Fall Traditions, Old and New

By Aimee Tafreshi

In August, my family made a cross-country move from a beautiful, pristine island in the northeast corner of Florida to the wide open, dusty spaces of West Texas. We arrived just in time for the beginning of the new school year and hurriedly ordered school uniforms and supplies as our first order of business. Still living in a corporate rental with most of our worldly belongings in storage, we took a triage approach to life, prioritizing the creation of a sense of normalcy while in housing limbo.

When we arrived in Midland, my husband relished the zero humidity heat. He is one of those people who will proclaim that 114 degrees isn’t so bad without the added moisture in the air. While I am inclined to agree, I felt slightly nostalgic for the muggy dampness of the usual southeastern and Central Texas summer and complained that the sun felt more intense here, amplified by the lack of trees.

When we face transitions in life, the world goes on with business as usual; the sun still rises and sets, and the seasons change. It was with some excited anticipation that I awaited the first cold spell in Midland and realized that none of our five children had appropriate winter gear, or even as much as a windbreaker. During our hasty exit from Florida, there was not enough room on the U-Haul for our winter clothes, so they were relegated to storage. Sadly, I didn’t even pack a pair of fall boots, which for any woman who cares much about footwear, is a major fashion dilemma. We might be able to wear socks with flip flops during a “Florida winter,” but here in Midland’s more desert-like climate, it actually gets cold.

As I counted down the days until the temperature would dip into the 30s, I convinced my more fiscally conservative spouse that a shopping trip for fall attire was in order. An upside to living in a larger city is better access to shopping. There isn’t a Nordstrom, but there is a Dillard’s, Old Navy and Banana Republic (Outlet). On Amelia Island, I had to drive over an hour to visit a mall. As I presently walked into various retail stores, I felt overwhelmed by the choices and sheer abundance of clothes. I promptly got over that feeling and put a big dent in my budget at Carter’s and Gymboree so my kids wouldn’t freeze in the unfettered winds of West Texas.

As the cooler temps arrived, I began to feel happiness again. Fall is my favorite time of the year, and it’s not because Starbucks was now offering pumpkin spiced lattes. I love the feel of the breeze on my arms before it’s too cold to wear a t-shirt. Autumn also happily coincides with football season, the perfect excuse to veg out all day Saturday with Game Day and the best match-ups. (Who are we kidding?—we have 5 kids!—but we watch what we can. We’ve managed to turn one into a football fanatic and are working on the others.) My husband and I have taken turns at the local fields watching our 8-year-old son experience his own “Friday Night Lights” during his flag football games. I love just sitting and watching, pausing from life to take a breath and let someone else do the running around.

We’ve also explored the local family-run farm—they seem to have these all over America judging from my friends’ Facebook feeds—where the kids cheer on piglets as they race, play tug of war and roll down the field in a big barrel. There’s something refreshing and freeing about letting your kids run loose on a big tract of land with old-fashioned entertainment, no charger required. We have visited this agricultural wonder three times now and have enjoyed different experiences each visit. My favorite new memory is probably seeing my kindergartner fly down a metal slide sitting on a burlap sack with a look of half terror and half exhilaration on his face. (I had to explain what “burlap” is.) I loved that I could set my 15-month-old twins down and not worry about lack of child proofing or them getting into trouble. Hay, dirt and grass are good for the soul.

This past week was a great example of new traditions paired with some old ones. The week didn’t start off with the highest expectations. I found out my husband would be away on business for the week of Halloween. For some people, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But for me, Halloween is one of my top three holidays. The image in my head of the whole fam dressed up as The Incredibles instantly went poof. (We would have been in good company with the fifty percent of American families who dressed up as this brood of superheroes.)

Not one to be deterred, I gamely took the kids to a pop-up Halloween store where they picked out non-coordinating costumes including a character from Harry Potter (I couldn’t tell you her name if I tried) and Dracula (I sadly noted that a duplicate vampire costume collected dust in storage). My oldest son and I originally had big plans for him to dress as a “Zombie businessman,” one of those original ideas that sounds easy until you realize it will take one to two trips to thrift stores, the effort of deconstructing the second-hand clothes into zombie threads and the artful application of make-up (or face paint, as I tell my boys) to achieve the desired ghoulish effect. I love nothing more than playing with face paint, but two lurking toddlers would likely thwart my artistic efforts. So we dialed it in and decided for my second grader to channel Dallas Cowboys’ player Dak Prescott, a costume choice that would require minimal time and effort. I silently thanked my son for choosing this slacker option. A more ambitious mom would have at least zombie-fied the quarterback.

