Luc Villeneuve, 4, has asked to go trick-or-treating as a princess. His… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
A good day is when Luc wakes up and wants to be a tractor for Halloween. Or a helicopter. Or Hercules. Or anything other than a princess, bounding door-to-door in tiara and tulle.
A few weeks ago, the 4-year-old boy's desire to trick-or-treat as a princess sparked a dilemma for his two moms, Anna and Louisa Villeneuve: Which do you honor and protect, your child's independent spirit or tender feelings?
"My first reaction was 'He wants to be a princess? We're there!' " said mama Anna. But almost everybody she talked with about Luc's intention told her, "Whoa; that's a bad, bad, bad idea."
For a girl who grew up wanting to dress like a boy, Luc's choice felt like a blow against stereotyping. "But I'm trying to leave my inner activist at home," she said, "and just do what's best for my son.
"It's one thing to say 'Son, you can be anything you want. Our society needs to be less uptight.' "
It's another thing entirely to consider how a boy in a princess dress will be treated when all the other boys are trick-or-treating in Superman or Power Rangers costumes.
"I want to encourage him to stand up and be himself," she said. "But my 4-year-old is too little and too fragile to know where the social boundaries are. And I don't want his feelings hurt on what should be one of his happiest nights."
Luc is dreamy-eyed, with lush brown hair and a tentative smile when I meet him after a nap, curled up on mommy Louisa's lap. The toys stacked in neat piles along the wall range from building blocks to trucks to baby dolls.
All year long, he's been donning princess garb in the dress-up corner at his preschool. The adults in his life are fine with that. The little girls, however, have a problem with it. "Boys can't be princesses," they tell Luc, designating him a "wizard" instead.
Still, it's one thing for a little boy to play princess at school, and another to parade in a ball gown before a crowd on the annual Halloween march through the business district in the family's hometown, Glendora.
Anna and Louisa remember the sea of "Yes on 8" signs that sprouted around them in 2008, when the measure banning gay marriage was on the ballot. Gay marriage was rejected that year by voters, just months after the couple officially wed on June 17, the first day gay marriage was legal in California.
Now, Anna envisions those folks snubbing her trick-or-treating princess-boy.
"I imagine that when those Glendorans shut their doors, they're going to say 'See, that's why lesbians shouldn't raise children.' "
She doesn't think that having lesbian moms has influenced Luc's costume choice. Two years ago, he was a Jedi. Last year, he was a purple bat.
"I think he likes the bling, the accessories," she said.
But Anna knows that others see costume as commentary.
"My grandma was horrified when we posted pictures on Facebook of Luc in a princess dress with a tiara" after a visit last year to the dress-up exhibit at the L.A. County Fair.
"She's already anticipating that this is early-onset gayness. 'How could you be encouraging this? It's just not right!' she says."
Her grandmother is 87. But she got a similar response from students in the literature class she teaches at Citrus College.
"My colleagues said, 'Go for it. Support him.' My students said, 'Tell Luc that they are out of princess costumes' or find some other excuse not to let him."
That's exactly what my college daughter said when I shared Luc's dilemma with her. When did young people become such closet conformists? "We're not," she said. "We're just closer to Luc's age. And we remember how mean kids are."
Anna imagines Luc at 15 looking at old pictures with his friends and thinking, "Moms, I was only 4. Why didn't you look out for me?"
Even a child development professor at the college agreed: "Let him be a princess at home, but encourage him to pick out a boy costume for the neighborhood."
The message has come through loud and clear: You're lying if you tell your son: "You can be whoever you want." You can't.
At least not until you're old enough to spend Halloween in West Hollywood.
Things began to break the moms' way last week, when they took Luc to a Halloween fair and steered him toward the prince costumes.
"He was like 'Wow.' The sword, the helmet, the armor." At home, they fashioned a shield and sword out of cardboard and duct tape, and Luc played prince all day. "He was thrilled," Anna said.
A few days later, he'd backtracked a bit: He talked about dressing as a pitchfork. And by Friday, he was planning to be "a cannon with a big ball firing out of his face." Now that's something that might have me tracking down the child development expert.
Anna and Louisa haven't yet decided what to allow and what to rule out. The thought they are putting into the choice is a testament, in my eyes, to what good and loving mothers they are.
I imagine they've learned a few things from this about in-the-trenches parenting — including the fickle factor of Halloween.
A typical kid's desires might shift a dozen times in the holiday run-up. My daughter once changed from witch to black cat in the car on the morning of Halloween, as the first-grade parade was about to begin. That's not about gender identity, but the lure of multiple fantasies.
What Anna and Louisa care about most is not what costume Luc wears, but how the strangers he encounters treat him.
"What I don't want is for somebody to open up that door and say 'Dude, what are you doing in a princess dress?' " Anna said. "It might just be confusion, not disapproval. But that's the comment that will make my child feel like he's done something wrong."
So here, after all the soul-searching, is the very simple message she wants me to share: Remember the tenderness of children's feelings if you open that door on Halloween and find a boy in a princess dress among the innocent trick-or-treaters.