Friday, October 24, 2008

The Costume as Everyday Attire

Here is my absolutely favorite thing about kids: Sometimes, they enter a room nonchallantly, looking at everybody like "Hey, what's up?" They hang up their coat, take a seat. Everything's totally normal. Except for the fact that they're dressed like Darth Vader. Or Snow White. Or Buzz Lightyear.

The costume as everyday attire...It's the stuff childhood is made of.

The other day, J.J. wore his Captain America costume everywhere. To a Mexican restaurant for lunch with his aunts. To his cousins' football games. To a family party. Every once in a while, he'd pretend to hold a shield and yell, "Captain America. Save the Day!" But other than that, it was business as usual: coloring, eating chips, throwing fits from time to time. Normal. Only in costume.

Things are probably the same for the real Captain America--ordinary, at least on a personal level. I mean, what are the chances that both his personal and professional lives would be absolutely riveting. For most people, neither is even the least bit interesting. That's what makes it so great! Interesting isn't good, especially at home. If someone says, "The past couple weeks have been...interesting," you're like, "Oh, Christ. What happened?"

So, if Captain America really is in the business of saving the day, odds are, he spends his weekends planting crysanthemums or something. Which beats the alternative of, say, searching for his long-lost father in the ghettos of Hong Kong while dealing with annoying death traps set by his evil clone.

Halloween is basically the same thing, with kids going about their business in costume, all on the same day. This year, our school did this a little early with trunk-or-treat. On Friday, 200 kids trick-or-treated at our car, so I got the opportunity to see them as their characters. I know a lot of them but eventually figured out that saying hi by name disappointed them. They wanted to be their characters.

Richie was this way. He dressed as Anakin Skywalker--the good years. I gave him a sticker, which meant we'd paid for him to trick-or-treat. He looked at it like, What galaxy far far away, long long ago has stickers, of all things? "Do I have to wear this?" he asked.

A while later, he ran into Darth Vader. Basically, this would be like bumping into yourself after you'd already gone over to the dark side--while, in the present, you're still undergoing Jedi training! Um...Awkward.

To make matters worse, Darth Vader was in second grade and challenged Richie to a lightsaber battle. As their swords clashed, Richie had that look on his face we all get when we know that, logistically, we're going to lose a battle but are praying to everliving God it doesn't happen. At least not immediately.

Then, the look changed. He stuck out his chest and allowed that plastic lightsaber to stab him straight in the heart. Then, he staggered hilariously and gasped, "I'm dead! I'm deaaaaaad!" Darth Vader got a big kick out of that. Well played, Anakin, well played.

After their battle, Anakin and Darth sat down and drank hot chocolate with marshmallows floating on top.

Costumes let kids be who they want to be--only in an everyday way. Superheroes may save the day while wearing their underpants outside their clothes, but for dinner, they eat their hotdogs with ketchup like everybody else. Princesses live in a turret and wear satin gowns as everyday attire, but at the end of the night, they climb onto their mom and dads' laps and fall asleep. Even junior high kids, dressed in hoodies, frightening masks and sheer awkwardness, gather with their friends to trade candy after an evening of being scary.

No wonder Halloween has become one of the biggest holidays in our country. An exciting career (whether in the field of saving or destroying the world.) A blessedly boring homelife. Isn't that the American Dream? And you get a bag full of candy, to boot. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Art of Tattling

Some things that kids do, there's no grownup version, for most of us at least. Wrestling, for instance. Running around in circles. Yelling. Singing on the playground for all the world to hear. Unless you decide to do any of these things for a living, you pretty much grow out of them.

But what cracks me up about kids is when they do things that adults do, only in a more upfront, in-your-face way.

Take tattle telling, for instance. Today, when I dropped J.J. off at school, three little girls were sitting on the floor reading. Well, a little boy came sauntering up to the front of the room, hands in his pockets, not really paying attention. Then, when he saw what they were doing, he stopped dead in his tracks. Apparently, they were breaking a rule because it was play time, not reading time.

"Ohooooooh. I'm tellin' on y'all," he said.

"What? The teacher said we could read," one little girl shot back.

But he told anyway.

Now let's just pause to think about how a grownup would handle this very same situation. Probably, he would wait until he was alone with his boss and then casually mention something like, "Are Janet, Carol and Kate not very busy with work right now?"

"Why do you ask?" the boss would say.

"Because I saw them reading during work time, and I just thought it was wierd because I'm slammed with work right now. I was surprised that they weren't."

Then, ideally, the boss would give the three ladies more work than they could ever handle. Meanwhile, they would never know who told or even if someone told.

When, you're a kid, however, the whole point of tattling is for the other kid to know it was you.

"Yeah, that's right," kids say. "I got you in trouble. That'll teach you to read when you're supposed to be playing. Punks."

And here's another thing that kids are more upfront about: insults. They'll flat out tell another kid they think he's crazy or mean or bad at kickball or anything else.

As kids, we took turns being on the receiving end of these comments. That's why I can't understand when people say, "If you've got something to say, say it to my face!"

I'm like, "Do you not remember what that was like? Being insulted to your face? In front of everyone? No, sir. If you've got something to say about me, say it behind my back...that way it'll be your problem, not mine. I'll never have to know."

Here's a good thing kids are more open about, though. Friendship. They'll make a best friend in a single day. And then they'll draw them a bunch of pictures or write them notes or dress alike. Obviously, grownups can't do this or else it would totally freak the other person out.

But it's nice when kids do it. It shows their honesty and straight-forwardness goes both ways. From the hilarious tattle-telling to the precious declarations of friendship, straight-forwardness is what makes kids kids. Well, that and the running around in circles, roughhousing and singing at the top of their lungs.