Once upon a time, there was a catalogue filled with dozens of beautiful costumes – the “Medieval Queen,” the “Demon Dragon,” the “Ultimate Wonder Woman Dawn of Justice” —  that arrived at a home in Washington, D.C.
But of all the beautiful costumes in this catalogue, one 6-year-old girl loved only the “Peachy Southern Belle.”
Now, this girl’s parents were sometimes tired, and sometimes weak-willed, and sometimes a little bit feebleminded.
The parents knew they shouldn’t buy their daughter a dress called “Peachy Southern Belle.” Though they knew some saw nothing wrong with the costume, its very existence made them uncomfortable. Southern belles lived in the Confederacy. Southern belles owned slaves and were denounced on social media. Southern belles were not their kind of people.
Good parents wouldn’t have bought the costume. Good parents would have thrown the catalogue in the trash. Good parents would have thrown any catalogue in the trash.
But the parents tried to think.
There wasn’t anything explicitly Confederate, or even anything explicitly Southern, about the dress, they thought. There were no stars or bars. And unlike, say, the “Disco Darling,” this dress wasn’t trying to be sexy. That was important, the parents knew.
And the parents knew their 6-year-old couldn’t really understand the dangers of an idealized South, no matter how often she was told about slavery. The child knew the dress was pretty and orange and white with frilly white lace, white gloves and a frilly white umbrella. And that was all that mattered.
If a girl loves dresses, and isn’t expected to love dresses, shouldn’t she be able to wear dresses? the parents thought.
By the time the costume arrived in the mail, the parents decided it could be a good way to teach their child a lesson about slavery, race and history. It turned out the child, when wearing the “Peachy Southern Belle” costume, wanted to speak in an English accent and pretend to be Mary Poppins.
The dress, the parents realized, could be a dress out of time — an ahistorical dress. The “Peachy Southern Belle” just had a branding problem.
This is a beautiful dress, the parents told their daughter. But it does not have to be the dress of a Peachy Southern Belle. Southern belles lived in the Confederacy. They had slaves. And, as previously discussed, slavery is really bad. So, when you wear this dress, speak in an English accent if you’d like, and pretend to be Mary Poppins if you’d like. But do not say you are a Peachy Southern Belle. That may hurt people’s feelings.
The child seemed to understand this, but the Peachy Southern Belle was not so easily erased.
What are you going to be for Halloween? a friend —  or, worse, a stranger —  might ask the child.
Should I tell them? the child might ask one of her parents.
Um, one of her parents might say. Okay.

OK, I’m Mary Poppins

Well, the child might say. I’m going to be a Peachy Southern Belle. But Southern Belles were bad, because they had slaves. So I’m not going to be a Southern Belle. I’m going to be a lady in a pretty dress. Probably Mary Poppins.
Faced with the confusion of friends and strangers, the parents purchased the child a backup costume: the unassailable Hermione Granger. The child would be Hermione at parties and at school, where more detailed explanations of her attire might be required. But the Peachy Southern Belle, a.k.a. Mary Poppins, would be good enough for trick-or-treating, where children were kept on the move and conversation was limited.
As Halloween approached, however, the parents found no comfort in this plan. They Googled “Southern belle costume” and were horrified by the results.
“Our southern belle costumes evoke that earlier age of sipping lemonade or a mint julep on a veranda shaded by stately oak trees,” one website —  fortunately not the one from which the bona fide “Peachy Southern Belle” was purchased —  read. “If you owned a plantation in the 1850s you were part of the social elite. You took for granted many things that are now considered unacceptable, such as slavery. But slave labor was the only way most planters could run a profitable business.”
And that, right there, explained why the parents were so uncomfortable from the start. (Faced with arguments like these, those calling for reparations could do little but lay down their pens!)

A sheeple or an offender

Meanwhile, the unassailable Hermione Granger started to seem almost as problematic as the Peachy Southern Belle. Two of the child’s friends would dress as Hermione for Halloween. Another would be Harry Potter himself.
This unblinking, unquestioning mass worship of J.K. Rowling’s work was depressing. Yet, doubly depressing, it excited the child. Now that her little pals were in, she wanted a piece of the Harry Potter action, too.
Giving offense, or joining the sheeple. Were there no other choices?
One year — not long ago — she had been a bee. That was it. Just a bee. Could she not be a bee again?
But introducing a third costume into this volatile mix, the parents saw, would only bring further disaster. They could only imagine how their child would explain: I was going to be a Southern belle, but Southern belles are bad, so I’m going to be Mary Poppins, but I’m also going to be Hermione Granger, but then my parents said everyone was going to be Hermione Granger, so I’m also going to be a bee …
Children of therapists have been sent to private school on less than this.
And so, the girl’s parents gritted their teeth, tried to prepare explanations for whatever their child might say she was wearing, and waited for November.

Moyer is a reporter for The Washington Post.
parenting-halloween


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