I have a very distinct memory of my first Halloween. It was 1994 and my family had only arrived in the United States six months prior. We didn’t have a lot of money, so my mom did the best she could, fashioning my fanciest dress into a kind of princess gown for my Halloween costume, and off I went.
I remember how excited I was then, at 8 years old, to get free candy. For an immigrant like me, nothing ever came free and my family could rarely indulge in something like buying me treats just because. My parents had to save their earnings for the basic necessities of feeding and clothing our family. But Halloween? Halloween was the first truly exciting American holiday I got to experience — and I have loved it ever since.
When 2020 began, I was just entering my third trimester of pregnancy and so excited to welcome my first child into the world. And celebrating Halloween together was one of the things I was looking forward to most.
And then, on March 11th, the world changed.
I gave birth to my baby boy at the end of that first month of the pandemic. Despite the chaos around him, he filled our hearts with joy as we spent the next couple of months quarantining in our house, away from the risk of contracting COVID-19.
But as the weeks wore on, I started to experience the isolation and loneliness of being a new parent in this unprecedented time. During my pregnancy, so many women told me about the “village” and how I should accept the help of anyone who offers to come over with a casserole or to hold my baby while I napped. Yet there was no village for me in reality. I had to soldier on solo most days, as my husband was back to working in his medical field job.
Although we were luckily able to celebrate our first Mother’s and Father’s Days, we could not bring ourselves to do any other kind of celebrating or activities this summer. We only ventured out for the bare necessities like work and groceries. But in the back of my mind, I always thought Halloween would still be an option. I mean, it was still months away. Wouldn’t things be better by then?
As the summer turned to fall I began to feel an intense amount of grief for everything I had already lost this year. My baby, now 5 months old, was becoming increasingly difficult. I love him dearly but, well, he demands a lot of attention. And while my mom is able to come over a couple of days a week so I can work, I otherwise struggle with keeping up my career while also being a stay-at-home working mom in this new and uncertain environment. This is not the life I pictured for myself, and I kept coming back to wanting Halloween — my favorite holiday — to still be special this year.
I find myself desperately wanting to do something magical with my little boy. But nothing feels safe.
Trick-or-treating is out of the question because, well, I’m paranoid enough about stepping foot into a grocery store. And handing out candy? No, thanks. I bought little treat bags, packed up the candy I bought, and plan to leave them on my doorstep for kids to take as they choose.
Still, I want to celebrate with my baby somehow, despite not being able to do any of the classic Halloween things I had so loved. And then it hit me: We’re going to dress up. And we’re going to take amazing photos.
Taking my immigrant mom’s cue from when I was little, I’d never really spent much money on my own Halloween costumes over the years, opting instead to craft something out of what was already in my closet. One year, I wrapped myself in one of my sheets (yes, really!) with a rope belt and a shell necklace to transform into the Little Mermaid as she first emerged from the sea. I only needed to buy the red wig.
I always prided myself on saving money with my Halloween costumes, but when I looked at the overall misery of 2020, I decided that enough was enough. This year, I am splurging on a Halloween costume for me and my baby, no matter what. And to top it all off, I am going to have professional photos taken of us looking like our best, dressed-up selves.
I know it’s a privilege to say that I am spending $200 on Halloween this year, between our costumes and the photographer, and I fully acknowledge that I am really lucky to be able to do this during a pandemic when many are still out of work, but I would have done anything to make this happen. I would have eaten Kraft mac ’n cheese for weeks — a la college days — just to afford this splurge that is making 2020 suck a bit less.
As much as this year has ripped out my soul and rearranged my insides and made me feel lonely and frustrated and oh-so-goddamn-exhausted by all of the decision fatigue of constantly worrying whether this is safe or that is safe, I wanted at least one happy thing to come out of this holiday season.
I don’t yet know what the rest of 2020 will bring. I don’t know if the election will turn out the way I hope (please, god, please) or if I’ll be able to see my family for the holidays. I don’t know if we will be able to travel to see my grandmother and have her meet her first great-grandson before it’s too late. I don’t know if any of my friends will meet my baby before he’s walking or if we’ll be able to celebrate his first birthday next year.
But I do know this: If Halloween pictures are one of the only happy memories I’ll have this year, then splurging is exactly what I needed to do. Maybe next year, when all of this is over, I can go back to digging through my closet. But this year, I’m going to be Ariel with my little Flounder — and I’ll have the amazing pictures to prove it.