What Dressing as a Wild Thing Taught Me About Being Authentic

What Dressing as a Wild Thing Taught Me About Being Authentic. (Photo: White family dressed in costume as Wild Things from Where the Wild Things Are in front of a house)

Some moms worry what the other parents will think of them showing up at the preschool drop-off in leggings or even pajamas. But this day, ripped yellow leggings were the most normal part of my outfit. More eye-catchingly, I had a furry brown dress and giant red-tinged wig. Sure, it was Halloween. But that didn’t mean I felt self-assured at all dressed as a real-life Wild Thing, from the book Where the Wild Things Are.

We were at my older son’s preschool to march in the Halloween parade with him. As my husband, I, my kids, and my parents walked across the parking lot, I tried to hold my head high.

“You know, Shannon, you may be the only parents in costume,” my mom said.

I swallowed. “Then they just don’t have enough Halloween spirit,” I declared, my voice trembling. What if we were the only ones? What would they think of us? I figured our costumes would be the most elaborate, but what if no one else was in costume at all?

Normally, I embrace my nerdiness to the full.  I’m so much of a nerd that I wrote my college admissions essay about it. I’m so much of a nerd that I not only tabletop role-play, but play systems that aren’t Dungeons and Dragons. I’m so much of a nerd that one of my favorite places growing up was the New York State museum. I’m so much of a nerd that I’ve dragged very small children to multiple comic book conventions.

And yet, I had a crisis of faith about my nerd self that Halloween.

After our Guardians of the Galaxy costumes last year, I had my eye on dressing Sprout as Max and the rest of us as Wild Things this Halloween. I found directions online and assured Chris (and myself) that we’d figure it out. With some help from my mom, we completed the costumes at one o’clock in the morning the night before Halloween.

You’d think I’d be proud of my accomplishment, but doubt nagged at the back of my mind. My costume was patently ridiculous no matter what. But  I wanted to be ridiculous in a good way, like the person online who looked in her costume like she was throwing adult worries to the wind and embracing child-like whimsy. In contrast, I was constantly adjusting my wig like the shy girl hiding behind her hair on the first day of school.

The Big Reveal

Entering the building, I scanned the hallway to see if other adults were in costume. I spotted a few and breathed a sigh of relief. Once we were in the classroom, Sprout’s teacher complemented us on our hard work. She said that she typically makes family costumes for her husband and four kids (!), something that reassured me that our commitment to dressing up wasn’t totally absurd.

But then we faced the other risk to those of us who like to dress up in costume – people not recognizing what your costumes are supposed to be. A fellow parent asked, “Are you… cavemen?” When I chirped back, “No, Wild Things, from the book Where the Wild Things Are!” she gave me a blank stare.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one to give us that reaction. When we went trick-or-treating, there were a lot of people in our neighborhood who were completely unfamiliar with the book. One of the great joys of last year’s costumes were that people recognized us immediately. (An advantage of basing costumes on a huge pop culture phenomena, I suppose.) It was disappointing to see not only how many people didn’t have a clue who we were but didn’t recognize it even after we explained it to them.

The Importance of Being Authentic as a Mom

While I could take this as a lesson in the dangers of nerddom – people simply “not getting” you – it shows me how much I both embrace my authentic self and still sometimes struggle with it. As I wrote in my college essay, “A nerd is simply someone who is a unique individual and recognizes it, a person who refuses to compromise herself for the sake of others, a person who can tell the world her feelings and opinions.” It’s fundamentally about being yourself regardless of what anyone thinks.

On one hand, I shouldn’t be ashamed of my love of children’s literature and dressing up. On the other hand, I took a big risk that I wouldn’t have in the past. While I’ve looked pretty silly before, it’s always been in the guise of anonymity or a “nerd space” like a convention. Going to my son’s new preschool, where my husband co-ops and we’ll be interacting with other parents for years to come, was a whole different level of social vulnerability.

In the end, I was glad that I set that example for my sons. I want them to accept both themselves and other people simply for who they are. I can’t teach them that if I don’t model it myself!

Embracing My Kids For Who They Are

In fact, we had a test of accepting Sprout for who he is just after the preschool parade. All of the kids filed into a big room in the adjacent church building for a group sing-along. While Sprout had been dragging his feet during the parade, I thought he was just moseying. Entering the room, what was potentially a slow pace quickly turned into outright refusal. I asked him, “Are you sure you don’t want to sing with your class?” and was met with a definitive “No.”

While I could have dragged him kicking and screaming, I offered him the opportunity once more and then just let him do his thing. While I sometimes forget, he needs sometimes needs space to adjust to major schedule changes or sensory overload. Later in the day, he joined right back in the activities like nothing was the matter. Allowing him to be him was the best thing we could do.

Being a good nerd mom isn’t about passing on a love of comic books, museums or science. It’s about accepting and loving yourself: quirks, weird passions and all. It’s fundamentally about being authentic yourself and encouraging that authenticity in your kid, accepting and loving your kid for who they are. Halloween, that holiday of disguises and masks, is a great time to embrace who you truly are.

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10 thoughts on “What Dressing as a Wild Thing Taught Me About Being Authentic

  1. I knew exactly who you were the minute I saw the photo! I do remember this book from my childhood, and I think this is just a clear cut example of people not reading a really awesome children’s book! I am surprised that more people didn’t know who you were or know the book when you mentioned the name of the book! It was even a movie in 2009!

    • There’s definitely a lack of knowledge of children’s literature for some adults. A couple of the adults were immigrants with English as their second language, so I couldn’t blame them for their lack of knowledge at all. But I think everyone could benefit from reading Where the Wild Things Are!

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  3. You were wonderful Wild Things. Not your fault others are not as well read. Great costumes.

    My husband and boys dressed up in homemade Minecraft costumes.

  4. I love this! My inner nerd bubbled to the surface and overflowed with the release of Star Wars Episode 7. I never knew I had such a Star Wars fan inside but we even went to the Star Wars convention! It was a great way to step out of our norm and experience life through different eyes from a galaxy far, far away!

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