October Thoughts

150 150 Kristin
  • 1
Dear Frances,

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?

Dear Kristin,

For the Dowell family, Halloween has been always tricky as well as treat-y. Complicated, even. Why? Well, consider the following:

  1. Will is a Halloween baby;
  2. Jack has a tree nut allergy; and
  3. 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.

Firefighter Will

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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  • Vicki Holloway

    Well written to both of you!! I think the most interesting thing i have found with empty nest over the past few years is the relief that we can finally do what we want most days but it is mixed with a tinge of nostalgia. I dont miss stressing about costumes and if there would be any candy left in the stores by the time I got paid. How we had to make creative costumes with what we had and occasionally go get accessories to freshen up years old costumes could get stressful. However I do miss the excitement and magic of it all.. I look forward to our new traditions and rituals. I like to see the kids and grandkids costumes and it just isn’t Halloween without my favorite mallowcreme pumpkins and candy corn!!

  • Robin Leftwich

    I, too, am thrilled over not having to make a costume for Justin! My step daughter is having major surgery Tuesday, which has consumed us all for the past 2 weeks, and decorating is the last thing on my mind. But I will honor my family tradition and make chili from the Louisville Courier Journal recipe from my mom, written on 2 tiny slips of paper, and make a pumpkin pie.
    Erin is coming here after her surgery, for probably 2 months, so my semi empty nest is once again going to be overflowing! Struggling with depression over how our new routines and habits will be changed, so the moral is, don’t count on that empty nest to stay empty! Life is interesting!

  • Frances in Wales

    Currently it looks as though I won’t be stressing about a costume for my child either – he wants to go trick or treating, but is adamant he is not wearing a costume! I am equally adamant that my 4-year-old will not be going out harassing the neighbours with simple extortion. We do have a cape, a top hat, and a sweatshirt with a cute pumpkin on. So if he capitulates to the ‘dressing up’ part we can cobble that together (the bar set for costumes in Wales is – fortunately – a lot lower than the complicated ones we see in the States!).

    Those photos of your kids in their outfits are so cute!!

  • Patty

    First, I am 100% in agreement with the need to test Halloween candy for freshness. Good job!

    Love the stories and the photos. The first year we lived here in NC, our housing development was still essentially under construction and there was really just one street completely filled in with houses – ours! I never saw so many trick or treaters. My son was not quite 2 years old and I had deprived him of trying candy until that day. He stood with me at the door and helped to hand out candy but had no idea what was inside those wrappers…. until I gave him one and he has been a lover of candy every sense. (And it also meant my own personal candy stash now needed to be truly kept out of sight!)

    That was over 25 years ago. Now we are lucky if our doorbell rings once. But I’ve got a bag of candy (Hershey’s choc bars) and are ready for anyone who wanders our way.

    • Mari

      Frances, I’m so happy to find someone who samples the purchases to check for freshness too!! Love it!
      I miss the Halloween rituals occasionally but those feelings don’t last long. Love these posts!! Thanks ladies!

  • Tracie

    My Halloween memories are also a mixed bag. My mom doesn’t like the holiday so we didn’t do anything special. When our daughter was two years old, I sewed her a cow costume and we visited Grandma and her neighbors. Those “old people”:were thrilled to get a visit from my husband and his little girl. One man was moved to tears when Kiersten reached out for him to hold her. Later that night Minnesota was struck with the infamous Halloween blizzard that buried Minneapolis in over two feet of snow. Our son was born the following year, and I don’t recall what we did. And before he was two years old, we learned he had a serious peanut and tree nut allergy. So our kids didn’t go trick or treating but rather went to the church’s fall festival to play games. This year I bought three mini pumpkins at Trader Joe’s and I’m done. Kids don’t come to farmhouses in the middle of nowhere, so I won’t be tempted to eat leftover candy!

  • Marsha H

    I was fortunate to have older nieces & nephews to borrow costumes from until my daughters were old enough to request specific costumes. I would usually try to steer them towards something uncomplicated. My favorite Halloween memory was the year my oldest daughter wanted to go as Pocahontas-the Disney movie was one of our favorites that year. I sewed a simple shift dress out of tan polyester knit (think tan hide) with fringes and did some simple bead like trim. She thought it was great even when I made her wear her winter coat underneath it for trick or treating that cold Iowa night. Now she teases me about the year my mom dressed me up as “chubby Pocahontas”!! Its such a cute photo of her and her little sister also a somewhat plump kitty. We also went out in that Halloween blizzard in 1991. It was a treacherous ride back out to our farm.
    Our grandkids do not live close enough to trick or treat at our house but when we were there last weekend they did try their costumes on so we could see what they were going as. It was fun! I keep it simple by giving each one a small treat bag.

    • Laurie

      I loved Halloween and making all the costumes when my daughter’s were young. When grandchildren came along, everyone started meeting at my mother’s home (she had a busy trick or treat street) and I leave a bowl of Tootsie Pops on my front step for any children that stop by. And yes, there are always Tootsie Pops left over!

      The new Trunk or Treat craze has made it so there are not as many kids walking the streets.

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