In the age of Instagram, Halloween is a competitive sport, and you get points based on how much of your own blood, sweat, and spilled pumpkin spice latte goes into your kids’ costumes.
“Do you decorate for Halloween?” a friend asked recently. “You seem like the kind of person who would really go all out.”
I quelled it as fast as I could, but my first reaction was a flash of defensiveness. My partner and I have been working our asses off, I wanted to say—him with long hours at work, me with a part-time job and a freelance career on top of taking care of our toddler. Add in laundry, cooking, and yard work and we barely have time to sleep, much less deck our halls with mouldering skeletons and cardboard gravestones. Do you know how stressed out I’ve been this entire calendar year? I wanted to shout. Why are you telling me I need to be doing more?
Of course, taking a couple of deep breaths gave me time to realize that she wasn’t piling new tasks on my to-do list, just asking a question with no implied judgment. But I was quick to feel insulted because it has long been a point of consternation and shame for me that I don’t do the very most for Halloween. It’s always been among my favorite holidays—I’m queer and an aging goth kid, so Halloween is like double Christmas for me—but as much as I dream of having That House, the one neighborhood kids don’t even like to walk past in October, I never get around to so much as hanging a single fake cobweb.
I love dress-up and candy and everything that goes bump in the night, but one thing I’m not is crafty. Every year my Halloween plans are characterized by big, ambitious ideas that are slowly revised downward over a period of weeks until I end up throwing something together at the last minute from whatever’s already in my wardrobe. When my partner was pregnant and due in November, I was overflowing with costume ideas that made use of a baby bump. The one we ultimately went with? A T-shirt with a pause button hastily scribbled on it in Sharpie: “a pregnant pause.”
When it comes to Halloween, I’m an ideas person, but I need someone practical to turn those dreams into reality. My partner is practical, not to mention extremely crafty, but unfortunately gives only about a half of a quarter of a damn about Halloween. You would think that by putting us together you’d get an unstoppable dynamo of motivation and capability, but actually we usually add up to “let’s just stay in tonight.”
For some reason, I thought this would change when we became parents, probably because small children are notorious for bringing tons of free time and extra energy into their parents’ lives. I had all these idea for family costumes to rival Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka’s. I was going to be the champion of both trick-or-treating and social media. Because let’s be honest: In the age of Instagram, Halloween is a competitive sport, and you get points based on how much of your own blood, sweat, and spilled pumpkin spice latte goes into your kids’ costumes. Sure, you could pick up a Wonder Woman onesie from Target and call it a day, but we all know—even if we won’t admit it—that a store-bought costume is an admission of defeat. (Just look at how every November 1st we’re inundated with clickbaity articles about how such-and-such parents “totally won Halloween” with their child’s hand-crocheted Minion costume or homemade solar-powered Millennium Falcon or whatever.)
In theory I want to play in the big leagues of Competitive Halloween Parenting, but when it comes down to it, a free evening for crafting is also a free evening for going to bed early, and that’s where my heart truly lies. It might be different if my daughter was counting down the days until her costume is ready, but at just shy of 2 years old, she doesn’t even care about Halloween. Dressing up bores her, and other people dressing up freaks her out (when she saw my dad in his motorcycle helmet, she wailed until he took it off). She loves sweets, but she has so many food allergies that supermarket candy is a non-starter. She’s never met a jack-o-lantern that she wouldn’t like better as a pumpkin muffin. Does it really make sense to spend hours crafting a costume she doesn’t want to wear so we can take her to an event that centers around candy she can’t eat—all for the sake of some cute photos to post on social media?
This year, I’ve decided that my answer to that question is “no.” No to costumes. No to decorations. No to spending precious minutes of my life trying to get my child to stand near a decorative gourd wearing something photogenically plaid. Some seasonal things are important to me for their own sake—I’ll watch as many horror movies as I can fit into October, and eat butternut squash soup until it’s coming out of my ears—but I’m giving myself and my family permission to blow off anything where the main reward for doing it is that people will see we have done it.
I feel a bit embarrassed every time I confess that we’re not dressing up for Halloween this year. I don’t think I know a single other parent of a small child who isn’t planning to put them in an adorable, diminutive costume. But let’s be honest: I also don’t know a parent of a small child who isn’t overextended, sleep-deprived, and trying to accomplish too much with too little. We have so many obligations in our lives, and a holiday that’s supposed to be fun shouldn’t be among them. If spending hours on movie-quality special effects makeup truly brings you joy, that’s awesome and I wish you the best, but if deep down inside you’d much rather dress up as “person on the couch in sweatpants,” that’s equally valid.
I’m going to totally win Halloween by having a pleasant evening with my family and not running myself into the ground. I invite you to do the same.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).