The Parents Yap About Halloween: The good, the bad and the spooky
This year, Halloween has us asking ourselves a lot of questions. From how old is too old, to what the heck a hanging torso has to do with Halloween, the Parents yap about this age-old tradition.
I love the Fall. I love the changing leaves and the cool nights and the pumpkin beer and the cozy sweaters. I love apple picking and cider doughnuts. I love the spooky feeling that New England gets in the Fall, but I am tired of Halloween. I don’t remember a “Halloween season” when I was a kid. Just Halloween. One day. One spooky night. That’s it. I am tired of seeing costumes and candy in Target since the end of summer vacation. I am tired of seeing houses all spookily decorated since September. I am tired of making and procuring costumes. I am tired of candy. I am tired of the Halloween store with its severed limbs and bloody zombie babies. And most of all, I am tired of whether or not Halloween is a success being my responsibility.
Somehow, my kids have come to believe that I can make any costume myself. In the past 11 years, I have made fairy costumes and witch costumes, knight costumes and cat costumes, pirates, Vikings, Pippi, Draco, Effie, Hermione, and more. This year, all the Halloweening has actually gone pretty smoothly. Everyone decided on costumes without too much drama or second-guessing. I waited until last week to buy candy, so I only had to buy it once. My kids had their school Halloween party last weekend. My sixth-grade daughter and her friends went to a costume party on Saturday because they thought they would be spending the real Halloween at Nature’s Classroom. Nature’s wrath cancelled that trip, so now she will be home to trick-or-treat with her siblings. So far so good, with only a little drama...
The elementary school Halloween parade was today. I’ve got one kid who is sad that she is “too old” to wear her costume (according to school rules) and another who wishes he didn’t have to participate because the parade is “stupid and babyish.” I am glad they are all still (mostly) interested in Halloween fun. I want them to enjoy the fun parts of Halloween, but I am ready for them to take on more of the work of preparing for it. I’m glad they still want to trick-or-treat. I’m fine with them trick-or-treating all the way through high school. It’s better than egging houses and toilet papering trees.
For most kids, Halloween is the second awesomest holiday next to Christmas. Costumes! Parties! Candy candy candy!!!!!. I always feel like it is the beginning of the non-stop slippery slope of spending and eating that goes from mid-October through New Year’s. Actually, the sugar/spending season starts with Halloween and ends with Easter, with plenty of pies and cookies in between. On top of all that sugar, I have to start thinking about getting ready for Christmas. Then three kids birthdays in a row. Halloween always feels like the beginning of the crush of extra mommy responsibilities. Even with all my complaining, I still think they are growing up awfully fast.
So, last week, in lieu of the usual dinnertime foolishness of potty humor and burp contests that my children mistake for conversation, they asked when we could start working on making their Halloween costume dreams a reality.
“Well,” I answered vaguely, “that depends. What does everyone want to be?”
“NINJA!!” replied sons number two and number three together. (Yes! Monochromatic color scheme from their regular wardrobe with a matching t-shirt, inside-out, tied as the ninja hood. Done!)
“I’m gonna be a Yobot! Yobot. Bruno. Yobot Bruno,” said son number four mechanically. (Not as easy, but I suppose I could manage a box, some silver spray paint and some dryer vent tube. Okay.)
“Mom, I want to be a phantom!” said son number one.
I played dumb. “A what? I don’t know what that would look like.” After he explained to me in some detail, I told him that we could look to see what we had in the house that looked robe-y and phantom-y but I was doubtful.
I tried to steer him deftly toward our dress up bin, which has been our go-to source of thrown together Halloween costumes for the past few years. Before this year, the three older boys- resigned but still good-natured- would kind of haggle a bit amongst them to see who would be the cowboy, the builder, the fireman, the chef or Superman. Problem solved in five easy minutes.
I figured they agreed with me that it’s really all about the candy, anyway. What I didn’t figure on is that any of them would ever tire of the same-old, same-old. My would-be phantom sighed loudly and said, “But I’m tired of these thrown together, homemade costumes. They’re lame.”
I drew back in mock horror at being judged “lame” before my oldest had even reached age ten and then burst out into laughter at being found out: “Poor honey! Can you tell I hate Halloween?”
