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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Costumes and Customs

Last February, when Luke started obsessing over what he wanted to be this Halloween, I told my children they weren’t allowed to think about Halloween costumes until October. What I really meant was that I didn’t want to think about it until October, but Megan must have taken this admonition more seriously than most of what I say. Last week, when she was asked at school what she was going to be for Halloween, Megan said resentfully, “I’m not allowed to even think about it until Saturday.”

Well, now it’s October. The greeting card store has its Christmas decorations up, and I’m ready to think about Halloween. Luke wants to be Obi-wan Kenobe so he can carry a lightsaber, which he absolutely swears he won’t swing at any kids during the school Halloween parade. (Yeah, right.)

I like Obi-wan. At least his skill with a lightsaber is balanced with wisdom and compassion. Still, I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to bring weapons to our Quaker school, even on Halloween. Being one of the few Quaker parents, and the clerk of the school’s Religious Life Committee, I don’t exactly want to be the bad examples here. More importantly, I want to teach my son that he can be strong and brave without a weapon or the oversized fists of many male toys.

Is it my imagination, or have the fists been getting bigger? If women complain that Barbie’s proportions are physically impossible, shouldn’t men complain that so many male dolls have fists bigger than their heads? What message does this send my son about the locus of his power? I remember reading a history of Barbie dolls that included a hysterical description of a high level Mattel discussion about how big a “lump” to give Ken when the male doll was first introduced. The decision makers were very aware of the implications of too large or too small a lump. I wonder what thought goes into giving male figures such large hands. Is it pure marketing, the result of some survey that shows that’s what little boys long for, big hands to better handle the big scary world they live in?

It’s funny the lightsaber issue should come up this week, just when I have an article in Brain, Child magazine about swimming against the cultural tide without judging the choices other parents make. I feel like it’s a constant struggle, figuring out what our values are and how to uphold them against a flood of advertising. I have to respect families that make even more unconventional choices than we do because of religious beliefs or values that are out of the current. For example, we have families at our school who don’t celebrate Halloween at all for religious reasons. Thinking about how hard it must be for those kids to sit out the raucous school parade (or stay home that day) puts our little lightsaber problem in a different perspective.

Last year, our school’s Religious Life Committee decided to sponsor an alternative activity for kids whose families didn’t want them in the Halloween parade. There were two adult volunteers and only one kid, but they apparently had a good time talking about what it means to uphold one’s own beliefs when you’re in the minority. I’m reminded that we should organize this again, to provide an affirming space for difference, even if only a few kids come. Of course it won’t get promoted in this month’s school newsletter because I refused to think about Halloween until October.

Already I’m bracing myself for Christmas.


Anonymous Phil Jones said...

I'm with you about Hallowe'en. When I taught in a Friends school, I was slightly bothered by the importance attached to the Lower School's parade of costumes, many of them elaborate productions far beyond the capabilities of the wearers to have made. I also hated the emphasis on candy that came with the costume show.

I've never understood what drives this as such an important thing; is it parents who demand this opportunity to show off their sewing skills, or kids who need more than the evening of 10/31 to strut their stuff? or the faculty of the school feeling that some good comes out of the event? Beats me.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

I'm not sure what drives it either, but I doubt it's parents wanting to show off their sewing since most costumes these days come from Target.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I just read your recent article in Brain,Child and found myself nodding through it all. I am the mother (figuratively) who "waters down" the yogurt. I've been known to put an organic cereal in a Froot Loops box, so my children can feel "included" but I don't have to compromise what I feel to be best. Then again, what is best? Am I compromising too much? Not enough? Do I get to impose my social oddities on my children? What if I know that health-wise it is the right thing to do? Though we try not to judge and haven't too often felt judged, my husband and I have had the "Should we just lighten up?" discussion more than once.

It's an interesting topic. I think I'll gather my thoughts and write in my blog about it at some point - with a link back to you, of course. ;)

Oh and for what it's worth: no Fruit Loops or sugary yogurt here, but my 5 year old son has 2 light sabors. No toy guns and no violent movies, but my husband the Star Wars fan talked me into the light sabors. (*grin*)

1:27 PM  

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