Sometimes, a Fake Mustache Can Help
When I was a teenager, my family moved to a new city and I transferred to a large high school. Although I was very shy, I was enticed by the options for clubs and extracurriculars, and joined the stage make-up group. I had been curious about using colors and techniques on the face and body to enhance and amplify storytelling, so joining felt like a perfect fit. Little did I know that I’d utilize what I learned to celebrate my family’s safety during a global pandemic.
The first few meetings went well, I met nice kids, and after learning some basics, I was eager to start trying out some techniques. Every time we broke up into small groups to practice, the teacher who led the group pulled me aside as his partner. I couldn’t quite identify my discomfort about how often or how excessively he touched me, or that he wouldn’t let me work with the other kids. I was the shy new kid without any friends, and couldn’t name what was happening to me, and even though I loved learning about stage makeup, I abruptly quit the group. Years later, my murky suspicions were confirmed when he was exposed and convicted as a sex offender. I felt relieved to know that my feelings weren’t wrong, yet sickened and pained that some of my classmates had been harmed by him. Horrifying that this is a familiar scenario around the world; some of us escape, and many cannot.
Decades later, and I’ve been sheltering in place during the COVID 19 crisis with my 3 children, one of whom is immunocompromised, so we are pulled in especially tight. To bring in some fun and help differentiate between the slipstream of these nearly identical days, one of my kids suggested that we start having costumed theme nights. We would create an evening that would relate to a certain movie or show, and in the process, nourish our creativity and connections to one other. We would play games, name our dinner foods with silly relevant titles, and wear costumes to look like the characters. For example, for Shrek night we danced to Smashmouth while wearing our costumes, and for dinner we had fresh grubs with pond slime (gnocchi with pesto).
Arlo as Gru from Despicable Me
We love debating until we agree on the theme, enjoy helping each other with suitable characters, even lend each other clothing. Out of necessity, we only use what we have one hand—spending money or going out of the house for props or costumes is against our ethos of germinating homemade fun. We keep our theme nights in line with the morals that we aspire to instill in our children for now and well beyond this crisis; make do with what you have, spread love and joy if you have the opportunity, celebrate the little things.
Given that we love Halloween, I already had a bag of leftover facepaint, and one evening when I sat balanced on the edge of my bathtub painting my son’s face, I was flooded with memories of my time in high school. As I painted a Ringo Starr mustache on my child’s face for Yellow Submarine night, I was able to finally acknowledge how uneasy I felt every time I was near that teacher, how grim that I had thoroughly believed his gross attention was my fault. As I chatted with my son, I realized that our theme nights were about more than just differentiating these long lonely days. Our theme nights are about joining in on the great human conversation of making sense of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Sharing those quiet little moments of painting my kid’s faces is my messy suburban mommy equivalent of a Buddhist monk creating a sand mandala; a soothing and beautiful exercise in impermanence. Our theme nights are outward expressions of how we are grappling with this loss and mourning that is unfolding on the largest scale that the human race has ever encountered.
Being silly and playful with my children is how I am cultivating hope, while simultaneously healing from my past. With every character I help my child embody, I celebrate that we are safe. Our little home is our haven right now, and not a day goes by that I don’t acknowledge how truly lucky we are. Finding levity and silliness in the midst of so much National and Global uncertainty is how I am protecting my children from the fear and sadness that is threatening to overwhelm us all. But truly, isn’t everything just a little sunnier while wearing a fake mustache, or maybe a purple wig?
There are countless ways to move through this time of tumult and upheaval, from reorganizing closets to mastering bread baking, to just trying to plow through the work day and then collapsing in front of the TV. We are each playing our roles and bearing witness to the unveiling of the most dramatic and gripping saga on the global stage thus far, so please give yourself permission to feel your feelings, old, new, not even yet articulated, and if it helps, definitely wear a mustache.
Please help others to name and feel what they are going through.
Please listen and believe when someone says they aren’t feeling safe, have been hurt, or need help.
This article was published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.