When people asked me what E was going to be for Halloween this year, I answered that he was going to dress up as a child whose mother can't sew. The point is, I knew up front I had likely set my sights too high.
My mother made all of my Halloween costumes when I was a kid. I was Raggedy Ann, Strawberry Shortcake, a clown, a red crayon, a car hop, a mime, a robot, a fairy, a pirate, a Care Bear (the rainbow-bellied one, thank you very much - my root, perhaps?), and several other things, all lovingly crafted in the wee hours of the morning by my mom who worked full-time outside of our home, commuted an hour to and from work each day, did all of the laundry for our family of four and cooked (and served family-style) 95% of the dinners I ate from birth to age 17. I have memories of falling asleep on her bedroom floor, listening to the hum of her vintage sewing machine and waking in the morning to find expectation-shattering works of art laid across the foot of my bed or draped over a chair. Somewhere in all of that, those costumes became hard-wired into my psyche as the mark of a Real Mother.
I always knew that when I had my own children, I would make their costumes every year. After all, I was going to be a Good Mother. Elliot was seven months old on his first Halloween and I flat out missed the boat. The holiday completely snuck up on me and before I knew it I was purchasing a sock monkey costume online (which turned out to be perfect) and promising that would be the first and last costume I would buy him. M and I even picked out the pattern for his 2010 costume right then and there - a whole year in advance. I asked for and received a new sewing machine for my birthday so I would have no excuse this time around.
I should pause for a moment to let you know that I know this whole "mark of a good mother" business is ridiculous. I have known it all along. I'm a licensed mental health provider - I know crazy when I see it or, um, live it. Every time I told someone about my rationale for wanting to make his costume and they looked at me warily, as if trying to determine how to best confront my delusions, I held up my hands and said I know, I know, it's silly. I can't explain it; it's just one of those things.
I bought the fabric early - over a month in advance - and started cutting that night. Things got off to a decent start. And then I hit the sleeves. Oh my god, the sleeves. No matter what I did or how many youtube tutorials I watched, I could NOT get them to ease in correctly. Each time I ripped out a seam, I cursed at the holes it left in my cheap fabric. I finally decided to take a few days off... and I beat myself up mercilessly the whole time. I chastised myself for thinking I had the skills required to sew a costume from scratch. I reminded myself over and over again that I am not my mother, and sewing is just one of the many skills of hers that I am woefully deficient in. It sounds bad to spill that out here, but hang with me for a minute, because I think something positive came out of it.
My mom rocked Home Ec in high school, especially the sewing part. Seriously. She won an award for it her senior year and then proceeded to sew a full-length, fully-tailored coat to wear over her senior ball dress. A few years later, she sewed her own wedding dress. She is a very skilled seamstress. I am not. I never had to learn; I had her. But there are things I am better at than she is. I can teach Elliot about music and theater and visual art. I can show him how to see the big picture, plan things out, and see them through. I work in a field that will keep my finger on the pulse of social issues and I'll be able to talk with him and his friends about them in a relevant way. I need to use these things to make myself a Good Mother, instead of just trying to replicate the meaningful things my own mother did. I need to Do Me well, instead of Doing Her at eighty percent.
Armed with my new outlook, I went back to the costume and figured I needed to just finish the darn thing and then decide if it was wearable or a shopping trip was in order. Having given up the dream of making the perfect costume, things moved a bit more quickly. I attached the sleeves - not beautifully, but functionally - and made my way through the rest of the costume one late night at a time. Luckily for me, there was nothing left to sew that was anywhere near as difficult as the sleeves had been and toward the end of the project, I was turning out pieces that looked... dare I say it... good.
If I calculate my labor at $15 per hour and add in the cost of materials, I figure his gnome costume set us back around $185. But oh my, will you take a look at the finished product?
He wouldn't wear the beard. Not even for a millisecond.
When I look at those pictures, a whole new lesson (reminder?) emerges for me: It's okay to do something even if you can't execute it perfectly. This is a tough one for me as my monogrammed baggage contains some exceptionally maladaptive perfectionist qualities. I'm really glad I made his costume and I want to do it again next year. I plan to skip the angst and self-flagellation next time around, though. I'll be sure to let you know how that goes. ;-)