I ruined my oldest son’s experiences with Halloween. I regret that. But maybe by sharing my story, I can help you not to ruin your child’s experience.
Parenting is scary stuff, and our society is full of fear. I drank that Kool-aid once. I believed my son might be kidnapped while trick-or-treating or that a neighbor might slip a needle into his chocolate candy bar. (Has that ever really happened?) If Ford snuck a piece of candy from his bag before I inspected it, I’d nearly have a heart attack on the sidewalk. Now he’s going to die!
You see, I thought that Halloween was about little kids. And by that I mean, I thought it was about what the parents of little kids want Halloween to be about. Turns out, however, Halloween is really for the older kids. (I know. Bear with me.)
It all began in Florida. That’s where Ford spent most of his first Halloweens. While he had no voice (literally) or opinion, I dressed him in Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank costumes. Because Ford was my first child, I got away with this for many years, until my second child, Owen, arrived and was forced to wear the Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank costumes.
Ford has no good memories of these Halloweens. It didn’t help that I made the boys’ costumes myself using double-thick felt that isn’t known for being super breathable. In Florida’s 100-degree October temperatures, this was a problem. Also, the Flash costume I made Owen was so small, the inseam pushed his diaper completely to one side. He looked like he had messed one side of his pants.
We’d walk to a few houses, with the boys always in my sight. Sometimes I even walked up to the neighbors’ doors with them. I held the pail of candy, guarding it with my life so that neither of my boys could possibly eat a tainted, needle-laced piece. I put reflector tape on their shoes and Winnie-the-Pooh ears, and I put an emergency whistle around their necks. I stopped just short of driving the boys to each individual house.
Eventually, Ford and Owen wanted to wear costumes they picked out. Also, they wanted to wear ones that I didn’t make. In fact, they didn’t want me to have any part of the costume decision making. This began the era of Star Wars. From the time I released my costume control to Ford, until about three years ago, he and Owen only dressed as Star Wars characters for Halloween.
The Star Wars era also coincided with the boys not wanting me to walk up to the neighbors’ doors with them. The boys suggested I wait by the curb—someone else’s curb. But I followed behind, like a creeper in the bushes, always vigilant against poisoned candy. I wanted to take them to “safer” Halloweens inside stores or nearby gyms. But apparently I was missing the point of Oct. 31.
Last year, when Ford was nearly 13, I gave up completely. Ford and Owen ran off with their friends, and I didn’t see them again until 9 p.m. According to Ford, it was his best Halloween ever. Of course, it’s important to note that my boys are good kids. They aren’t stealing people’s candy or egging houses. No, they are putting on funny mustaches, using British accents, and running through the neighborhood (ours happens to be very safe) at dark with their friends.
And maybe that is what Halloween is about: pre-teens practicing independence in a controlled environment.
Actually, though, isn’t that what Halloween always was about until helicopter parenting came in vogue? I don’t remember my mom ever walking with me while I went trick-or-treating. I’m sure she did when I was really young, but I trick-or-treated until I was about 13, and I have no memories of my Mom being there. I only remember running around with my friend Leslie, eating too much sugar and feeling like a rebel because I was out at 8 p.m. on a school night.
I know, people sigh when they open the door and see lanky, awkward teenagers standing on the stoop asking for candy. We think, “aren’t they too old for this?” and “Halloween is for the kids!” I felt the same way until I had a new teenager of my own. Now, however, when I open the door and see an absolutely clueless 2 year old waiting there, his mother close by with the bucket of candy, I think, “Where are the kids who are flexing their wings, running around with their friends?”
We mothers try to control everything else, but for one night, on the eve of November, the neighborhood opens up to young boys and girls who don’t need to hold their mom’s hand and are practicing to be adults (well, besides the fez and bag of candy). Perhaps Halloween really is the only holiday specifically for them.