My daughter was born in January. Funny, but I can’t recall if it was the same year or the following one that I took her trick-or-treating. She was either nine and a half months or twenty-one months old. It’s strange that I can’t recall which, but I do remember most of the rest.
Despite the clear memories of the actual walking around the neighborhood trick-or-treating with Kali trying to be a good mother, I am having serious doubts now about what I did that night. By that I mean I think I did something very bad to my daughter that night. Well, maybe it wasn’t bad, not as far as the intention. Lots of parents take very young children out that night. I was doing what they were all doing, except apparently some wires got crossed.
The bad part comes from the fact that a couple of hours that were supposed to be fun for both of us ended up having a very big influence on her life. Too big. If I had known, of course I would never have done what I did. Lots of parents have hindsight. If we had foresight we might never have children. I had just this one chance to do the first Halloween right with Kali, and I failed.
When you hear the story, you might agree with me.
First, once the decision to go from house to house ringing doorbells had been made (by me), we needed a costume. Kali was a very active little child, yet I didn’t want to restrict her movement or scare her. She could take of running faster that you’d ever believe a toddler could move. She was going to have to stay in my arms for the duration because I never felt right about using a harness and a leash with her. After all, she wasn’t a puppy.
It was so cold that night, colder than the last day of October should be, even in our state, which borders on Canada. Now that I reflect on the occasion, I realize I could see fear in my little girl’s eyes when I scooped her up, ready to go out into the dark cold. I had chosen not to alter the plan to go trick-or-treating, despite the fact that Kali would never miss it.
Mommy wanted to go out, wanted to do the right thing, help little one have a good time. Maybe that was the problem.
The fear in Kali’s big-eyed, beautifully coal-eyed expression that my memory now registers, had two sources. The first was because of the low temperature, and the second, was because she was being confined by my arms and not allowed to run anywhere. I know she felt inexplicably trapped. She didn’t like that feeling, as I said.
I took her anyway. The temperature didn’t help. Both of us were shivering. I knew we wouldn’t go beyond our housing development.
Now that I think about it this had to be the Halloween after Kendra’s first birthday, not before. She was very mobile. I knew I could not set her down.
What costume would befit a squirmy toddler? That was the big question. It didn’t take long to decide: Kali would have to dress up either as a ghost or as a kitty cat. The decision had to be mine, not because I’d come up with those two options. Kali didn’t know what a spooky white figure was, and I didn’t think she was ready to know that it represented the spirit of a dead person.
Kali still doesn’t understand or accept death, even though she knows what a ghost is.
The feline outfit also won because creating that costume was definitely going to be quicker. The design was as basic as you can get. It consisted of just a few basic parts. First, black construction paper. Next, a hooded winter coat. Then, a few safety pins. Well, three, to be exact. A pair of scissors was also required, but they weren’t part of the costume.
At this point I’m sure you have already guessed what Mommy’s plan was. The costume would have two triangles for the ears and a long, blunt-ended strip for the tail. It was simple enough to use the safety pins to attach the triangles on the hood of the jacket. The same procedure would be used to pin the long tail strip at the center bottom of jacket back. Thinking back to this design, it now seems pretty risky to put a paper tail on a wiggly kiddo, but it needed to match the ears, after all. If it got torn off, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Prep time for creating a cat, as they say all the time on cooking shows: three minutes, start to finish. Well, five minutes tops, allowing time for centering ears and tail properly. This part only involved jacket and Mommy, the designer. Cut and pin. Done.
Make-up. That was part of the costume, too. The problem was, babies don’t wear it. That was when I learned that before age two, face-painting might not seem cool to a child. Yet since I had already decided to forego the mask as something that could be too much of a shock for a little face, the make-up became essential to the costume. My Halloween child just had to have a painted face to match the kitty outfit. After all, the people giving out candy deserved to get trick-or-treaters with some pizzazz. A plain face didn’t deserve a treat.
You know, now that I think about it, I’m not sure if Kali had ever seen a cat, because we didn’t have one in that housing development. I never thought about that until now. Maybe in her toddler’s mind no furry, purring creature, expert in snuggling, had yet been formed? Maybe she interpreted the make-up that had been improvised from my small collection, or the tools used to apply it, as an aggression, an attempt to harm her? All I know is that she screwed up her mouth and nose and wriggled. It was a challenge.
So many parents wish they had done things differently with their children. I am one of them. That face prior to being painted still haunts me. It seems to say, ‘Mommy, no!’ Yet I ignored it. After all, this was Halloween.
I never used much make-up, so I must have grabbed whatever I could find so the cat face could be drawn on those tiny, plump cheeks. I haven’t the slightest idea where the pink lipstick for the kitten nose had come from. Or maybe we didn’t do a nose, just the whiskers? Maybe I tried using a rosy eye shadow? I know it wasn’t blush because I have never owned blush in my life. My own mother had rouge, but that was so ancient even before Kali was born.
