Welcome to November and the daily blog slog known as National Blog Posting Month! This is my third year doing NaBloPoMo and my second with my pal/writing partner/podcast co-host Philippa. We wanted to honor the tradition but, due to scheduling and other insanity, decided to do it as a relay this time. I’m running the opening leg…look for her post tomorrow!
My neighborhood goes large on Halloween. The same people who put on the annual Easter Parade in which I have twice starred as Lead Traumatizer do a Halloween processional featuring kids and their handlers decked out in trick-or-treat finery. The parade ends in a nearby park and culminates in a costume contest.
Like the Easter parade, the Halloween event depends on the time and effort of volunteers. My neighbor T, chair of the event, asked if I would be a costume judge. The “why not?” philosophy that has led to so many questionable decisions in my life caused me to say yes before I realized this job offered similar potential for inflicting little kid trauma as the bunny gig but without the anonymity. Uh-oh.
On Friday I got an instructional email from T. It contained some details I expected, such as where to be and when, and others that I did not, such as that one of the other two judges would lead the parade in his convertible and a tuxedo. A convertible and a tux? I planned to lead my own personal charge on foot and in yoga pants. The email also mentioned that prizes would be awarded in five categories and suggested that the judges might want to take notes as kids passed. This didn’t sound like a ragtag neighborhood assembly; it sounded like the Rose Parade meets Child’s Play.
I began to wonder whether I was qualified for the job, which I had assumed required nothing more than a set of working eyeballs. Would they expect me, for example, to be able to differentiate between homemade and store-bought costumes without inspecting for “made in China” labels? And in the way that I have a soft spot for mashed potatoes whose lumps mark them as unmistakably homemade, would I be allowed to reward a lumpy costume? Finally, would I have to enter the Judges Protection Program afterwards? That last one sounds like hyperbole, but even a kids-free type like me has read enough about helicopter, tiger and snowplow parents to be nervous about screwing up.
I voiced these concerns to my 12 year-old niece, Emily, during the annual Halloween party my sister Lynne and her husband hosted on Friday night. Emily’s friends had gone and the two of us were hanging out in her room, she in a zebra outfit and I in a dress right out of Star Trek.
I didn’t expect her to care about my plight, yet without batting an eyelid my niece said, “Can I come with you? Like right now?” Emily has an addiction to office supplies, so I should’ve known she couldn’t resist an event that just begged for a clipboard. I had every reason to say yes, too. I love spending time with my niece, and I also liked the idea of having backup. Emily is nursing a bum knee, so if an angry mob formed, I figured it would target the wounded zebra first. As soon as I gave the thumbs-up, my niece tossed a clipboard, two notebooks, several pens and a toothbrush into a backpack. The Trekkie and the zebra then went on the lam and made tracks for my home in Arlington.
On Saturday morning, Emily and I arrived at the appointed corner a few minutes before the 10 a.m. start time. The Arlington County cops were there, too, because no self-respecting neighborhood Halloween parade takes off without a police escort. We were soon joined by another judge who’d done this before. She told us to focus less on the prize categories and more on the costumes. The judges would circulate, meet as a group, reach consensus on the best costumes, and then figure out which categories suited them.
The parade got underway and I soon understood why we needed to take notes: costumed kids and their handlers streamed past us by the dozens.
Em and I found it impossible to see them all, much less take notes. We milled around the park in an attempt to achieve full coverage, but this was easier said than done, as many children had abandoned their parents, their costumes or both.
At 10:45, the judges congregated to compare notes and we handed out awards 15 minutes later. In the “group/family” category, a medieval royal clan tied with a Star Wars gang, led by a dad wearing an inflatable Jabba the Hutt suit. (Several families went the Star Wars route, but we thought the inflatable suit showed a special level of dedication.) Another family won some sort of prize for its take on NASA, which entailed adding cardboard wings to a Radio Flyer wagon, covering the whole thing with tin foil and plopping a spacesuit-wearing toddler in it.
“Most original” went to a three-headed, four-armed, multi-eyeballed monster who came up with the idea and design all by himself and then handed it over to his parents to execute, which they did with aplomb. We gave the “cute and sweet” award to a sprinkled donut: an adorable little girl wearing brown, round seat cushions festooned with colorful strips of ribbon. Two siblings dressed as popcorn and Coke–the red Coke cup fashioned from a red plastic trash can–rounded out the field.
If there were helicopter, snowplow or any other heavy-machinery or lethal animal-type parents, I didn’t see them. Nor did we notice any homemade costumes so elaborate no one could possibly make them without taking a sabbatical. People were just there to have fun, rendering all my worries moot. Even so, if I’m asked to judge again next year, I’m not doing it without my zebra.