About a month ago a note came home about a “major project” in second grade. Students would write a report about a chosen literary character to be delivered in full costume, followed by a parade through the school for parents. The words literary and character set my nerd bells a ringin’ but my kid, not so much. It seems making a costume for a literary character is not what gets a 7 year-old boy’s motor running.


“Who are you going to be?”

 “I don’t know. Maybe a Skylander.”

“What? No. That’s a video game character.”

“I have a book about them.”

“That doesn’t make them literary characters.”

 Giant pre-tween *sigh* “Ok, I’ll be Captain Underpants.”

While I share his fondness for the Captain, I worried wearing tighty-whities and a cape might have lasting social effects. “So you’re going to school in your underwear?”

“Maybe I’ll be Wimpy Kid?”

“You want to be a stick figure?”

 He relented. “Well, how about Willy Wonka? I love that book.”

Willy Wonka in his rust top hat and purple tails, now that has fabulousness written all over it. “Good call kid. Willy Wonka it is.”

Back in the day, before my current displacement to the land of the Hoosiers, I was a costume designer in professional theatre. (Full Disclosure, I am an East Coast theatre snob. Go big or don’t bother.) I spent many years drawing, stitching and crafting clothing from every time period and otherworldly state imaginable. I worked with some fabulous people (Fabulous is the only term acceptable when discussing those women and gay men in the costume industry- make note of it.) and insulted some of the biggest names in theatre.

Twice. Yes twice, I made comments to the effect of “I thought he was dead?” about Arthur Miller with no idea he was sitting behind me. Both times he replied, “Nope, I’m right here.” My guess is that I wasn’t the first to make that mistake.

I’ve slammed doors into Tom Stoppard before lecturing him about watching where he was going and I’ve attacked David Ives for spilling my coffee because I had no clue he was David Ives and those are just a few of my most embarrassing moments. It was a great career but it was hard work with a lot of long hours. After close to 20 years, I decided to hang up my scissors and walk away.

The problem is you can’t spend 20 years tailoring frock coats and sculpting Comedia del Arte masks and then slap your own kid in an off-the rack number from Target come Halloween. My kids have known since day one that Halloween is an ‘if you can dream it, Mom can achieve it’ scenario. (Though even with the world as his oyster my oldest has still chosen Star Wars characters for four out of the past six years.) And as I learned with this latest assignment, school projects are no different.

He chose the 1970’s Gene Wilder Willy rather than the Johnny Depp mod version. My kid’s a classics guy. I credit that to his prolonged exposure to classic television. (He’s got a solid understanding of Diff’rent Strokes so far. The Jeffersons is next.)

We gathered supplies and Sunday afternoon as we awaited the AFC playoff games, we got to work. (Yes, I worked in theatre and yes I love football. I’m a renaissance gal.)

“Give me your head so I can measure that massive melon.”

“Are you making my hat?”

“Of course.”

“Why do you know how to do this? It’s really weird.”

“Why is it weird?”

“Well, I don’t really think my friends’ moms are whipping up top hats on the kitchen table.”

And with those little words, he set off a level of competitiveness I had no idea I possessed.  Suddenly this costume was the bar by which my motherhood would forever be measured. Screw Broadway, this thing was going to rein over the 2nd grade! Damn straight none of his friends’ moms were whipping up a purple frock coat and orange top hat. No, just me. I AM COSTUME MOM and when my kid walks those hallways, people will drop to their knees in awe of the fact that Gene Wilder has returned from the dead in the form of a 7 year-old Willy, Freakin’ Wonka. I raised my scissors to the heavens, cackled loudly and proclaimed, “COSTUME MOM SHALL RULE THE 2ND GRADE!”

Four hours in, the Turk gently laid a hand to my shoulder, placed a beer before me and whispered, “It’s for 2nd grade. Let it go. The game is starting.”

What the hell was I doing? It’s a second grade project and chances are solid he will rock it just by being the only Willy in a sea of Harry Potters. (Because any sane mother slaps on a black towel cape, draws an eyeliner scar and calls it done.) Maybe the coat doesn’t have to be perfectly tailored and maybe just one row of hat trim will do. Moderation is key, or so they tell me.

The thing is, this has been a rough year for us with all the Nugget’s health issues and this awesome big brother deserves to be the star of the show for once. Until I get Nugget on his next journey and return to work, we can’t afford to give him a lavish birthday or buy the newest video games like his friends.(Because when you’re 7, those are the important things.) But what I can do is make a costume that other moms couldn’t even buy. I’ve got this weird, impractical skill and damn it, I’m going to use it.


*Arthur Miller really is dead now.

*When Nugget hits 2nd grade, he will be Willy Wonka too. With any luck, five years from now, Mom will be too damn old to be this crazy. Sorry buddy.



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