Then, I saw this ad for K-mart that advertized that ALL their costumes were now fifty percent off and decided to try my luck the next day. Well, it turns out that half off of really freakin’ expensive is still more than I’d normally pay for costumes, but since A) I have a new baby to use as an excuse to justify anything I want or don’t want for at least three more months, and B) in light of all the money I have saved on costumes the past few years, I decided to just buy the darn costumes. I found a phantom, complete with glowing eyes. Then, I thought that NO WAY would my t-shirt ninjas put up with homemade costumes if their brother got a store-bought costume. I found two fancy ninja costumes in the right sizes at a good price and tossed them in the cart. Suddenly, my little “yobot” decided that he’d rather be a “shelton.” Since I didn’t feel like walking way over to the hardware section of the store for robot supplies, I added the skeleton costume to the growing pile. Now properly in the swing of things, I threw in two silly wigs for my husband and me to wear. Turns out that “half price” really adds up when you multiply it by six. Whoops!
In the end, I feel good about my decision to just buy costumes. It’s a far cry from my one child days when I planned to hand make each Halloween costume. That resolution produced exactly one panda costume (which all the kids have worn since) and lasted about as long as my one-child days…I’m slowly (slowly!) learning to accept as a mother that breaking routine and going with the flow is not only okay, but can really improve things. The boys all loved their costumes, had a great time trick-or-treating and I swear they were way more generous to me with their candy this year! Winning!
Tasha Schlake Festel
I have been taught my entire life to never open the door for people in masks. I've also been taught not to beg for food and not to take candy from strangers. I think these are all pretty reasonable lessons, and ones that I teach my kids as well.
But that all goes to hell on Halloween.
Masks, begging, and candy from strangers are the norm. And the more the better! Everyone wants their costume to be the scariest, to hit the most houses, to have the heaviest bag of candy at the end of the night. My kids included.
And I hate it.
But Halloween is for kids, and I put aside my distaste for all of these things for one night for them. My kids love Halloween, from the decorating, to the costumes, to the candy, to the parties, to the trick-or-treating with all of their friends. There isn't a part of it they don't like.
I must admit, when I look at the holiday through their eyes I don't hate it quite as much. I enjoy taking them trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, watching them sprint from house to house, coming home hoarse and tired from a great night of laughing, screaming, running and hauling loot. Halloween really is a holiday for kids.
I used to be one of those moms who pulled a wagon. Originally, the wagon was "just in case" my little ones didn't have enough stamina to hang with their friends. But really, it was a convenient way to carry a 12-pack, or a few bottles of wine, or spiked hot apple cider for me and all of the other moms desperate for a social event. I don't do that anymore, and the coffee mug I carry really has only coffee in it. I still see the wagon-toting parents but I have mixed feelings about it. I understand what it's like to have little kids and need to have a little something for yourself, but now I think that little something should be on a different night. And anyway, that wagon is heavy.
For a holiday I don't enjoy, I have somehow managed to accumulate a lot of decorations. At my son's urging every year, I pull the bins out of the basement and get the house all Halloweeny. We decorate with cutesy pumpkins, and witches, and skulls, and bats, and ghosts. You know, Halloween stuff. I hang some spiderwebs, which go nicely with the ones that naturally appear in my house around this time of year. The whole house - inside and out - becomes a cute Halloween paradise. I can almost convince myself that maybe Halloween isn't so bad.
Then we go to the Spirit Halloween Store and any goodwill I've managed to collect for this hellish holiday is destroyed. Halloween has become "Horrorween" and I don't like it. As a friend put it, everything that is wrong with this society is represented in Spirit's inventory. From decorations to costumes, that store offends my Halloween sensibilities on so many levels. While costumes have come a long way from the glorified garbage bags printed to resemble your favorite super hero that I used to get at KMart when I was a kid, I'm not sure I like the direction they've gone. The kids' costumes are all either sexy or scary. What happened to just being a cowboy? Why does it have to be a cowboy zombie? And since when should a pink crayon show off a little girl's curves? Now that's scary.
My kids had their Halloween parade at school and unfortunately, the 3rd and 4th graders are not included. Apparently, the eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds in 3rd and 4th grade have been deemed too old and mature. Bummer. My 3rd grader hated having to watch her 1st grade brother in the parade, wearing only "Halloween colors."
I know some kids say dressing up and parading about is babyish. But why is that babyish and trick-or-treating is not? How do you decide when a kid is too old to beg for candy? In our old house in Boston, I remember giving candy to "children" that were clearly too old to be ringing my doorbell. They were man-sized, wearing masks, and honestly, downright scary. I asked my sister who has older kids (11 and 13) when they would stop trick-or-treating. She said it's up to them. Each kid will decide with his or her friends when they're too old. I guess that makes sense. As long as a kid has manners, I really don't mind them holding on to childhood for another year.
