Costume debate: glue and heart, or go to Wal-Mart

When we were invited to a Halloween party, my sons, Jonathan, 5, and Tyler, 3, didn't want to be anything but knights. I was relieved. Since they were fascinated by knights, they had already made cardboard armor, swords, and shields. For once, my struggle to deliver Halloween costumes as an artistically challenged adult on a limited budget was resolved: The children could make their own.

For a week before the party, the whole family leapt into perfecting the knight costumes. The boys copied coats-of-arms from inside the cover of one of our King Arthur books. I dug through a stack of old baby blankets, and found solid blue and yellow ones to use as capes. I glued black construction paper on our old cardboard shields and glued on the coats-of-arms.

We carried the costumes to the party in plastic grocery bags and dressed in the bedroom. I thought my kids looked regal holding their standards with their swords sheathed under their cloaks.

Then we joined the other kids.

Everyone else was dressed in purchased cos-

tumes - two Supermans in tight blue leotards and cape, a Darth Vader with an unwieldy mask, a Green Hornet, and a cowboy. Two knights wore molded plastic armor that looked real. Their breastplates had gold dragons. The weapons were sturdy plastic swords and battleaxes. The helmets were intricate and had visors that went up and down.

My little boys had paper on their heads and baby blankets around their shoulders. Jonathan knew the difference. After the party, he said, "Trevor didn't like my costume. He asked if we made it ourselves."

Among the moms, costumes were also a topic of animated conversation. The moms discussed where the costumes came from and how the kids felt about their outfits.

One mom said to me, "cute idea," with a nod at my children's costumes, but besides that, the homemade outfits were not discussed.

For days afterward, I replayed in my mind Jonathan's hurt face when he saw the other knights. My husband and I both work part time. We believe time is as valuable as money and that an hour spent playing a game with a child offers more family camaraderie than a new superhero toy or two Happy Meals. But I had pangs of doubt - maybe, not having the comforting cloak of middle-class belongings would be more damaging and difficult than I thought, especially as the children got older.

I finally asked Jonathan if he liked his homemade costume or the store-bought ones better.

"Store-bought," he said without hesitation. But then he paused. "Well, no," he said. "Store-bought is expensive, and I would want to be able to choose my own coats-of-arms."

Jonathan understood, somehow, that different choices come with advantages and disadvantages, and that you have to decide what is most important to you.

I should have explained to the other moms the reasons my children were at a Halloween party with paper on their heads and baby blankets on their shoulders. I should have laughed, shrugged, and said, "Those costumes might not be much, but let me tell you about how proud they were to make them and how fabulous it was to be a family together, creating them."

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to: home@csps.com.

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