I sit on the floor of our attic, in a pile of ghouls and goblins, a few fading Power Rangers.
“How about a ninja?” I say, choosing a plastic sword from the assortment
“Ja! Ja! Jaaa!”
I move the weapon through the air, making the slicing and dicing sounds of a Japanese fighter.
“No,” replies my adversary, his voice, unwavering.
“DJ,” I implore my son.
“Will the kids even know who that is?
It is almost Halloween, and I am stalling, torn between the finality of perfect costume selection and the practicality of grabbing a hand-me-down from the many at our feet. DJ, the last of three boys, is the hand-me-down kid. He’s grown up wearing his brothers’ cleats, his brothers’ sweatshirts, carrying his brothers’ backpacks. My life would be a little easier if he’d do the same at this very moment.
There is, however, a complication. DJ is ten. Experience has taught me trick or treating, with parents in tow, ends here, in fifth grade. When middle school arrives, trick or treaters kiss mom goodbye, head off on their own, more often than not to make middle school mischief, running through neighborhoods in the dark, gleefully unchaperoned.
I cannot avoid the reality that this might be our last costume discussion.
But, honestly, I think, there are twenty costumes here. Pick one!
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yes,” DJ says. “I am sure.”
Ron Burgundy is a character played by Will Ferrell in a PG-13 comedy released two years after my youngest son’s birth. The connection DJ has with the lead actor and character he portrays doesn’t surprise me. DJ loves the burping, farting, and silly humor he finds lacking in his own family.
“None of these costumes will work?” I try again. DJ stands above me, arms folded, jaw clenched, shaking his head.
My relationship with my youngest child is not easy. I have read more than a few books on Spirited Children (today’s kinder, gentler description of what a previous generation might have labeled Pain in the Ass Kids). DJ is determined. He is focused. He is not the go-along-to-get-along child I was promised by his birth order. DJ does not ask for permission, rather he asks for forgiveness. Shortly after learning how to walk, he opened the front door, dressed only in a diaper, and strolled four blocks from home, off on a great adventure. Eventually, he ran into a twelve-year-old neighbor, who coaxed him back to safety.
“Mom, please, come on.” DJ’s mouth is smeared in chocolate, blonde hair in need of a comb. He is skinny, scrawny even, and tugs at the waist of pants, recently gifted by an older brother. His blue eyes—the only physical characteristic inherited from me—stare in the distance, over my head.
Where was I when he watched this film? When DJ’s oldest brother was ten, I researched every movie request, interviewed parents before play dates. With my second son, I did mostly the same, loosening my grip somewhat on sleepovers and candy corn. My third son was my pregnancy swan song and with it, I had hoped to paint the nursery pink, buy ballet slippers.
“Remember the Devil Dog costume I made for Russell? That would be funny. Everyone loves Devil Dogs! ” I try again, although I know the battle is over, the victor crowned.
“No,” he says. “Ron Burgundy.”
I know he will not give in; DJ does not give in. Several years ago, he decided to play ice hockey. “Absolutely not,” I said, describing head injuries, the expense, long commutes, and a culture of violence. The debate lasted weeks, wherein he told me he’d walk, he’d get a ride, he’d become such a good player that there’d be no chance of a concussion. Although I guessed none of this would be true, and it wasn’t, still he wore me down, he won.
“OK,” I sigh. “You win.”
In the weeks that follow, I find a woman’s burgundy suit coat in GoodWill, dark red jeans at Target. I order the wig and moustache online. After searching Google for Ron Burgundy hair, I review the choices, settling on something that looks right in the seller’s YouTube video.
I show it to DJ a few days before Halloween. “How’s this?” I ask. “What do you think?”
“Oh yeah!” DJ pulls on the outfit, strikes a pose, looking in the mirror, wig cocked slightly to the left, burgundy pants, already too short for his ever-growing legs. His maroon leisure suit, blonde wig, mustache transform him into an odd 1970s middle aged man. “I look great!” he says.
“I am happy,” I tell him. “I am happy when you are happy.” He rolls his eyes, demonstrating his dislike of mushy talk and the implication that he should be happy when I’m happy. He strips the clothes off, settles into a snack, some video games.
Halloween arrives. DJ prances about the house in his costume, excited to kickoff the night. October 31 is my husband’s birthday, and after a hurried cake, some singing, Don settles on the couch. I lecture my older sons one last time before they head out, eager to begin their own evening adventures.
If DJ follows the path of his brothers, next year will include Silly String and shaving cream, surreptitiously tucked in oversized sweat pants. Years later there will be missed curfews, and my smelling their breath and interrogating them about pumpkin smashing and respect for neighbors.
