Tomorrow night, I will be eating dinner with Sylvester the Cat, Dracula and a Bumble Bee.

Narrowing the field to these impersonations has not been an easy decision for my children. They usually start the day after Halloween tossing around ideas for next year's costume. It is amazing to me how much they really think about it. You can be delivering a sermon in mid-March on the joys of flossing and they will respond, "I think I want to be the Hulk next year, Mom."

We always had homemade get-ups for Halloween when I was growing up, and I have foolishly carried over the tradition in my home. But we were such simple-minded little kids back then, the costumes never amounted to much work. I was a pillowcase angel for seven years. My brother was a hobo, always wearing the freshly wrecked pants of the season before.

Today, with the help of TV and the movies, our kids' imaginations know no bounds. George Lucas must have paid many thousands for the creation of Yoda. There is hardly any way I can be expected to do a reasonable job with an $88 Singer and a yard of felt, but try explaining that to a 5-year-old.

My kids never forget the tiniest detail in recreating their chosen hero. Superman's tights must be blue, never the leftover red from the elf costume of the Christmas play. Tweety-Bird would never be sporting dirty Nike's, so I have spent hours trying to whip up webbed items to cover dirty tennis shoes.

The whole thing is nuts anyway. Even if every detail is flawless, let's face it, they still look like 3-foot kids in costumes. On another day, similarly dressed, would anybody ask them for their autographs?

The bad news this year is that Halloween is not a school day. I usually depend on the teachers to absorb much of the abuse, and I am not looking forward to spending the whole day with my kids. By mid-afternoon they will be positively rabid. They will want to change into their costumes and eat dinner by 4:15 so they can be the first ones out at dusk. Dinner will be a token gesture. The kids will attempt to cram hot dogs through the slits of their plastic masks and everybody will practice the dialect or obscene noises their character makes.

It was at this point when I was a kid that my mother showed us the door. We combed the neighborhoods for hours unattended. In those days, the perverts stayed home hiding razor blades in apples. Now they are likely to skulk around the neighborhoods, so our kids don't go out alone on Halloween.

It is a total trade-off who's got it worse -- the parent who must accompany the marauders in their pillaging, or the one who stays home with the baby and answers the door.

Notes from the door-answerer:

Doorbell rings. Swarms of little Day-Glo colored masks cause the baby to shriek in fear:

"Trick or Treat/Smell my feet/ Give me something good to eat!"

The $25 bowl of candy is nearly wiped out by bionic grabbers early in the evening. If you're lucky, you can find a bag of leftover Christmas candy.

As the hour gets later, the clientele gets decidedly older. The last few times you answer the door, you face eight scruffy teen-age boys devilishly disguised as eight scruffy teen-age boys. They are carrying pillowcases for candy bags. They come late, so all you have are four Dum-Dums and some loose candy canes.

By the next morning, there is not an unsmashed pumpkin in the development.

Notes from the chaperone:

It's usually freezing on Halloween. It is the cruelest of holidays, forcing grown people to take a leisurely stroll in the dark in 38-degree weather. The cold doesn't bother the kids at all: They're doing marathon sprints fueled by wads of Baby Ruths.

You always lose one kid per Halloween. It's like trying to keep track of one tiny Space Invader in the electronic games. They all look alike and move so fast, and there's so much action everywhere else. Grownups don't like feeling out of control, and on Halloween you feel like that most of the time.

There are weird adults out that night, too. Not just perverts, but regular dads cutting loose in their old age. My husband is one. By day, he is a cool-headed obstetrician; by Halloween night he is a wacko dressed in blue jeans and a black turtleneck with my 1960-vintage hot pink bikini on top. He wears a long black wig and carries a broom. His practice falls off a little every year, but it's worth it to see him dressed like that.

(This is a man too embarrassed to return merchandise to a department store.)

When the children finally come home, they show the clear signs of sugar abuse. They are fevered, crazed, and the pitch of their voices rattles the glass in our cupboards.

In our house, the kids get 15 minutes to eat unlimited amounts of their loot. In future days, they are rationed a little after lunch and dinner, and after one week the rest is taken away.

If there were an Olympics for candy-eating, my kids would surely make the final rounds of time trials. They lose a little time, though, attempting to divert their father from gulping their goodies as fast as they do. It is one of the pitfalls of being a nutritionally savvy family. Kids and fathers regularly denied candy suffer temporary insanity when allowed to eat it.

It is an exhausting evening for all of us.

One year my son Cameron fell asleep in his pile of candy. He was so small, he was almost swallowed up by his clown suit. His face was a mask of goo, and he had bits of sticky candy attached to his costume.

I lifted him easily and -- taking advantage of the opportunity -- held him close as I had when he was a baby. His eyes popped open halfway up the steps to his room.

"I think I want to be Spiderman next year, Mom."