Belles of the Ball
Serrnovik | iStock photo
Like it was yesterday, I recall pulling out the hand-me-down bunny costume from Amanda’s older cousin Donna. Pink and white, with little fluffy tail and foam head piece, I had saved it in the guest room closet just in case I had a baby girl who could wear it someday.
We are all guilty. Dressing our babies in cute but ridiculous costumes and walking around the neighborhood gathering candy they cannot eat but we can. You hit a few houses. Everyone oohs and aahs over your cutie patooties and you go home with a stash of treats.
Then the cutie patooties get older. They want the candy for themselves. They do not want you going door to door with them. And they want to choose their own costumes.
You can see from old Halloween night pictures exactly when my influence on my son, Jason, ended. He went from Bob the Builder and Thomas the Train (my choices) to super heroes and then quickly to every variation of Death Harbinger possible. I am pretty sure he has exhausted that theme. The Grim Reaper, The Dark Messenger, The Scary Skeleton, Scream with Dripping Blood. All horrifying, which is precisely the point.
My daughter, Amanda, on the other hand, is a whole different story. From the moment she was able to voice her opinion on the costume situation, she has been very specific—and impossible. She always chooses a character from her movie or play obsession of the season. But it is never something I can purchase off a rack or online.
Her first self-chosen costume was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. “Easy!” You say. But she didn’t want to be the Belle that you could buy at every Disney Store and Target nationwide, the gold hoochie mama costume all girls have. She wanted to be the Belle who walks through town with the blue dress, apron, basket and book.
“Just tell her to wear the Hoochie Mama Belle costume,” you say. But, you see, we spent the first two years of her life in and out of the hospital, missing most holidays. When she looked at me with those big brown eyes and said, “No, Mama, not that one, the blue one with the book!” I couldn’t help myself.
That was almost 15 years ago. eBay was still kind of new, Pinterest didn’t exist and I didn’t sew. Now you feel my dilemma.
Like Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire, I have always relied on the kindness of strangers. So, when Betty, a sweet lady from our church, asked me what Amanda wanted to be for Halloween, I launched into my tale of woe.
Wouldn’t you know, she was a seamstress, one of those people who doesn’t even need a pattern. It was like a Halloween miracle. She took an old nightgown that Amanda had with a picture of Belle and Chip on the front. She sent me to a fabric store to pick out the dress material and to Target to pick out a white peter pan-collared blouse and basket. Within a week Amanda had the blue dress and apron complete with Belle and Chip applique, blue bow for her hair, and basket with book to walk into town.
She loved that costume. Not only did she wear it on Halloween, she wore it every time she watched Beauty and the Beast for the next two years. At Disneyland, Belle herself came up to Amanda and said, “I have never seen anyone wearing my blue dress before!” It was perfect.
With this kind of validation, how could I not support her annual Halloween fantasy? Since Belle, she has been Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray, Elle from Legally Blonde, Sophie from Mamma Mia!, Sharpay from High School Musical , Snow White from Mirror Mirror, Giselle from Enchanted, Wendy from Peter Pan and so many other nontraditional costumes.
Each is very specific in its detail. Tracy must have the sparkly dress from the contest. Sophie must be wearing the peasant shirt and cutoff shorts. Snow White must have the big, orange bow on the back of her dress from the ball. Wendy must be in the blue nightgown.
I have become a loyal patron of Dougherty’s Masquerade in Syracuse, where owner Denise Dougherty Vinal has helped with wigs, costume pieces and accessories, no matter how challenging my request may be.
I drag my mom into the yearly project, as unfortunately Betty is no longer local, and I still cannot sew. I scour patterns at Jo-Ann Fabric and drive ladies at the counter crazy with questions. I research on eBay and Pinterest looking for easy ideas, or when needed, cost-effective solutions.
When Amanda pulls her costume over her head, puts on her wig, and steps out of her bedroom, she is that character. And I, with that kindness and help, get to be the creator of magic.
So when she stands at the top of the stairs and says, “Mom, look!” I see before me not Amanda but Wendy from Peter Pan, or Giselle from Enchanted. It brings a smile to both our faces. That makes all the glue gun-burned fingers, ripped-out-in-frustration seams, crazy-random-item shopping, and effort worthwhile. That, of course, and the fact that she will still share her candy.
Deborah Cavanagh lives in Manlius with her husband and two children. She has written for local organizations supporting children and adults with special needs.