My husband and I both go trick-or-treating with the kids and leave a big bowl of candy at the bottom of the stairs to my front door. Every year I am amazed at the honesty of the kids in this town. I come home year after year to a bowl that still has some candy in it. What a treat for a holiday that seems to be more full of tricks for me.
As much as I don't like the holiday, at the end of the night, this hellish experience we call Halloween ends up restoring my faith in humanity. Behind the masks, the begging, and the bags of candy from strangers, they're just kids.
I decided to wait to write this until after the night’s Halloween festivities so I’d have a fresh dose of venom to unleash on my least favorite annual event. So much not to like. Bratty kids ignoring the “Please Take One” signs and raiding unattended jack o’lantern bowls. High school kids covered in Barbasol opening up tattered pillow cases and uttering a half-hearted “Trick or treat” in voices deeper than mine. Wagon-draggin’ parents tipping ‘em back while their kids nearly dart into traffic. After decades of disdain for October 31, this rant would practically write itself.
I’m not sure when I began hating Halloween. I don’t have horrible childhood memories of it. Granted, it was a hell of a lot simpler then, especially costumes. My mother would pack us into the station wagon and drive to Wayside Bazaar in Reading where plastic, hollow-eyed masks stared at us from the shelves through cellophane windows in their cardboard boxes. In addition to the mask, each box contained a one-piece cross between a mechanic’s coveralls and a hospital Johnny constructed of a petroleum-based material. If you made it to Wayside Bazaar early in the month you might score a coveted character like legendary daredevil Evel Knievel. Wait too long and you’d end up like my brother Jim and I did one year. I have a Polaroid of me as a taller Starsky standing next to his Hutch. I still remember the condensation building up as I exhaled through the mask’s tiny nostril holes. Rainforest flora and fauna would have thrived in the climate my breathing created inside Starsky’s face. The boxed costume alternative was simple. Throw on a plaid shirt and Toughskins, tie a bandana to a stick, char a wine cork on the gas stove and rub it on your face. Boom. Hobo. Whether I was one half of a 1970’s TV undercover cop duo or an affable, train-jumping vagabond, I’d hit the neighborhood, haul in the loot, and go home and sort it. What’s not to like?
Nonetheless, the older I got, the less I liked Halloween. I stopped trick-or-treating after sixth grade. After that, I handed out the candy. By the time I had kids I was completely and inexplicably soured on the whole affair. Even taking my kids trick-or-treating, I was the dad saying, “Think you’ve got enough?” or “You’re cold? Let’s go home, then.” So when 6:30 rolled around this evening, I reluctantly headed out to meet our neighborhood friends, the Contes, to get the whole thing over with quickly so I could get home and pen a scathing report on Halloween 2012. A funny thing happened on the way to this forum, though. I went through an almost Grinchian transformation. You might even say my Halloween-hating heart grew three sizes this day.
Where I once saw greedy candy-mongers, I saw the exuberance and innocence of youth as my son and his friends ran from house-to-house. I watched their faces light up as they peered into their bags and reported on their hauls. I smiled at Will’s celebratory fist pump for the Oreos he got “from that old guy.” Our small group merged with a horde from one street over and the kids flash mobbed porches for a few houses before we splintered off again. We stopped and snapped pictures of the moon through bare branches, and peered skyward to point out the Big Dipper to the kids. Before wrapping up for the night, I directed the kids to a house whose owner I knew doled out full size bars. It was the best Halloween I’ve had in a very long time. I guess I have a soft spot for Halloween after all.
The only explanation I have for my Halloween turnaround is that I accepted it for what it is. I didn’t get caught up in how, for me, Halloween runs a close second to New Year’s Eve as the most over-rated one-night celebration of the year. I ignored the occasionally forgotten thank you’s when Milky Ways trumped manners. I let myself look at Halloween through the lenses of a child’s eyes instead of with my cynical grown-up view, and it took me back to racing up porch steps in my sweaty Starsky mask. I’m going to do the same next year, and until my kids feel they’re too old for Halloween. It’ll happen way too fast.
Just don’t bother asking me which of my neighbors hands out the big bars. I’m not telling.