Chipless Dale and Mini-Harry: A Photo Essay

It was a Halloween miracle, or several: Gbot’s brown turtleneck arrived via UPS at 3:45 p.m. Having forgotten to load up their pumpkin buckets, I bought the last $1.99 cauldron at the corner drugstore at 4:10 p.m. There was a $1.99 bat bag hanging above it. In spite of a still-coldy, sore-nosed Gbot (and after the application to the nostrils of Vaseline, which ingited a bout of wailing that only a piece of pizza could stop), we were all outfitted in time to take pictures. And Gbot wore his costume. All evening. The Great Pumpkin surely was watching over us.

I hope The Great Pumpkin was watching over you, too!

Woman Encounters Obstacle While Following Rainbow to End

Really, I am in better shape than this. But sometimes it takes a glass of wine to realize it.

I just walked out the door holding two of Husbot’s shirts, folded. I am not on the way to the dry cleaner, nor does Husbot own shirts that require poisons to cleanse them; if they reach that state, they get thrown out.

I was headed to the coffee bar, which in addition to coffee, happens to serve a bracing New Zealand sauvignon blanc by the glass. Getting into the car with an armful of shirts by mistake just illustrates how dire my quest was: I am in a state that requires poison to cleanse me.

Yes, it is only 3:29. This is my first and will probably be my last drink of the day, if you’re not counting an oversized homemade iced decaf mocha and not enough water.

It hasn’t been a bad day. In fact, it’s been a good day. It just feels like it’s been about three days, since 6 a.m. Probably because I’m trying to steer us all to a successful Halloween.

I should have gone to bed earlier last night; instead, I sat up practicing face painting. Which I scheduled myself to do for two hours tomorrow morning at Mbot’s preschool. Not only did I offer to repeat last year’s effort, which was valiant if not entirely successful (read about it here!), but to paint a panel of sample designs so that the woman who will take over for me during the afternoon Spookfest will avoid the embarrassment of instantaneously forgetting what a frog looks like when called upon to conjure one onto a four-year-old’s cheek.

Facepainting is kind of like regular painting, except really fast on a moving target. So even Picasso might have messed it up. Of course, chances are, you wouldn’t be able to tell if he did.

I find, while I sit here with my glass of Infamous Goose, I need to list the day’s triumphs:

Harry Potter gown hemmed (with black duct tape) and ironed.

Harry Potter broom padded at the dangerous end with black fleece. Extra glue added between handle and bristles to preempt mid-trick-or-treat meltdown due to falling-apart broom.

Chipless Dale costume examined and sighed over. Projected chance that Gbot will actually wear it without a fuss: 60%.

Chances that I’ll mess up the face painting required to produce a smile and two buck teeth on Gbot’s lower face tomorrow: an even 50%.

Dinner made.

Garbage taken out.

Laundry done.

Car washed. (Really. Needed. To Be. Done.)

Doggie poop cleaned up off living room floor.

Gbot’s nose wiped (twenty times. Tail end of cold.)

Hands washed between doggie poop pick-up and nose-wiping.

A still-coldy Gbot cuddled extra and listened to while wailing over 1. missing his chance to count down for Mbot before he launched out the door to the playground. 2. missing his chance to strap himself into car because he was wailing about missing his chance to count down for Mbot.

Husbot pissed off at wife’s attitude when he came home from work at 2:45 to spell me ’til 5. Excuse wife for not breaking out her first date smile when he threatens to lull them to sleep at 4 pm, which means she’ll be up ’til 9 p.m. putting them to sleep again.

The good news: I am almost ready for Halloween! And my friends and relatives on the Eastern seaboard are safe.

Last but not least, about the photo: I took this two weeks ago in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. Every year, my parents’ neighbor, architect and spare-time-hilarious-actor-in-local-productions, Steve Pruitt, put this witch up at the corner. Steve passed last fall, having lost a long battle with a rare kind of cancer. I never actually met him in person, but many years ago, I saw him in Don Quixote, and I still remember how hard I laughed. Other neighbors have taken up the Halloween witch-in-trouble ritual. And one morning in mid-October, we found her at the end of the rainbow.

