It seemed innocent enough at first: a bunch of four-year-olds holding juice boxes running around our neighbors' house in celebration of their daughter's fourth birthday.
Being a good decade removed from parenting this age group, my husband and I initially "ooh'd" and "aah'd" over each of the kids as they ran back and forth checking out their new territory.
"Oh, how darling," I exclaimed about the tall boy in denim.
"Aren't they cute," my husband replied about the curly-haired twins.
Sprinting past us, the kids would disappear into different sections of the house. After a while they would emerge, their faces now brightly painted. Out came your share of docile doggies and cute kitties, but in equal droves came scary monsters and rapacious pirates, boys and girls alike.
My neighbor, sensing that the pint-sized natives were getting restless from being stuck indoors due to the rare rain, made an announcement.
With this, the whole party crammed into the front room, my husband and I watching trepidatiously as a colorful butterfly was hoisted higher and higher.
Like passengers on a crowded elevator, each child shifted in anticipation. The tall boy in denim, his face completely covered in white-and-black zombie paint, grabbed the stick. The rainbow-faced curly-haired twins took two steps back.
One-by-one each child took a turn at the butterfly, some hitting it hesitantly and others whacking it with a focused ferocity. This went on and on until finally a hole emerged on top of the defenseless crepe-paper creature.
The energy in the room became palpable.
"Kill the beast," I whispered to my husband.
And sure enough they kept killing the beast until it spilled its candied contents all over the floor, with the tall boy in denim grabbing M&Ms and Twizzlers in a frenzy, while others, like the twins, waiting civilized and patient.
As we walked across the street back to our house, my husband asked me: did I think that each child subconsciously took on the persona of the character they chose, or was the character they chose, in fact, a reflection of their inner self?
I thought about his question while I ate an Almond Joy, a candy universally rejected by the otherwise-greedy preschoolers. I couldn't quite say what came first. All I knew for sure, as I opened my second chocolate-coated almond bar, was that I hoped my husband wouldn't call me what they used to call me in school.