With not enough time (or the desire to spend one hundred more dollars), I forwent the Etsy option for the twins and found some cute Bert and Ernie costumes on Amazon. When the day arrived, I realized that I absolutely couldn’t go as myself, as scary as that would be, so I headed to Party City at 8 a.m. and found a budget-friendly witch costume in the young at heart but, let’s face it, middle-aged, soccer mom section. And of course, I needed an authentic looking broom stick (every mom should own one—how did I not have one?), witchy head piece, ‘90s style Goth black choker and classy spider web tights to complete the look. We were finally ready to make our Halloween debut in Midland.

Unfortunately, the perfect mix of summer sunshine and autumnal breeze dancing around earlier in the week made way for its ugly cousin: cold, rainy and dreary. It was Mother Nature’s cruel Halloween parlor trick. When we headed out the door, the thermometer showed 48 degrees, and we lacked layers, outerwear, and most importantly, common sense. After all the work that poured into costuming multiple kiddos, taking bad photos and the resulting EF5 devastation in our too-small temporary home, there was no turning back. As we rounded the block, the babies were too cold to cry, reduced to a look of shock. My timid Dracula deadpanned to an adult, “I want to eat you,” a slight deviation from our rehearsed “I want to suck your blood,” spoken with a vampire accent.

My exuberant sons also attempted to beat the crap out of a jolly adult dressed up as an inflatable T-Rex. I finally had to ruin the Halloween magic and yell, “Stop beating him up! There’s a real human inside that costume!!!” The final dramatic moment occurred when we witnessed an English Bulldog gallop free from his owner and proceed to pee and poop all over the pebbles (we have rocks, not grass, in these parts). The stout fellow then turned his attention toward us, charging me and Dak Prescott, who screamed, “He’s going to attack us now!” I prepared to shield the babies in their stroller, and the pup ran full speed toward me and jumped up on my dress in a flash, aiming his slobbery jaws toward my lips. I simultaneously wondered if there were poopy paw prints all over my new witchy get-up and how I could dognap this slobbery blob of pure love and happiness. Alas, he sprinted back to his amused owner.

After trick-or-treating on two streets, we returned home with frozen limbs and overflowing buckets of candy, just what we needed on a school night. The babies were never happier to be in their cribs, their pale chubby arms felt like cool ice packs, and I hoped they would thaw out overnight. Despite the Arctic blast, the older sons were ecstatic—I think my daughter was too; she was frozen like Audrey from Christmas Vacation and could only nod and grunt.

As I began to clean up the scary mess that was Halloween, I breathed a sigh of relief that another holiday was in the books. Now I could look forward to Thanksgiving, where my dear mother would do most of the cooking and cleaning, thank the Lord. (Sorry Mom!)

The Clark Griswold Approach to Halloween

By: Aimee Tafreshi

Halloween pic 2014

Ever since I was a little girl, Halloween takes the pumpkin as my favorite holiday. I inherited my love of this spooky night from my dad. He traveled a lot while we were kids, but I have distinct memories of him being present for All Hallows’ Eve. One year he dressed up as Dracula and sat on the porch with a stoic expression on his face. With his jet-black hair and athletic physique, he made for an imposing and convincing Count. Some of the neighborhood kids wouldn’t even walk up to the porch because they were too terrified of my father in character.

He always insisted that Halloween was for scary costumes, so I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a princess gown. I recall wearing an unflattering pumpkin suit or roaming around as a sleek black cat. (My little sister got to be a cute Texas cheerleader.) My best friend and I unabashedly trick-or-treated throughout high school and one year wore panty hose over our faces. I’m not sure what our intended costumes were other than ironic and juvenile delinquents.

College brought with it Halloween-themed parties and venues for displaying our creative ensembles (or cleavage) at downtown venues. I remember those younger years, driving over to the vintage costume boutique on South Congress in Austin, where the racks overflowed with velvety garments and glittering costume jewelry. The possibilities were endless. As an added bonus, you could rent or buy your outfit, so you weren’t stuck with a costly Bride of Frankenstein gown hanging in your closet. One year I purchased a beautiful white flapper gown that would still work for today (I was the sucker that bought my costume).