Rouge. I haven’t used that word in such a long time.
It’s possible the whiskers were drawn with eyeliner because I did have that item in my small make-up bag. Three quick strokes of the slender brush on each cheek were the limit. Standing still was definitely not one of my daughter’s life skills. I probably made several attempts to draw the typical cat’s mouth with the division right below the nose, and maybe even the little dots above the lips that cartoon cats might have. I say attempts, because what I wanted to do and what Kali let me do were two entirely different things.
This is still the case, by the way.
Never, ever would I do any harm to Kali, not consciously. But now I wonder: what if I did? What if she thought I was going to stab her or mark her permanently, like a tattoo or a brand from a hot iron? This was a new thing I was trying to inflict on her. She was a new thing in my life, too. I had waited a long time to become a Mommy, and I believed my little one needed a Halloween, her first Halloween ever.
Did I know what I was doing?
Nothing is left now of that improvised but well-designed kitty cat costume. Well, there’s the possibility that the little blue quilted jacket is packed away in a plastic tub in the basement, although I ‘m not certain it is. It wasn’t pretty or expensive, but it got a lot of use. On the other hand, the ears and tail have long since disappeared. They were just paper, after all. The face make-up was washed off the same evening. Obviously I didn’t want people staring at Kali in daycare the next day if she wore a cat face after Halloween.
The treats that were gathered by baby and Mommy arrived safely home. Sitting on the living room rug, Kali was allowed to eat two or three because she demanded to have some. When she wanted something, no was not a word she understood.
The flimsy black paper ears and tail were already gone, having been unpinned from the coat she would wear the next day. The fear was gone as well. That was a relief. The toddler was no longer shivering. She sat on the floor snacking away for a few minutes, then crawled into bed. So did Mommy, but a couple of hours later, after correcting a batch of students’ assignments.
I find myself wishing I had kept those fragile pieces of wrinkled black paper anyway. The coat, if it still exists, cannot be a costume without its ears and tail.
We later got a real cat, although it wasn’t black like the costume one. This part of the story is definitely relevant because the cat that came in from the Halloween cold was aware that she had been introduced to the kind candy-givers as a Kali-Kat, as a feline. We both had pretended she knew how to purr and meow. People had given her candy for her performance. So Kali knew what a real cat was by the time we got one. The real one was a Maine coon, a muted tortie with long hair. We named her Witch in honor of her predecessor, who hadn’t been real.
After the first cat we added a second, one for each member of family. One for each of us. Just two cats. And every once in a while Kali would hear Mommy retell the story of her first Halloween costume. She loved the story and it grew along with her. The construction paper became something more durable and the make-up application improved because Kali sat still, finally. In our made-up memories, that is.
I only recall one other Halloween costume for Kali. I made that one, too. She went out as The Little Mermaid, Ariel. She was probably around eight that year. Or seven. I can’t say. The mermaid’s tail was a dumb idea, because of course it dragged on the ground. However, this story is not about mermaids. I probably didn’t keep that tail because it was pretty ragged and muddy by the end of the evening.
Some costume ideas need to be scrapped because they are so impractical. Now the cat costume, that was a good one.
At some point, Kali - and I can’t say for sure how old she was, but she must have been at least eighteen, wanted to get another cat. She came home with three, offering some excuse I have forgotten because I didn’t believe it. She obviously had a feline affinity. My suspicion is that I bear part of the blame.
I also didn’t mind the extra animals, because I love cats myself.
Once I told my daughter that if she had a baby it would probably be a kitten. She has no children, however, and says she doesn’t want any. That saddens me, but she might change her mind.
About two years later...
Kali now has seven cats and watches feline rescue videos on the internet. Her desire not to have children didn’t work out and she has a little girl of her own. She named her Felicia Kay, and thinks I don’t know that Felicia is the feminine form of Felix. Felix was black, by the way, like the ears and tail of a long-ago Halloween costume.
It is October 31 and Kali has just informed me that she plans to take little Felicia out trick-or-treating. Her words make me shudder. I wonder if I should warn her about what might happen, about how she might be turning her child into an animal with whiskers the way I did. She won’t listen, I’m sure. She never liked the word no, just like she never liked sitting still, or cold, dark nights, or behaving. Felicia will be dressed up as a cat for Halloween, a Felicia the Cat with black ears and tail.
I forgot to mention that my daughter doesn’t like change. It makes her uneasy and she fights it. If I had known this about her from the beginning, there are so many things I would have done differently. To begin with, that first costume would have been different. Kali would have dressed up as a famous artist or writer. It would have taken more work, but would have been worth it. My daughter the new Frida Kahlo or the new Louise Penny. Those both have a nice ring, don’t they?
But no. I have created a monster. Well, not a monster, just a crazy cat lady. Like so many other women.