Trick or Treat! It’s Chip and Harry!

Finding time to write this week has been like looking for the Golden Snitch in a heavy fog with Draco Malfoy on my tail.

Gbot’s caught a cold, it’s his birthday week, with all the preparations that entails, and, of course, Halloween is coming at me like a bludger.

I don’t think I even got a chance to tell you what we were going to be for Halloween. Roughly in order, over the past couple of months, Mbot and Gbot were going to be:

the bad cockroach Spider-Man



the Bat Sisters

“a storming trooper”


“the big guy not the color of snow what’s his name?” “Darth Vadar.”

Chip and Dale

“the shiny guy” (C3PO)

“the guy who beeps when he’s mad” (R2D2)

Harry Potter

Luke Skywalker

a kitty cat

Han Solo

You can understand why I hadn’t ordered or begun making their costumes until last week, when I made the executive decision that the bots would be Chip and Dale. I bought the necessary fabric and craft items in order to execute my bossy mommy plan. My plan this year was to make the costumes simple and quick. I don’t have time for anything but simple and quick.

Saturday morning, I began and nearly finished Mbot’s Chip and Dale costume. And Mbot was in tears, wailing at the top of his lungs, “I don’t WANT to be Chip and Dale!”

Normally this behavior doesn’t faze me, but it’s a Halloween costume, for heaven’s sake. Who really cares? Not me. Mbot. That’s who.

“What do you want to be?” I asked Mbot, and he announced that he was still vacillating between a storming trooper and Han Solo. We can make you a Han Solo costume, I said. Phew. Easy. We just had to turn his doggie rain boots into black boots. I could figure it out. Then he went to play with his favorite stuffed animal besides Junepy, an owl he calls Hedwig. “I want to be Harry Potter,” he said, and I jumped on that. A boy wizard trumps an Oozie-toting mercenary for the costume of a four-year-old any day.

So he’ll be wearing my black graduation robes, hemmed about eighteen inches. He’ll be carrying the makeshift broom I made from a half-price piece of decorative bamboo and another half-price piece of decorative fall foliage at Joann’s. He’ll be wearing glasses specially made to stay on a four-year-old’s face (earpieces made of pipecleaners stuffed through black-painted drinking straws affixed to elastic to go around the head):

and, in my favorite part of the costume, he will be carrying Hedwig….in the inner portion of my asparagus strainer:

Mbot is thrilled with this arrangement. The smile on his face when I showed him was one of pure satisfaction. He brought Hedwig to Grandma’s last night. He fed her Chex through the bars of her cage and supplied her with water in an empty Play-Doh cannister. He put his glasses on again first thing this morning and “played a fool on me” that he was really Harry Potter.

I was reminded instensely once again of why I love the age of four. Harry Potter’s magic is nothing compared to the magic of loving a bird cage made out of an asparagus strainer.

Why Isn’t Anybody Peter Parker For Halloween?

The reality of the pretend: even Spiderman can be shy and clingy at a party.

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.

David Bowie, also in 1973. Sure, this suit might be in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but was it comfortable?(

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.

Junepbear: Out of the Closet

The folks at have made a rhinovirus that looks a little like Junepbear.

It’s show-and-tell time again in the Joshua Tree classroom.

Last week, when I asked, Mbot wanted to bring what’s known around this house as The Cold Book (to the rest of the world, it’s Your Body Battles a Cold, by Vicki Cobb, Andrew N. Harris, and Dennis Kunkel), and which is to the common cold what The Stomach Book (Your Body Battles a Stomachache, by the same trio) is to throwing up. (See Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus.) He got it for Christmas. Now he wants to be a macrophage for Halloween. (For those of you who aren’t students of physiology, a macrophage is the blobby white blood cell that devours bacteria and other dead macrophages and ends up as pus. It’s a good guy.)

“Gbot, you can be a rhinovirus,” Mbot told his younger brother.

