we really are a scream
Get your snapping fingers ready:)~
Adam has never liked costumes. When he was younger, I actually tried getting him to select things he wanted to wear for Halloween, but it was an exercise in futility, one of those efforts that just left me frustrated with his limited ability to communicate. It’s often the little things that become the big things; the smallest details you expect to just enjoy with your children that feel the most difficult living on the Spectrum. Back then, in order to ask our son what he would like to be for Halloween, we had to make a communication toolout of pictures with various options affixed with velcro so that he could pull off and reattach his answer(s) in a big box beside the question “Which costume?” And before he could successfully do even this much, he had to have extensive practice learning how to make a choice–any choice, about anything. And then, there were the sensory issues related to the costume he chose (And who knew if he was sure of his choice or just humoring us?): Does it have a hat? A wig? A mask? Will he be afraid or annoyed to the point of tears about it? Will the fabric be too itchy? Too tight? Too noisy? Too shiny? Too stimulating? Will they even have what he wants in his size, since he’s tall for his age and older physically than he is developmentally? One year, he successfully chose Handy Manny (An appropriate choice—he was NUTS that year for Handy Manny) and then every store I tried (including several online) only carried toddler and baby sizes.
One year, I chose a cowboy costume for Adam, thinking that it looked like the most uncomplicated option available. But Adam hated the hat, and got teary at the mere suggestion that he wear it. Another year, I dressed him as a storm trooper. He looked great, but the mask stayed on for about 1 minute, and yet again, he cried. The year that he was Spiderman, he refused to wear the hood, so Kevin told everyone in the neighborhood that Adam had decided to come clean and reveal his identity.
For us, the fact that Adam would trick or treat and enjoy it was enough (and he’s always enjoyed the predictable fun of trick-or-treating), but we knew better than to take him out there in jeans and a sweatshirt. We’d seen well-meaning neighbors quiz the kids who show up at their door with a plastic grocery bag, having apparently made no effort with a costume. We knew that all that attention (Pretend that the chef from the muppets is withholding your Halloween candy while having a pointed discussion with you and clearly expecting a response, and you might come close to what that would be like for Adam.) would just frustrate our son. Some of our AU parent friends have even made information cards to pass out to neighbors who look at their kids’ sweet, “normal”-looking faces in confusion. We applaud them, and we’re equally passionate about autism awareness, but we’re just not big on turning Halloween into an effort in explaining our challenges. For Zoe’s sake (and for Adam’s and Riley’s sake, for that matter), sometimes we need to just do something fun as a family.
So last year, our brainstorming on all these “issues” started a trend that has turned Halloween into a favorite for us. Kevin and I decided that we would be Adam’s costume. Some of you will remember that I glued neon green numbers to a comfortable black sweatsuit for him and declared him the matrix (Adam’s best costume ever at that point. Know him for about 5 minutes, and you’ll know he’s passionate about numbers.).
Kevin and I dressed as Neo and Trinity. It was the most fun we’d ever had on Halloween. Adam was in costume and comfortable, and we all had a blast, stress-free. As we walked back home that night, tired and happy, Kevin said, snapping his fingers twice for emphasis, “I’ve got it! We should be Adam’s family next year.” I didn’t get it. “You mean, we should all just wear jeans and sweatshirts and put a “hello my name is Adam” sticker on him?” “No. The Addam’s Family, except we’re Adam’s family.”
It was brilliant. I’d be Morticia, Kevin would be Gomez, Adam would be Adam (with a shirt that might easily be construed as Pugsley-esque), and the girls would both be Wednesday, if they agreed. A family costume that required no costume for Adam. Brilliant. I ordered the costumes (well, mine and Kevin’s) on sale just after Halloween last year, and I bought Adam a black t-shirt with a cool-looking skull that wrapped around the side. Over the course of the year, I collected wigs, makeup, and fun details like fake fingernails painted with spiderwebs. When Target had just started putting out their costumes this year, I started collecting the last things—elements of the girls’ costumes. At the supper table, Riley had declared that she did not want to be Wednesday like Zoe. She wanted to be a lady bug. I prepared her for the fact that I might not be able to find a lady bug costume in her size (see “issues” paragraph above:), and then I was delighted to discover that Target actually had one that didn’t look even slightly trashy. So, she became The Adam’s Family pet ladybug, Rigor Mortis. Don’t tax your brain if you’re old enough to qualify with us as Addams Family groupies. There was no pet ladybug.:)
As a matter of fact, I had to do quite a lot of explaining to Zoe about The Addams Family before she actually bought into being Wednesday Addams. I showed her pictures and narrated my favorite Addams memories. “So, they look and act scary,” she said, “but they don’t know they’re scary? They think they’re normal?”
“And they live in a haunted house?”
“And Wednesday, she likes to sneak up on her brother and scare him, like I do?”
