Boo birds are flighty

My 7-year-old brought home a fill-in-the-blank paper from school the other day that went like this: "For Halloween, I want to wear a costume like a (blank)." My son had written in "ninja."

This made me gnash my teeth.

Not because I have anything against ninjas. I'm sure they're perfectly nice people, once you get past all the kicking and swordplay and screaming "hee-yah!" as they eviscerate each other. No, I've got nothing against ninjas and I hope all you ninjas out there take note of this.

And it's not because I don't want my kids wearing Halloween costumes that portray violent characters. Children -- especially boys -- are violent little creatures by nature and I've given up trying to change that. I made that decision years ago, when one of them was still eating in a high-chair. As I approached, he held up a cracker, perfectly chewed into the shape of an Uzi, and said, "Bang!" I knew then that me and my liberal anti-gun tendencies were whipped.

No, the reason I'm irked by "ninja" as a job description for a 7-year-old trick-or-treater is that I thought we had our Halloween costuming plans all set, and ninjas didn't figure into it this year.
My wife and my 10-year-old son recently picked up these great masks at a flea market. They're whole-head masks, made of rubber, depicting old-man faces, complete with wrinkles and blemishes and various discolorations. Each bald head sports a halo of long, white fake hair.

The first time my kids walked into the room wearing these masks, it startled the bejeebers out of me. I thought we'd been invaded by retired Munchkins.

Once the shock wore off, though, I could see these masks were the basis for perfect Halloween costumes. Wear them with overalls and you're an ancient farmer. Wear them with a bathrobe and you're a wizard. Wear them with pants hitched up to your armpits, and you're somebody's grandpa.

It was a relief, having Halloween all planned, but still leaving room for the all-important last-minute improvisation.

At our house, the kids tend to be capricious about their costumes. They change their minds as frequently as most of us change our socks. In fact, I wish I could get them to change their own socks as often.

It starts around October 1, when Halloween is still a distant Jack-o'-lantern glow on the horizon. The boys plunge into a big box of costumes and old clothes and begin mixing and matching the possibilities. They come into the living room, done up head to toe, and boldly announce that THIS combination is their final selection for Halloween.

We smile and nod, happy in the knowledge that that's been sorted out and pleased with their inventiveness. Then, a day or two later, they appear in completely different outfits. This goes on for the whole month. By the time Halloween actually arrives, they're sick of all of their options and we have to do a mad scramble to get them into some costume, any costume, so the neighbors will fork over the candy.

One year, we painted faces at the last minute. One kid was a werewolf (brown face); the other was a pumpkin (orange face). Under the neighbors' porch lights, both boys looked as if they'd rolled in mud.

Another time, they were vampires, but they couldn't say "Trick or treat" without first removing their plastic fangs. Without the teeth, they looked like butlers.

Another year, they wore uniforms that vaguely suggested Star Trek, along with plastic swords. When people asked what they were supposed to be, they rolled their eyes and said, "Space Ninjas," as if any fool could see that.

This year, I'm determined that they'll wear those little-old-man masks, no matter what. I've worked hard, keeping those masks hidden away so the dog wouldn't shred them. I want all that effort to pay off.

I can see us now, roaming the streets on Halloween night, me watching from the curb as my sons dodder up to a neighbor's door, ring the bell and cry "Trick or treat!" in their best centenarian cackles.

And when the neighbor asks what they're supposed to be, my boys will roll their eyes behind the latex and sigh exasperatedly and reply, "Retirement-home ninjas."

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