I was reluctant to let Anna trick-or-treat, to say the least. It had taken me until she was five to even consider enrolling her at school. Preschool. I knew she was smart. I knew she could handle it. I guess that I just wasn’t ready for it. For the storms of teasing, and questions, and curious looks, and insults. For my baby not to be sheltered in my nest her whole life.
Anna was born with congenital limb deficiency of the legs-she was born without legs, nothing below where the top of the knee wou;d be. I felt like I had failed as a mother. Why could every other woman give birth to a…. a normal child except me? I love Anna with every bit of my being. But when she was born, I lost so much. My loving husband left me, and his family shut me out. My mother seemed sympathetic, but I could tell she was disappointed. But I had told Anna when she was eight she could trick-or-treat. With me, of course. But I still was slammed in the face when October rolled around and Anna began nagging me about costumes.
“Hon, are you sure you don’t want to watch movies and eat candy with me like last year? It would be fun.” I say as we sit in the car in the parking lot of the Halloween store.
“Mom, you said I could go this year. And I want to be a butterfly.” Anna said definitively.
“Are you sure you can make it around the neighborhood on your crutches?” I stall, knowing that my attempts will be in vain.
“Mooom! I can use my wheelchair. I was planning to put the wings on the back of my chair anyways.”
“What if it snows?”
“Mooooom! It’s California. It isn’t going to snow!”
“Okay. Fine. What about your costume?” I agreed, still planning to convince her to stay home.
“I said I want to be a butterfly. I’ll have a shiny black leotard and skirt, and put monarch wings on my chair. I’ll be fine.” Anna says. I turn the car off and get out. I open the car door for Anna and hand her her crutches. She hops out and we walk (well, Anna hobbled on her crutches) into the store. We quickly find the costume aisle where an employee looks Anna up and down and says, “Looking for anything in specific?” I start to barge in when Anna speaks.
“Hi, do you have girl’s butterfly costumes?” she says confidently. Seemingly a bit surprised, the employee responds with a gesture to the aisle on our right. With a quick “Thank you!” we head to that section and are surrounded by wings. Butterfly, ladybug, dragon, angel-all sorts of wings. Anna finds beautiful orange, sparkly monarch wings and knocks them down with her crutches. Using the tip of her crutch, she impressively knocks it into the basket I am holding. Then we head to the rest of the costume section and find a black leotard in her size. I mention to her that we have a black skirt already, and we go to checkout.
“Hello dears!” The lady at the counter greets us with a fake smile and a sympathetic nod towards Anna. I give her a dirty look, pushing the basket towards her with an aggressive amount of force.
“That’s all for you today, ladies?” The cashier asks. She isn’t smiling anymore.
“Yes, that’s it.” I respond with an icy stare. Anna, not grasping the situation, smiles and nods.
“Alright… your total is $21.76, with tax.” I hand her the money and she counts back my change. “Have a nice day!” she says, sticky sweetness in her high pitched voice. I nod and Anna and I leave the shop. I help her into the car and drive home, upset. I hate it when people do that. The fake smiles and voices dripping with false kindness, pretending to understand. It bothers me, yet Anna remains blissfully oblivious to it. I suppose that’s why I don’t want her going trick-or-treating. I’m not ready for her to be exposed like that, for her to be out there in the world where children have no filter and adults treat her like a baby. I’m...embarrassed. No. I shouldn’t be embarrassed. I love Anna so, so much. She is my pride, my joy, the light in my life. But I want to shield her from the world; be a barrier to protect her from all the mean comments, all the judgements, all the hatred. But I know my efforts are futile. She can’t be protected forever. I need to let go, and this is a step towards that.
We arrive in the driveway and I get out, surprised to see that Anna is trying to get out on her own. I bite back my urges and let her, saddened watching her struggle to get up on her crutches. I let her get up, get into the house. I close her car door. I let her go independently into the house, where she plops down on the couch, exhausted but smiling. I put the bag containing her costume on the coffee table and drag her wheelchair out from the closet. Letting Anna rest a minute, I ask if she’d like to start on her costume. She eagerly agrees and maneuvers herself onto the floor. We begin by attaching the straps of the wings to the chair and reinforce it with hot glue. At Anna’s suggestion, we bedazzle the handrims with orange, white, and black rhinestones. I remember the black headband I had, and go upstairs to get it while Anna dresses in her leotard. She’s more independent than I give her credit for. I’m holding her back. I think, returning to the living room and putting the headband in her soft brown hair. Anna mentions hair clips she has, and I assure her we will add them when Halloween rolls around for real, suddenly remembering that it’s in only three days.
The days are peaceful. We carved pumpkins, made caramel apples, and I put some decorations in the yard. And, all too soon, the day arrives. I am woken by my alarm, and, after dressing, go into Anna’s room after a light tap on the door. She’s still sleeping, but I wake her easily with a quick tap on the shoulders. She grins. I leave her room and hear the bed creak as she gets up. I know she is already dressing in her costume even though trick-or-treating hours don’t start until three.
Last night I had decided to make cinnamon, pumpkin-shaped pancakes for breakfast. I had made the batter the night before and tucked it in the fridge, so cooking them was a breeze. I made them in a metal pumpkin cookie cutter so every pancake would be beautiful. I had enough batter to make eight pancakes, and I put four on each plate. I garnish them with more cinnamon and banana cut to make a fun face. Soon enough I hear Anna hobbling down the hallway and rush to greet her with a hug. I help her to the table where we enjoy the pancakes with apple cider and laughter. We spend the morning watching movies and set the candy bowl on the porch at 2:45. Promptly at three p.m. we head outside to see children already going from house to house. I push Anna in her chair up to the first house (luckily without steps) and she rings the doorbell. We hear footsteps and the door opens to reveal Miss Aspen, one of our favorite neighbors.
“Trick or treat!!” Anna yells. Aspen gives her a big handful of candy into her plastic pumpkin. We thank her and move on to the next house. Six or so houses we go to, no problem. At the next house, however, there are steps. Five big, concrete steps. Children crowd the porch, and after their sweet tooths were subsided with chocolate, the lady begins to close the door. I shout “Wait!” and she steps out again. Quickly analyzing the situation, she comes down and apologizes, giving Anna lots of candy as supposed compensation for not being able to get to her porch. We finish the night without a hitch (houses with steps are easily Anna’s favorite as they give her lots of candy).
We return home after going around the block. Anna spreads her haul onto the carpet, sorting by type. I prepare hot chocolate for me and her, and we sit on the ground, sipping the cocoa and enjoying the night.