, he’s aware of snipers shooting children in schoolyards. So a few nights ago, he enlisted his sister’s help in running all over the house “shooting back at the bad people.”

Yesterday he paused a few times over this year’s newer, real-life Halloween hero selections: medical scrubs, fire and rescue jackets, police uniforms, and, yes, even a soldier.

Mr. Loudermilk’s question goes a lot deeper than it used to.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

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