Karate class runs late and we stumble through the door 30 minutes before bedtime. Homework still needs attention, as do dinner and shower and lunches for tomorrow. It is into this briar patch of demands that Bug announces he’s changed his mind.
“I do want to wear a costume to the Monster Bash.”
I look at him and try to gather myself. The Monster Bash at school is less than 22 hours away. At least 8 of those are for sleep and for 9 working. The rest are committed to schlepping kid, dog, and self to the various places we all need to be.
“Okay,” I pretend to brighten. “What’s it going to be?”
“Ninja?” he offers.
“All the Ninja stuff is at your dad’s.”
“I was a baseball guy last year.”
“Do you want to do that again?”
We wolf down leftover pizza. He dawdles an extra 15 minutes in the shower. Because of the rush of the evening, he’s having trouble settling down. Leading him to sleep requires me to trudge almost the full length of Mirkwood forest in a plodding monotone — an injustice from which Tolkein should be exempt.
In the morning, Bug ties his shoes while I shove lunches in our backpacks.
“Vampire?” I suggest.
He shrugs. “Let me think about it.”
“Baby, we are two minutes from heading out. Think fast.”
“Okay, vampire. Or maybe school principal?”
I zip around the house shoving stuff in bags: eyeliner, hair gel, a silvery collared shirt hiding in a stack of hand-me-downs from friends who dress their kid far better than I do.
And this is where the gratitude flows like rivers. Our house may look like a train ran through it, but we are lucky beyond measure that the debris is so much craft and scrap — fuel that drives our creative engines. I buzz with a morning-sun confidence that we can come up with something, and this itself is cause for being grateful. We’ve been living our lives with found and improvised art for so long now that when a challenge appears, instead of “Can we?” it’s “How will we?”
This too: Walgreens is happy to take my $4 for a pack of face paint, even if I’m paying with a rumpled bill I’ve carried with me on my lunchtime run. How great is it that I work next to a neighborhood bike path that also runs right past a drug store and a supermarket?
And this: Bug’s grandma is willing to dig through her own closets to find the moth-eaten cape left over from my own childhood Halloween parties, and actually drops it off at my place. It will be waiting for me when I swing home to walk the pooch after work.
And finally this: Sometimes the metro is on time, an 8-car train shows up sporting plenty of empty seats, and the neighborhood kids — half of them already in their costumes for the party — shout hellos and race over to greet me when I step off the city bus.
I make it to Bug’s school 15 minutes before the Bash kickoff.
“Vampire?” I ask.
He nods. “Vampire.”
I whisk him into the bathroom. He sheds his playground sweats for night creature couture. We slick back his surfer-blonde tresses with water and gobs of gel. Then I peel open the white greasepaint and start in on his face.
“What about my eyes?”
“I’m getting there.”
“The lips? Why are you leaving the lips plain?”
“Hang on, Mr. Impatient! Let me finish.”
I open the black pencil and he rears back. “What’s that for?”
“Your eyes.” I start in again. He nudges me away.
“Vampires don’t have dark eyes.”
“Yes they do.” I try to sound confident. This is important, considering that looking at one costume label at Walgreens comprised the entirety of my design research. Did I mention that he only agreed to this idea five minutes earlier? “All vampires have dark eyes. I looked at a picture.” I step towards him. He folds his arms and leans away.
“Fine.” I click open my phone and pull up the first images I find on Google. I count many blessings today. Free wifi in the school bathroom is among them, along with the sweet vindication of supportive evidence. “See?” I hand him the phone. “You gotta trust the mama.”
“Fine.” He turns towards the mirror and submits. I darken the shadows with crimson and smoke. He applies his own blood-red lips.
When he faces me, ice and heat run needles down my spine. He looks so brooding. So unreachable. So cool. I see why Bella had her thing for Edward (though the reverse attraction remains a mystery). When my son juts his chin at me now and glares at the intrusion of the camera, I understand that he is going to incite ever greater vexation — and wonder — as he grows into his sharp angles.
As he grows away from me.
The music starts thumping through the walls. “I’m going,” he says. He pushes open the door and strides out into the blacklit gym, his cape billowing behind him.
Of all the things I count as blessings, this may be the greatest of them: That from my backstage seat, I can witness glimpses of this human-becoming from all his sides, even the sides he is only just discovering for himself.