Halloween is always a fun time of the year. We’re celebrating the proverbial harvest, lighting our coziest candles, spending time with our friends, and settling in before the rush of holidays and colder weather. It’s also a negotiation moment with Brendan as we prepare his costume. We start brainstorming in July, and inevitably I’m handmaking costumes each year up until the night before the first Halloween party.
Brendan settled on being Spin, a character from Spidey’s Amazing Adventures (the little kid version of Spiderman), and we were generously gifted a beloved costume from a neighbor. We couldn’t peel the costume off of him after he tried it on – he loved it so much. Whew, I thought. I’m only making one costume for Evie. I smugly celebrated a mini victory.
And then, we received the rules about what costumes are and aren’t allowed at school. One important detail leaped out: no masks. Brendan was slightly crushed – how could he wear his Spin costume to school without a mask? “Mama! People will know who I am and that’s not good!” he exclaimed.
He was right regarding the costume, but it made me think a bit more about the many masks I too have worn over the years.
There’s a wise Japanese saying that I keep in my writing notebook as a prompt for my memoir. To paraphrase, we have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family. The third face, you never show anyone.
I’d amend the third face description, however. I have to let the emotions flow, and so the third face appears whenever I’m still, silent, and alone.
I first remember changing my persona to fit the mood of the room in middle school. Maybe it was peer pressure and the drive to fit in, maybe it was my quest to figure out life in the midst of challenging family dynamics. Who knows. All I deduced was that I could be whoever I wanted at school – a slightly nerdy student with crushes on the cutest guy in school and a drive to escape to the swimming pool to clear my head – and another, quieter version of Amy at home.
That shapeshifting served me well as I started my career in Washington, DC. Living in DC, I had very unique personas for my dating life, who I was at work, and how I performed around my friends. Most of my personality traits remained: I’ve always been kind, empathetic, with a killer sense of humor, but the way those parts of me lit up and slithered in and out of distinct environments changed, like a chameleon daring to find her place by being many things, everywhere, all at once. The people who got to fully see the real me were Dave and my best friends. Everyone else got a gradient version, one that wasn’t in full color but a slightly muted pigment.
The challenge is that knowing which mask to use is tiresome. As a highly sensitive person, I read the room before I decided how much I have to share. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized that all the masks had to go, but it took a deep battle with postpartum depression and anxiety – coupled with years of therapy – to unravel why I put the masks up in the first place.
I still catch myself masking up if needed. LIke when I greeted other Kindergarten parents as I dropped off Brendan at school after completely losing my shit in front of him for his complete meltdown on the way out the door. Or the time that Dave was out of town and I was flooded making dinner, caring for Evie, and ensuring that Brendan remembered his library book while talking with a friend. Chaotic times in our life require us to put boundaries in place to push through until the third face comes through once the kids are in bed and the quiet envelops you at the end of the day.
Throughout my life, there have been seasons I’ve had to put on a brave face for those around me, a bold one to drive quarterly goals to the finish line, and even a vulnerable one to accept the love and healing I so desperately wanted. I used to think I was being inauthentic to switch back and forth, but now I see that in a different light. It’s less about not being honest and more about protecting my boundaries and peace. How do I know this? If you ask me “How are you?” a few times, you’ll cycle through the three faces. The answer to the first “How are you?” is “I’m great!” The second goes a bit deeper, and by the time you ask a third time and are likely family or a close friend, you’ll get the real truth.
No matter the costume you don this halloween, or the many faces or ‘masks’ you swap in and out throughout your daily life, out of necessity, fear, or insecurity, know that you’re not alone. As Brendan reconfigured his costume choice in light of his school’s guidelines, he opted to be Spiderman without the mask. I’ll gladly make a new costume at the 11th hour if he gets to be who he wants to be, mask not included.