Holidays are a bit tricky now, aren’t they? The celebrations have always centered around activities with the kids, and I guess it’s time we change our expectations.
I’ve definitely got some mixed feelings about Halloween. I am not really a Halloween person, but obviously the kids always loved it! There were many years of spreading those fake spider webs across the bushes in the front yard (so hard to do a good job!), carving pumpkins, pizza for dinner, and the last-minute scramble for costumes. And the evolution of trick-or-treating – holding their little hands and coaching them to say “trick or treat” and “thank you”, to staying home while they went with friends, to Ben and his friends hanging out here, playing poker and handing out the candy. Lots of good memories, but also a lot of work!
I always found the costume part of Halloween stressful, but one year I remember fondly was the year of the Harry Potter costumes. One afternoon I was thrift store shopping while waiting for Jonah, who was at his music lesson. Thre in the thrift store window was a Simplicity pattern for a wizard robe. I picked it up for a couple dollars, since all the kids were obsessed with Harry Potter, and thought it would be fun to make a couple for the dress-up box. I hadn’t sewed clothing since high school, but I figured that I knew how to follow a pattern.
What I didn’t know was making that first wizard robe would remind me how much I loved to sew! I ultimately made all three kids’ robes (but doing it completely in the wrong order, so that I ended up having to buy the pattern three times!). They loved them and wore them all the time for play. I eventually took up knitting and it only made sense to knit each child a Hogwarts house scarf. Ravenclaw in blue and gray for Chloe, Griffindor in red and gold for Jonah, and of course, Slytherin in green and gray for Ben. That was definitely my proudest Halloween. It all came together right out of the dress-up box. And those robes came in handy for many years doing duty for many other costumes.
My other favorite costume was Chloe’s first Halloween. As a recent stay-at-home mom, we were pinching pennies and I put together this adorable DIY strawberry costume from thrift store finds, inspired by Parents magazine. Red sweats, shirt, and beanie, all dotted with some black puffy paint and a green felt color for the leaves.
Now that the kids are older (and out of the house), there’s no pressure to help them come up with a Halloween costume, procure the costume, or the parts to DIY it. I’m no longer stringing up fake spider webs by the front door, or even carving pumpkins. Those were wonderful years, but at the same time, I’m kind of glad that I don’t have to worry about it now. It’s a mixed blessing, isn’t it?
I’m finding that the rhythm of these empty nest days are slower, which I enjoy. It takes a bit of the sting out of the fact that the kids aren’t here for that last-minute scramble. My friend Vicki (who, even though we are the same age, is ten years ahead of me in the parenting game) told me that she and her husband have come up with new traditions for Halloween. Traditions that make sense for this stage – apple orchards, festivals, cider and doughnuts. I think that’s a wonderful idea!
In a recent FaceTime with Chloe I rather proudly said that I hadn’t done any Halloween decorating at all and wasn’t planning to. But you know what? Later that day, I picked up a pumpkin at Trader Joe’s. And after I put away the groceries, I pulled down the Rubbermaid tub with the Halloween decorations. I put the “Trick or Treat” sign on the door, hung the ghost on its allotted hook, and placed the pumpkin Chloe made in preschool on the nail where it always goes. I guess old habits die hard.
Ben is coming home for a visit from college today – maybe I can convince him and his girlfriend to carve a pumpkin?
For the Dowell family, Halloween has been always tricky as well as treat-y. Complicated, even. Why? Well, consider the following:
- Will is a Halloween baby;
- Jack has a tree nut allergy; and
- When Jack was 8 and Will 4, we moved to a Halloween-challenged neighborhood, which meant we had to find other places to trick-or-treat if the boys were going to have any fun (and make any kind of haul).
Let’s begin with the baby. Will was supposed to arrive mid-October, but like his brother before him, he showed up eleven days late, in the early hours of the 31st. Halloween would never be the same. Well, at first it was pretty much the same. I made cute little costumes (see frogs below), and the boys circled the cul-de-sac in our old neighborhood, which was perfect for little ghosts and goblins. They made the rounds at 6:30 PM and got back home in time to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” before bedtime.
But once Will was old enough to care about birthdays, parties and presents, we had to figure out when the friend party would be and when the family party would be (neither were ever on his actual birthday) and how to make Will’s birthday feel special unto Will.
We also had Jack’s tree nut allergy to contend with. Every trick-or-treating adventure ended with Jack dumping the contents of his plastic pumpkin on the living room floor so we could divide the candy into nut-free and nut-tainted piles. Any parent whose kid has a nut allergy knows the fun of squinting at candy bar labels for allergen info while your child insists he’s sure that candy bar doesn’t have nuts and it’s absolutely safe for him to eat it and besides it’s not fair that Will gets to eat all of his candy.
So Halloween always involved a lot of arrangements that shifted from year to year, depending on what day Halloween fell on and what kind of party Will wanted, and where the boys were going to trick-or-treating and with whom, and which parent was going to be the designated driver and which one would stay at home and pass out treats to the one or two forlorn Ariels and Darth Vaders who somehow stumbled upon our Halloween-forsaken street. Every year there were new decisions to make. Was Jack old enough to sort through his own candy? Was it okay if Will went trick-or-treating with his friends in Hope Valley while Jack went out with Spencer and Aiden over in Fairfield?
So, like I said, complicated. And because of the annual revisions, Halloween never became fixed in my mind in a sentimental kind of way–in a Oh, remember how every year we did this or that kind of way. It was almost always fun (except for the part where we worried about Jack going into anaphylactic shock after ingesting a stray bit of cashew), but it was never fun in the same way twice.
So when Halloween rolls around on Monday, I won’t be having Big Feelings about Halloweens of Yore. Which doesn’t mean I won’t bow to tradition, or at least give it a nod. We have a pumpkin, purchased at Trader Joe’s for $4.99, which I may or may not carve. I have in my possession a bag of Kit Kats and one of Twix purchased two weeks ago at the Harris Teeter, both of which have been sampled for freshness (the Twix are especially fresh this year!). If the weather’s good on Monday night, Clifton and I might wander down the street to hang out with some of our neighbors. We’ll bring chairs and wine and a bowl of candy for the handful of children who wander by. And of course we’ll lift a glass to sweet Will Dowell, the Birthday Boy, our very own Great Pumpkin.
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