“No!” replied Gbot petulantly. “I want be Batman!”

Mbot: “But Mom, Batman doesn’t go inside the body!”

“It’s okay, Moon Pie. He can be Batman. I will be the rhinovirus.”

The sacrifices we make in the name of motherhood.

But yesterday when I asked, Mbot asked if he could bring Junepbear to show-and-tell. “Yes,” I told him, inwardly cringing.

Because Junepbear is…well…so loved. So sacred.

He’s the giant blue bear Mbot has had since birth. His extravagantly raggedy fur has absorbed blood, sweat, tears, chocolate, dust, and love. What if a friend makes fun of him? Or asks why his feet are so dirty? Or tells Mbot he’s not real? Or that he’s babyish? What if they make fun of his name? Or are mean because they’re jealous because he’s really a big, cool bear?

Will Mbot have to grow up tomorrow? Or will I?

For Those About to Face-Paint, I Salute You

A pro bass fisherman carries his own Arbogast Hula Popper.(available for $5.79 from Cabela's)

If assassination happens to be your line of work, you don’t locate your victim and then ask to borrow his 44. Likewise, a chef always carries her own knives, a bartender his wine key and apron, a bass fisherman his lucky lure. So why, when I signed up to work the face-painting table at Mbot’s preschool Halloween party, did I arrive empty-handed, allowing my success–at least partially–to rest in the hands of those who would provide my equipment, and who probably had spent as much time face-painting as I had ( none)?

Beforehand, I’d been worried about remembering what a frog looks like. Other than that, I was pretty confident about my rudimentary drafting skills. A bat, a pumpkin, a ghost, all within my artistic reach. Still, pride had urged me to practice a little beforehand, but I got so involved making Mbot’s Spiderman costume, I didn’t have time. I comforted myself remembering that Mrs. Pursell had stressed the bar would be set very, very low.

It only works if you are on your knees. (

I hadn’t known it would be a limbo bar.

It wasn’t, actually–it just seemed that way when I realized, to my horror, that, as usual, I’d been worried about the wrong thing.

My first client, a four year-old dressed as a princess, asked for a butterfly on her cheek. A butterfly. A butterfly. I visualized Eric Carle’s post-cocoon caterpillar and dug my brush confidently into my makeup palette. It turned out I should have been losing sleep over whether the brushes would be too flimsy to dent the cakey makeup (yes), and if the makeup would uncake if mixed with water (no, not really, even when jabbed repeatedly with the flimsy brushes). The pink makeup went on clumpy, so I tried to add water, and it turned scrubby and translucent. After sixty seconds of intense concentration, the butterfly looked distinctly like a skin disorder, the kind my siblings and I loved to look at as kids in the hospital library while we were waiting for The Guru to finish his rounds. A wipie saved me and the princess and I started over, chirping, “Almost done!” in a voice I hoped registered joy.

I flailed away. The paints did not want to be tamed. I had to consciously stop myself from mumbling excuses about my equipment. It would have made me look petty, like I was blaming my materials for my near-misses with failure as I was presented with one smooth trusting upturned cheek after another. I finally figured out how to make large simple shapes by crushing the recalcitrant cakes into submission.

UK-based Chris Kuhn probably doesn't squirm or turn his head while he is painting his face. (

Fortunately, Randy, my partner, was the father of a six year-old daughter, and he was an old hand, having sat at the face painting table last year. That he volunteered for this a second year in a row instead of, say, manning the fishing station, which involves clipping treats to the end of a line dangled behind a reef-painted room divider, suggested he was either very good at face painting or that he just thought he was very good.  It turned out he was okay, although it was hard to tell, given the stubbornness of our materials, and it was a good thing Randy was the one who got asked to do a mermaid. With two boybots, I couldn’t have drawn a  convincing picture of Ariel if I’d been threatened with having to be a cheeseburger.

A better bet for the amateur: Fantasy F-X water-based face paint from

Half way through the party, my performance rose when, in desperation, I opened three little tubes of paint–white, black, and green–that Randy had brought in addition to the palettes of useless grease. At least they went on smooth, leaving me and my eye-hand coordination as the lowest common denominator.