Today, however, on this Jack-O-Lantern High Holiday, candy is king, costumes, goofy clothes, a discarded ninja sword. DJ hands out a few treats to early-comers, those little pumpkins and princesses who haunt the twilight streets before bedtime.
“Look at them!” I squeal at the tiny hands, choosing lollipops and Starburst from the bowl. I nod at the parents, standing on the street, urging Pleases and Thank Yous to their costumed offspring, playing the role of me of yesterday, of long ago.
The door closes and DJ begins.
“Mom,” he says. “I want to start with the mansions.”
“The mansions?” I ask.
We live in a small city, eight miles north of Boston. It is an old community and there are a handful of oversized single-family dwellings, spread throughout the city. I have never heard them referred to as mansions. I try to recall the holiday from one year ago
“Where are these mansions?” I ask.
“Come on,” he says
We are lucky, on this fall New England evening, as there is neither snow nor rain, nor a late-season heat wave, all of which we have experienced on Halloween in years’ past. The air is crisp and the moon is full. It is a beautiful night, and I am grateful for it, pleased that the weather has cooperated on my last October stroll with the youngest of my sons.
Ron Burgundy and I set off, he running, dragging a pillowcase for his loot, me, speed walking behind, keeping him in my sight, smiling and waving to neighbors heading to other homes with other ghouls
“Here we go,” he says, as he marches up to a small duplex, rings the bell, grins. “The first mansion.”
I watch a woman peek out, smile, then offer my boy a bowl from which to choose a candy. Ron Burgundy does not murmur the “Trick or Treat” expected at many homes, and the treat giver does not ask about his costume, his sense of style. She smiles at me, waves, as I play the role of her of long ago.
“Got it!” DJ tells me when we meet again on the street.
“Why is this a mansion?” I ask, as we continue our journey.
“Look,” he says, holding out his spoils. “King-sized candy bars. That’s what the mansions give.
We walk, from one mansion to the next, some small, others big, Capes, Colonials, an occasional townhouse. At each, DJ hungrily awaits an extra-large candy; sometimes he is disappointed, having misidentified the house, but I am surprised by the number of times he is correct.
“How do you know which are the mansions?” I ask.
“Just do,” DJ mumbles his reply.
I can tell from his tone that he has no interest in delving into the mansion phenomenon. As with many conversations with DJ, I am left simply to wonder. When he was seven, DJ was enamored with roller coasters, riding, researching, and, eventually, building his own. He spent an entire weekend, working long hours, hauling odds and ends from everywhere into our backyard. Pulling me outside for the final reveal, he asked, “Do you like it?” My view was one of scattered pieces of wood and plastic, a carefully tended lawn browning below. DJ, however, saw a roller coaster. So it is with the mansions. I remain silent.
We meet up with DJ’s friend, disguised as a more traditional ninja, his mom speed walking behind on her last holiday excursion with her son. Eagerly, the boys trade treats, vying for their favorites. A younger sister asks DJ why he is dressed in a suit instead of a costume. Her brother chides, “He’s Ron Burgundy! Don’t you know?” DJ smirks, I smile, grateful I am not the only mother whose child knows the PG-13 film. Later, we head home, as the houses start to turn off their lights, close their doors.
After too many Butterfingers, a quick hug to the birthday dad, DJ brushes his teeth, gets ready for bed. I text his brothers, reminding them to be smart, be safe, be home soon.
“Mom,” DJ calls with a request I receive with less frequency these days. “Can you tuck me in?”
We lie next to each other, Ron Burgundy and I, in his hand-me-down bed, in a room still painted little boy blue. DJ’s head nestles comfortably in the crook of my arm. We compare our feet, his smaller, at least for one more year. Candy wrappers litter the floor, spilling out of the pockets of his peeled off pants. He has affixed his mustache to his bedroom door, a reminder of our last October walk together.
“Thanks for the mansions, Deej,” I say. “I loved seeing the mansions.”
“Yeah, maybe you can be a mansion next year, Mom. Hand those big bars out to the little kids, when I’m out with my friends.”
I look at him, my youngest son, the one I did not expect and do not always understand. His face is flushed from the late October air, his pajama bottoms are in need of a wash. I feel his blonde hair, notice a more mature texture and curl has begun to replace his baby fine locks.
As certainly as I hoped for toe shoes and hair ribbons, I rejoice in the joys my third son has given to me. Without DJ, I might not know the excitement of a hockey goal or the fun of an unplanned adventure. I might have a perfectly tended yard, but not the thrill of a roller coaster ride. I wouldn’t have looked at a woman’s discarded suit jacket and recognized the perfect Halloween disguise.
Tomorrow when I wake to my early November walk, I promise to see our neighborhood anew, with mansions in the ordinary, everywhere.