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Costume chaos: Indecisive children haunt Halloween stores, give parents nightmares

Even before the last piece of Halloween candy is counted, the hunt for next year’s costume begins in the Cappello household.

Courtesy Candi Wingate

The saddest little hot dog: Tyson Wingate, 7, fell in love with this hot dog costume in the store, but started having second thoughts in the car. The tags are still on, so mom is giving him until this weekend to decide.

“There’s a lot of handwringing for a full 365 days, from the end of one Halloween to the next,” says Valerie Cappello, a 44-year-old social worker and mom of two from Denville, N.J. “They’re thinking about it, discussing it, looking at catalogs.”

Once Halloween season starts and stores fill up with everything kids need to turn themselves into a wart-covered witch or red-fanged vampire, the family faces an agony-inducing indecision.

“My daughter changes her mind constantly,” says Cappello. “Sometimes it’s hour-to-hour if not day-to-day.”

Her daughter, Julia, 7, has considered about 15 ideas for Halloween 2012 but found something wrong with each one. She wanted to be Cleopatra, but didn’t want to straighten her hair. She briefly considered being a Care Bear but the color was off. As for Strawberry Shortcake, that was nixed as being "too little kid."

After six trips to the costume store, where she spent 30-45 minutes going "up all the kid and 'tween aisles and looking at every single package," Julia finally settled on a leopard-print wild cat costume.

“It’s amazingly frustrating,” says Cappello, who lucked out with her 3-year-old son, Henry, who fell in love with a Captain America costume early and has stuck with his choice. “Maybe we’re foolish parents for taking her so many times, but at the same time it’s fun. We still get to giggle and bond. It’s still Mommy and Daddy and kid time. We hate it, but at the same time, we love being with our kids.”

Between costume shops and the Internet, children have so much to choose from that their desire to find the perfect costume can take on a life of its own, with indecision testing the patience of even the most goblin-friendly moms and dads. Parents, though, have found ways to tame the costume chaos and make sure their child’s “final decision” stays that way.

After settling on the leopard costume, which Cappello thinks was the winner because it has so many accessories, she told Julia there was no turning back.

“The store has that policy and so do we,” she says. “We’re not bringing it back.”

On the other hand, Cali Clark, a 35-year-old mother from Vista, Calif., doesn’t mind making returns. In fact, to avoid a possible sell-out, she purchased several costumes for her 5-year-old daughter, Makenzie. Her little flapper/mermaid/vampire/TBD has until Oct. 28 to decide.

“We have a big star on the calendar and it says ‘last day’ on it,” says Clark.

Clark says her daughter isn’t indecisive by nature but has been bombarded with so many choices that the selection process has become overwhelming. 

“You go to every store and that’s all it is," says Clark, who works in insurance billing. "It’s Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. They’ve got so many types of kids' costumes out everywhere that you get lost in it.

“It’s driving me crazy to hear it but I also understand,” says Clark. “She’s 5 years old and there are so many different decisions.”

Jennifer Quasha, 40, used to get stressed out when her kids changed their minds about their costumes. But about four years ago, she came up with a rule. Quasha, an author from Greenwich, Conn., will buy her daughter, 10, and son, 7, one costume and if they have a change of heart, they can create their own outfit from the family’s dress-up box.

“It was an easy way to solve it,” says Quasha. “It just gave them a boundary and it gave me a boundary.”

Candi Wingate, a 42-year-old mom from Norfolk, Neb., who owns a nanny agency, is a little more lenient with her 7-year-old son Tyson, who also likes to walk the aisles and consider his options for the year’s spookiest night.

“It’s been going on for years," says Wingate, whose 11-year-old son, Trent, has never shown the same interest in choosing a costume. “It’s just the way he is.”

This year, Tyson selected a hot dog costume, though it didn’t take long for his loyalty to the wiener to waver.

“We weren’t even a mile away in the car and he says, ‘I think I’m going to be a football player,’” Wingate says. “We didn’t even get home with the costume and he’d already changed his mind.”

She instructed Tyson not to remove the tags from the hot dog costume and will try to keep him away from the stores -- and further costume options. He has until the weekend before Oct. 31 to decide who he wants to be. Until then, Wingate keeps her cool.

“I see the excitement he has so it really doesn’t bother me,” she says. “It’s a day where he gets to pretend he can be somebody else, and it’s an exciting and fun day for kids, and why fight a little battle?”

Though it can be stressful for parents to spend so much time every year trying to check “choose a costume” off the to-do list, Cappello says it's worth it in the end to see her daughter happy.

“When she has the right costume, you can tell,” she says. “It’s almost like she’s floating."

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York.

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