The last kid who sat down in front of me was dressed as I don’t know what–he could have been one of Robin Hood’s merry men in his drab medieval-looking garb, except that his face didn’t look merry. “What do you want on your face?” I asked gaily. “A monster? A ghost?” He shook his head and said in that hushed whisper that all midgets use to express their deepest face painting fantasies, “Spiderman.”


The night before, I’d Googled “spiderman images.” I’d studied spidey eyes, cut out a pair, and zigzagged stitched around them, twice. I’d propped the netbook on the table, squeezed a red fleece mask over a birthday balloon, balanced it in a kitchen bowl, and squinted at the screen as I squeezed glow-in-the-dark 3D fabric paint webbing on the fuzzy red dome.

On a cheek: a simple red oval. White eyes. Black webs. Spiderman, I could do.

Consulting a mirror, the unmerry man grinned. I’d squeezed under the bar.

"There's a crazy lady making your face look like a bowl of melted rainbow sherbet? I'm on my way."

Have you risen to the occasion, or squeezed under the bar, poorly armed, lately?

So This Bunny Goes into a Phone Booth….

Available in 1969, still on shelves in 2011.

On second thought, maybe it is not a pattern for a bunny suit, but for a puppy suit with a gratuitous ruff. No matter. The relevant point is that no sewing pattern manufacturer has obtained licenses from Marvel Comics. And so, this indistinct pink pawed creature from the sixties can–with scissors, a measuring tape, a short stack of printer paper, Scotch tape,  a yard each of red and blue fleece, a tube of glow-in-the-dark 3D fabric paint, sixteen inches of Velcro, and thirty-four cents worth of white mesh–go into a patio home in West Phoenix and come out…

Is the real reason Peter Parker wears this suit to hide his pull-ups?


Red socks over rain boots sold separately.

And, thanks to the miracle that is fleece, you can be a super hero and be fluffy, too. (See I Just Wanted You to be Something Fluffy.)

Have you effected a stunning transformation?

I Just Wanted You to Be Something Fluffy

Mbot wants to be Spiderman for Halloween. He’s had trouble deciding among all the delectable choices:

Buzz Lightyear.

A tyrannosaurus.

A fairy princess (“Mom, do they make boy fairy princess costumes too?” “Yes, Moon Pie”).

A stegosaurus.

A storm trooper with a storm trooper gun like the one at “Harry Potter’s Library” (Peter Piper’s Pizza, actually. Memory is a funny thing.)

A butterfly. (“Mom, do they make boy butterfly costumes?” “Yes, Moon Pie.”)

Any bad guy at all.

This morning, he wanted to be a soldier inside the bloodstream, the kind that fights germs. “That’s a good idea,” I said. There was a thoughtful pause from the backseat. Then he said, “Gbot can be a virus.”

But the most consistent response to my question, “What do you want to be for Halloween?” is: Spiderman. GBot’s is Batman.


I want Mbot to be Elmo again. I want Gbot to be Dumbo again. I want them both to be bunnies, or plush dinosaurs, or Winnie the Pooh. I just want them to be something fluffy.

Way back (about three weeks ago), when Mbot was going to be “Woody the cowboy, with a rope to lasso cows,” and Gbot was going to be a space ranger, Mbot suggested that I be a cow. Now that I will be escorting two micro superheroes from door to door come Halloween night, I asked Mbot what he thought I should be. “Wonder Woman,” was the answer. He obviously doesn’t know that her Lasso of Truth has the power to make anyone it captures obey.

Lynda Carter in the 70s pulls off the look. (

Do I have the guts? Do I have the quads? Do I have the cleavage?

No to two and three. I’m working on the first. Can Wonder Woman wear a cute skirt instead of star-spangled Spanx? Do I need big hair? In ten years, will the Midgets roll their eyes in mortification at the pictures? And where do I get me a Lasso of Truth?

What are you going to be for Halloween, and why?