Another time in college, my friends and I decided to go as The Brady Bunch. I remember combing through vintage stores, as well as the clearance section at department stores, putting together my perfect Marcia Brady creation. Many hours were spent envisioning the concept for this look, as well as hunting down the retro attire and accessories.

Flash forward to three kids later, and Halloween took a tumble off the broomstick in terms of priority. Four years ago, with a preschooler and a baby, we did manage to pull together a respectable Peter Pan family theme complete with Captain Hook, Wendy, Tinker Bell and Tick-Tock the Crocodile. (Family themes are like the Holy Grail of Halloween – they are difficult to achieve and rarely seen.) I don’t even remember the Halloween after my third child was born. At some point as a mom of young children, you feel successful if you can snag the last XL Halloween themed shirt at Target to cover up your postpartum belly and look festive. I still have that Snoopy shirt in my drawer.

This year is different, though. We still have three kids, ages 3, 5 and 7, but everyone feeds him- or herself, uses the toilet and walks upright. This is a major game changer. This Halloween would bring back the glory days of past ones.

I felt a surge of giddiness last Friday when I picked the kids up from school and proclaimed, “We are all going to Super Walmart to pick out your very own Halloween costume!” You would have thought I said we were going to Disney World. The kids were beyond excited to 1) go shopping, and 2) have complete control over their clothing choices. In the past I would have ordered it all online and presented their outfits to them – here, this is what you are wearing tonight.

While driving, I encourage the little ones to brainstorm which characters they want to embody. My daughter isn’t sure, my oldest son is set on being a spider and my youngest son declares “Batman.” He previously had stuck to “Anna or Elsa” for the last two months, so I feel a little relieved with the superhero choice.

Ten years ago you couldn’t have dragged me into a Super Walmart, let alone for Halloween costumes. I would have scoffed at their cheaply made and generic garment choices. Today, however, I live on an island, so the choices are small island Walmart or off island Super Walmart. Now I get excited to drive over that big bridge to see all of the Made in China packaged threads that the big box store has to offer. There are no boutique costume stores around, or even a Party City in proximity. And I sure as hell am not dragging three kids to resale shops to cobble together the perfect Halloween duds. So Walmart it is!

We walk into the brightly lit retail behemoth, and I visualize where I saw the huge section of inviting costumes last week. Oh *&#!, that was Target! Oh well, this will do. We make a beeline for the ample selection of costumes, and I let the kids have free range, looking at all the options and choosing their favorites. This is how it goes down:

My youngest son, who made the switch from Anna/Elsa to Batman, sees a beautiful Cinderella toddler gown and declares that he will be Cinderella. I sigh, hand him the admittedly beautiful dress, and he clutches it for dear life. I see a cute ladies’ Wonder Woman ensemble (not too skanky, not too matronly, just right…) and snatch it from the shelf. My daughter promptly grabs the same type of costume in her size. My middle child looks and complains loudly that there are no spiders to wear. And no, he does not want to be Spiderman again. We collect our loot and leave with the usual tomfoolery in the checkout line (a given with three children, or at least my three misbehaving ones).

Throughout the whole production, my middle child – let’s call him B1 – is complaining loudly and incessantly about the lack of a spider option. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I usually see spider garb on babies. I promise him that when we get home, I will order him a spindly costume online, if that will get him to shut up.

Later that day we browse arachnid apparel on my laptop, and none of them are “scary” enough to meet B1’s requirements. Most of them feature a chubby armed baby with a round head and kind spider eyes. He finally spots a movie quality alien-looking spider head on Amazon that would send chills down your spine – it runs about eight hundred dollars. I decide to switch gears and check out Party City’s offerings – they have a black Spiderman suit with an imposing spider image on the front. I guess the blackness of the costume jives with his dark soul because he is sold.

“But Mommy,” B1 chides, “I need black gloves with my Spiderman.” But of course you do, son! (Deep down I understand his OCD desire for the “perfect” Halloween look.) Having previously clicked “Order” on the Party City page, knowing that its minions are already busy packaging up our purchase in their Halloween sweatshop of horrors, I begin another search for “Spiderman gloves.” I find some online at Walmart (where else?) and score, they are black.

The next day, I finally take my fiery dress out of its bag and am excited to morph into Wonder Woman. I squeeze into the dress and remember the cardinal shopping rule that costumes run small, and I should have ordered the size up. The dress looks flattering enough but I can’t really sit down in it, and I might need to buy some bloomers on account of the thigh slit. Hmm, can I really wear this getup trick-or-treating downtown with my children on a Friday morning, or will I look like a woman of the night?

