After this Halloween, you might not be able to accurately ask that question. You’d have to ask: Why isn’t anybody but Mbot Peter Parker for Halloween?
Having given up his brief notion of dressing as a nerve cell (Your Body Battles a Stomachache is still a big influence in our house), and after vaccillating between a Ninjago and a Storm Trooper and a Bad Cockroach Spiderman (I’m dropping the hyphen–movie critic Anthony Lane agrees with me that it’s stupid, and the fact checkers at The New Yorker aren’t reading my blog (I only suspect)), yesterday he came up with a truly original idea.
We had friends over to play, and, as usually happens about half way through a playdate at our house, Spiderman and Batman made their appearances, complete with Batman’s froggie rain boots and Spiderman’s doggie rain boots. Batman settled down directly with his scissors to cut Play-Doh, but Spiderman announced that now he was going to turn into Peter Parker. “Help me put on my clothes, Mom.” I eyed him in his fleece Spiderman suit and held out his shorts. We managed to wrestle them up around his waist, but when he looked down, he said in dismay, “MOM. But I need long pants! My spiderman legs show!”
And I thought, But it’s 98 degrees outside! And all the pants are sealed in a box because it’s 98 degrees outside! Then I remembered that just that morning, I’d washed and dried a pair of sweatpants inherited from a cousin and left on top of a box in the garage, and that I’d noticed they might now fit. I ran to get them. They fit.
“Now a shirt,” Mbot stated. I went looking for a long-sleeved shirt big enough to fit over the bulk. I found a polo shirt and drew it over his head and he stuffed his arms through the sleeves. “There!” I pronounced, feeling claustrophobic just looking at him. I had a vivid flashback to 1973. I was five, heading out on the family boat, and had been stuffed first into an itchy, tight-shouldered fisherman knit sweater and then into a foam jacket known in Southeast Alaska as a “float coat”: unflexible, unsinkable, and cut like a suit designed for Ziggy Stardust.
I am convinced that these inventions kept people from drowning because after being made to wear one once, people simply chose to stay home.
“But MOM! I need the button buttoned!” cried Mbot. Of course. One could view a red Spiderchest above the open shirt collar. I buttoned the button.
And then Peter Parker stepped into his doggie rain boots and proceeded to play for over an hour, looking as though he had a pathological case of swelling and stiffness throughout the body.
But he was absolutely content. He was Peter Parker. No one knew he was Spiderman underneath.
It is hard to have secrets when you’re four, and this was a good one. I applauded Mbot’s desire for authenticity. An adult might have just CLAIMED to have on a spidersuit underneath. No one would know. Mbot’s contentment came from knowing he did have on a spidersuit underneath. Better even than the superhero underpants that were underneath that. There’s much to be said for authenticity, and I’m glad he recognizes its value. Although he was a boy wrapped in a costume of a fictitious character’s impossible alterego wrapped in a costume of the fictitious character, he was being real pretend. He’d taken the measure of the fictions involved, and was in control of them.
So if you see a kid on Halloween in sweat pants and a polo shirt, holding a plastic pumpkin bucket, he might not have just forgotten his costume. He might be dressed up as Peter Parker. Wait for him to pass you, then turn and check for a big lump at the small of his back. If there is one, it’s his Spidey mask stuffed into his waistband under hsi shirt That’s how you’ll know for sure. Sometimes you only know the truth looking back.