FEATURE — Every day at my house used to be Halloween. I took white tigers to the trampoline park in the afternoon, a red dragon on regular Mexican take-out runs and often woke to what could have been a spectacular joke set-up: a ninja, a Jedi and Batman. Or some variation of it. And always with a vast array of plastic weaponry.
All because early on in my parenting adventures, I discovered this fine truth: little boys seemed to do life better in costume.
Chores, errands, pre-school, dinner time, play dates – all of it better with a cape, a mask or a full-bodied getup with a zipper up the front or Velcro (that never really did its job) down the back.
Of course, the latter always made potty training a little tricky. But that was a small price to pay for the general buy-in to life I got in return.
Until I found myself scrubbing surprise poop out of Spiderman over a dark laundry room sink for the 15th time. There are very few payoffs worth that kind of trauma.
But I digress.
Little boys aren’t the only ones who love to dress up. If the number of little girls at school wearing cat ears on any given day is any indication, little girls do life better in costume, too.
Canadian author Douglas Coupland wrote, “I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween. Wouldn’t life be more interesting that way?”
When my oldest was three and I was eight months pregnant with boy number two, we took our first trip as a family.
We spent two weeks in Guatemala. Exploring the cobblestone streets and old churches in varying degrees of disrepair in Antigua. Trapesing around the ruins of Tikal and Yaxha. Motoring around the lake in Flores at twilight on a wooden boat illuminated with nothing but small, gas lanterns.
And then finally another several days lazing about the white-sand beaches of Ambergris Caye, Belize.
It was off-season in Ambergris Caye which meant we had the beaches and restaurants nearly to ourselves. In the mornings, we’d walk to a breakfast spot just across the road from our thatch-roofed bungalow and watch hotel employees from along the beachfront rake the seaweed off the sand as we ate our French toast.
And each of those mornings, my 3-year-old would pretend, like he had in every other locale on the trip, that he was a hungry big cat who would only eat by sneaking bites of food from the unsuspecting humans (his parents).
In Antigua, he had been a spotted leopard. In Tikal, he’d been a jaguar. And in Ambergris Caye, he was a lion. Specifically, a lion named Alex.
The restaurant staff dutifully greeted him as the lion he was. And he was completely thrilled with it. Until the last morning, when he burst into tears at the staff’s boisterous final greeting to him as “Alex”.
When I asked him what happened, he responded dramatically, “they don’t even know my real name!” and then threw himself on the ground.
The waiters all thought that was hilarious. They laughed at Alex the lion’s plight, which made Alex the lion cry even harder. Until one waiter came over and made an important inquiry: “What’s your real name anyway?”
That simple question halted my boy’s tears. He gave the man his name and quickly followed up, “but you can still call me Alex.”
And that was that.
Again, author Douglas Coupland: “think of all the people you’d meet if they were in costume every day. People would be so much easier to talk to – like talking to dogs.”
It was true for my boy in all of his big cat incarnations across Guatemala and Belize. He opened doors and conversations with his snarls and growls, with his eating antics and his insistence on being a “costumed” version of himself.
Just as long as, in the end, he knew he was truly seen.
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