Unlike the typical morning of school day prep with the normal daily business of cereal, brushing of teeth and getting dressed, today had an extra dimension of drama as we dressed the kids up for Halloween. Today is the day when kids can forego their school uniforms in exchange for a Halloween costume. So my boy dressed up as a sheriff and my daughter a rockstar and I took them to school. But as I drove towards the school amidst the typical mixture of morning news and sibling aggravation, I noticed how I was beginning to feel anxious, to break out in a cold sweat, and to really dread dropping off the kids this morning. And then all of the sudden that memory from that Halloween thirty-one years ago flooded my mind…
But before I can get to the Halloween memory I must go back a year further…
I was four at the time and had rather large feet for my age that I kind of needed to grow into which caused me to not be the most coordinated kid for my age. Around that time my parents had heard some story of an NFL player who had taken ballet lessons to improve his coordination on the field. So the thinking was that if it worked for an NFL player then perhaps it just might help their clumsy son learn to get around better.
And so they enrolled me into a ballet class. I don’t remember much from that time except that I played the part of a bee in Flight of the Bumble Bees. There I was on stage in black tights with yellow stripes and little bee wings on my back. My ballet career of only a few months ended after Flight of the Bumblebees, when my parents gave up on me ever growing into my feet. If the story ended there, I would have no scary memories of Halloween.
The problem is that at the time my parents were on a bit of a fundamentalist kick with Christianity making enemies out of Santa Clause, Halloween, and other cultural phenomenon (Yes, I was the kid who was always breaking the news to other kids that Santa Clause was not real!)
So when Halloween came around the following year, parents were notified that their children could come to school in their Halloween costumes. This put my mom in quite a predicament. She could either keep me home from school in protest of that dark day, or send me to school without a costume, or she could try and work some kind of compromise between her beliefs and the culture. How I wish, in retrospect, she had chosen the first option because her compromise with the culture was much worse than either of the other two options.
Which brings me back to the bee costume.
One of my mom’s main objections concerning Halloween was how it glorified scary and dark things. If she was going to compromise with the culture on Halloween, her son would not show up dressed like the devil or some monster or even a bad guy from Star Wars, no he would have to be something more righteous or innocent at least. And so I was sent to school that dreaded October morning in 1977 dressed as a bee. But not just any kind of bee, mind you! If I had shown up in a bee costume kind of like the costumes of school mascots or the types that Disney characters sport at Disney World, things would have been cool. But no, my costume was something my grandmother had made for a ballet production (obviously to save some money). So while the other kids were dressed up in cool outfits like Luke Skywalker and Superman, I was a bee, a black-tights-wearing bee. I don’t remember being mocked or ridiculed, and it’s probably because I opted to wear it like I meant it, but on the inside I was thinking how completely un-cool I was.
So as I drop my kids off at school today, I think of how easy they really have it. They won’t look back on this day in thirty years. Heck they won’t likely remember this Halloween in two years. Is that a good thing? Well that’s debatable. In many ways it’s little moments like that Halloween in 1977 that end up defining us. Sure if I was able to do it all over again, I probably would have gone to school as Luke Skywalker (in fact I would probably go to work like that today if we were allowed to wear costumes). But I learned a fundamental lesson that day—life will not always give you what you want, and neither will well-intentioned family members, so you’ve got to do the best with what your given; and if in the end what you’re given is a ballet-bee-suit, you walk in owning that thing as best as you can.