I immediately make mental plans to return to Walmart, sans children, to scour the racks for a roomier Wonder Woman dress. It’s still a week before Halloween; surely there is one in stock? I head back to the retail beast and am on a mission. I put hands on every single costume. Unless I want to be a scantily clad cowgirl or a promiscuous purple fairy, I am completely out of luck. I decide to make the most of my time there and buy my youngest son a blue headband and clear sandals to go with his Cinderella gown. My husband may mock me, but if you’re going to go drag, you can’t go halfway. No one can rock sneakers with a ball gown, unless you’re a supermodel.

Driving back to my little island, a light bulb goes off in my head, and I think maybe, just maybe, our sweet little island Walmart will have a Wonder Woman number in their sure to be meager selection of Halloween items. I saunter in and head to the small rack of jumbled fabrics. A man with a backwoods accent begins engaging me in conversation about the year he dressed up as Gene Simmons from Kiss and befriended a woman styled as Dolly Parton at a costume party. I put on my Dateline goggles and assess him – is he a psychopath trying to abduct me from Walmart, or just a kind countryman with a yarn to spin about a past Halloween shindig? I decide I am not in immediate danger, chuckle at his story and continue my hunt. And what to my glowing eyes should appear, but a Wonder Woman costume, in my size… SCORE!!!

I greedily grab the package, self-check out and race home. I can’t believe my good luck – I have snagged the last Wonder Woman costume in the whole county! I excitedly pull out the gem, double-check its size and my heart sinks. Some jokester has put a size small in the bag, the same as my previous purchase. Now I am the owner of two, too tight super hero dresses. On the bright side, the belt in the bag is a medium and fits my non-existent waist perfectly, allowing me to inhale and exhale. Perhaps I can get this minidress to work after all.

In a last ditch effort, I look online at Walmart.com, where I should have shopped this year instead of visiting a store in person (who does that anymore?). I hold my breath as my Wonder Woman costume pops up and shows the price reduced by half(!). Who’s the joke on now? I select a medium, thinking I’m going to get my fabulous frock after all. The screen then displays a mocking message informing me that the dress is sold out, unavailable in stores, online or basically anywhere in the world. A last-ditch search of a few nearby stores’ online inventory confirms this message.

The next day or so I spend way too much time thinking about my Halloween costume. I return the mislabeled one back to island Walmart, but sneakily put in the small belt instead of the medium one. I then surf the web, finding a few potential options for different superhero dresses at Target and Walmart. I decide to sleep on it, and the next day when I log back on, they are all sold out. Apparently every woman in America this year will be Wonder Woman or Supergirl.

There is one Supergirl (who the hell is she, anyway?) tutu left at Target, so I buy it, typing like a madwoman, as I must be racing some other poor hapless housewife in a desperate hunt for the last red tutu. Now I just need a top to pair with this frivolous tutu… I get on the godfather of all sites, Amazon, and begin pouring over reviews of various junior sized fitted tees. Sizing is tricky – will a junior’s XL fit like a ladies’ medium or a baggy nightgown? I narrow down my choices to a cute and mom-appropriate feminine Superman tee with detachable cape, and I hope it doesn’t fit like Saran Wrap. Then I realize my costume looks a lot like my daughter’s, tutu and all. Like a mom trying to recapture her superhero days…

Whew, now I can think about something else! Like Syrian refugees, Donald Trump, Benghazi, anything other than Halloween costumes. Oh right, but then there is all the other fun stuff that comes along with Halloween. Like decorating the house. My husband dutifully put all of our autumn themed decorations on display the other weekend, and my son (you guessed it, B1) complained that we needed more flair. Apparently the neighbors down the street have more fake dead people. He didn’t understand that I don’t have an extra hundred dollars lying around for another fake dead body. Really, it’s much better to buy them when they go on sale after Halloween.

Then there are the class parties, trick-or-treating downtown on Friday morning, trick-or-treating around the neighborhood Saturday night, and don’t forget all of the fall-themed activities that you have to go do because they will close down in mid- November – corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin patch pictures, steam train excursions, et cetera. And how am I supposed to keep up with all of my college football games and do laundry while all of this fun is going on? Someone pass me the candy corn; I need a gallon of sugar coursing through my veins to get through this Halloween season.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.