“Did he laugh like Adam laughs when I do that?”
“Well, he tried to scare her in return. That’s how they played.”
“Did it work? Was Wednesday afraid?”
“Well, not really. Wednesday was pretty tough. She wasn’t afraid of anything.”
“Okay. I’ll be Wednesday. …I get to have long black hair, right?”
So, we were set to have a brilliant, zany, adventurous Halloween for the second year in a row.
And then, costume night, Adam nearly made me cry.
Well, there were tears, but I held them back for the sake of my makeup.
Costuming for us begins the Friday before Halloween. Every year, our church hosts a Fall Festival that is loads of fun with hayrides, face-painting, trunk-or-treating, games, good food, and a carnival-style atmosphere. So, we get a lot of mileage out of our costumes. As soon as the kids get home from school that Friday, we fly into a whirlwind of activity, changing into costumes and putting on makeup and “getting into character.” This year, I got Adam started on a bath since his “costume” was regular clothes, and the girls and I went into my bathroom and started getting “ooky.” As soon as Adam was all bathed and wearing his cool black t-shirt and jeans, he came in the bathroom to hang with the girls and me. This is not unusual in and of itself. Adam always likes to be where ever we are, unless he’s decompressing from some sensory-overloading activity. I noticed though, that he seemed unusually interested in our process, briefly touching the tubes of makeup and peeking around the girls’ shoulders into the mirror. He seemed excited not only by our activity but by how amazing the girls looked in costume. He squealed and giggled…and lingered. Eventually, I caught on, curiosity and wonder dawning.
“Adam. Do you want to wear some makeup??”
“YES!” His answer was enthusiastic.
“Well. Okay, then.” I got the tube of white makeup and started making him pale, like the rest of us. He squirmed, moving his head back and forth. The best way I can explain this to those who might not know is that some sensory sensations are almost excruciating for our kids. It’s like their nervous systems fire at ten times the normal sensitivity. I could tell that it was very difficult for Adam to let me apply the makeup. He didn’t enjoy the sensation at all. But he didn’t complain. He twisted and turned and sometimes looked like he was in pain, but he stood in the same spot and let me apply the makeup. When I was finished, he looked in the mirror and announced, “It’s SO beautiful!!”
This made me laugh out loud as my vision blurred. “Yes. It looks great, Adam. Good job.”
Then Adam walked into our bedroom, where Kevin’s costume lay waiting for him on the bed. He pointed to it, looking back toward me, and said, “Shirt?”
I could not believe it. Adam was asking me if he could wear that costume. Thank heaven God grants mothers a certain resourcefulness. I could not let his request—his effort—go unanswered.
“You want a costume, Adam?”
“YES!” Again, he was enthusiastic.
I ran to the closet and found Kevin’s Neo costume from the previous year. I slipped it over his head, laughing to myself because it really made him look like Uncle Fester with hair. Then I grabbed one of my belts and tied it around his waist, as tightly as possible, and pulled the tunic through the belt so that he could walk without it dragging on the ground. He smiled at himself in the mirror, declaring once again, “It’s SO beautiful!!” Oh the moments that are so huge for us: Adam in a Halloween costume. By choice—clearly communicated choice.
At the festival, I discovered that being Morticia made me something of a celebrity. While I was eating my hot dog, a stranger walked up and asked to take my picture. It was the first of several similar requests. On Halloween night, one friendly person (who hollered, “The Addams Family!” with delight as we walked up) would request to take a picture of our entire family. I gotta say, we did look the part. Zoe’s best friend took one look at her when we walked into the festival and said, quite expressively, “All this time, I’ve been thinking you’d show up in overalls with these cute little pigtail braids, and here you are…looking all SCARY.” I think she even shivered, standing there in her elegantly adorable Cheetah suit. “I’m not scary. People think I’m scary, but I’m actually very friendly.” This from Zoe made me smile, an echo from our early conversations about Wednesday. “And, Wednesday’s not scared of anything, ” she finished, her eyes widening. This last statement became her favorite quote the entire weekend. On Halloween night, when she walked up onto a well-decorated front porch where a black-hooded skeleton sat in the rocking chair, she said loudly, “I see you sitting there, Skeleton. But I’m NOT afraid of you. Wednesday is not scared of anything.” Yeah. Wednesday wasn’t exactly hopping up and down when Kevin asked her to stand next to the skeleton for a picture. He had to ask her to move closer to it three times.
Oh, I’m so thankful for the fun God allows me to enjoy with my wonderfully unique children. I’m still more incredibly grateful for every ounce of progress they make and for all that they teach me about perseverance and determination.
And, in case you’re wondering, yes. We do know what we’ll be together next year for Halloween. And next year, Adam will have one serious costume.
p.s. When we were watching this clip with Riley, she said, “Hey! Where’s the ladybug in this one??”