Thursday, November 3, 2016

Rethinking Halloween

So, somewhere in the middle of my kids ditching me during pumpkin carving and cutting out of trick-or-treating just a few houses in, I found myself wondering why we do this every year if they're just not that into it.  Why spend the money on costumes?  Why not be like the rest of our neighborhood and turn off the lights?  Why load up on candy we don't really want the kids to eat?  Why do we even bother?

Well, I guess part of it is that you can only be a kid once, and being ridiculous on Halloween is one of those rights of childhood.  Perhaps modern society has become a distraction, but I feel like it's my job to ensure my kids have every chance they get to experience it...even if they don't appreciate it right now.  I said on Facebook that I've decided that pumpkin carving is like other parts of parenting, such as offering new foods or early potty training.  You keep offering it up, no matter the rejection, in the hopes that at some point they will come around.  Apparently more than just pumpkin carving falls into this category come Halloween, as neither kid has ever been super gung-ho about anything related to the holiday, aside from candy.  And let's face it...I can buy a heck of a lot of candy for the amount we spend on costumes, with a ton less effort and angst.  But they really should earn that candy like kids have done for generations, right?

When I was a kid, I wouldn't say that Halloween was my favorite holiday by any stretch, but I do remember enjoying it a lot.  I remember actively participating in pumpkin carving from start to finish (or at least until we had a firm idea for the face, since I couldn't carve until I was older).  I think there was usually a certain amount of stress over my costume, but between my mom's handiwork and my grandma's craft stash, usually we came up with something awesome.  I know I was a mouse (made by my mom and worn by both of my kids), and by the time I was around school age, I had moved on to Strawberry Shortcake, an angel, a cowgirl, a gypsy, a "millionairess" (fancy fur and lots of jewelry and makeup), a bunny, and a witch.  I might be forgetting one.  But aside from a random accessory here and there, almost nothing was store-bought.  Despite the plethora of plastic smocks and masks around school, it never occurred to me how unique and fun it was, and how lucky I was, to be able to be outfitted like that.  It was fun to see it all come together every year.

We always had a classroom party full of sugar, and the little kids always paraded through the classrooms, which was a lot of fun for everyone.  By the end of the day, there was the rush to get home, trick-or-treat to family's houses, have an early dinner, and get ready again before our doorbell started ringing!  It's funny, I have this one random memory in my head from one specific Halloween, and I have no idea why it's there or why it's so vivid, but I remember going to McDonald's to grab our dinner.  I was probably around Jacob's age, and it was in the old McDonald's near my parents' house, one that was replaced a few years later with a new building a couple lots down.  I recall it being an early dinner, probably 4:30ish, which felt odd, but I remember being excited about getting McDonald's and excited about all the trick-or-treating later.  I think maybe it just stuck with me because I was so jacked up about all of the fun, out-of-the-ordinary stuff that day.  To this day I love days like that!

My mom usually took me around trick-or-treating, particularly once my brother was old enough to go with friends.  I didn't have good friends in the neighborhood, but I was content going with my mom.  One year I did go with my cousins that lived a couple streets over, and that was fun, too.  I even still remember one year in our old neighborhood, which means I was only six at most.  I don't remember too many awful weather years--just one miserable rainy one--but I'm sure I had to bundle up!  While I always cringed a bit about ringing random doorbells (still do!), the lure of candy was apparently enough to make me brave!  I remember doing a good portion of the surrounding streets every year, but I could be wrong.  But I know I always had plenty of candy and in those days most people only gave one piece, so I must have gone for a while.  I knew that when I quit, that was it for another year, so I think I did what I could to maximize my haul.  I loved spreading out the candy and seeing what I got, and I still remember that amazing smell that wafted out of my orange plastic pumpkin!  I'd ration my candy very carefully, and it usually lasted me weeks.  The rationing is why I usually never stole from Jacob's candy--he earned it and he was probably well aware of what he had left.  Carter honestly has too much right now, so I may sneak from his, though he'd probably willingly share it with me anyway.

Suffice it to say, I have memories, and I want my kids to have memories, too!  This holiday just doesn't seem to resonate with them, though.  Maybe store-bought costumes just don't elicit the same investment as one you have to create.  Maybe candy just isn't motivating enough to compensate for the effort to get it.  Maybe other holidays are just way more fun.  I know Jacob has a bit of a handicap with his gluten issues, as class parties and pumpkin patches aren't quite the same without the amazing donuts and other treats.  He has to dig through his candy haul to remove the Milky Ways, Nestle Crunches, Twizzlers, Whoppers, and anything involving pretzels (Why yes, I will eat that Take 5 bar right now...), which has to be a bit of a buzzkill.  I guess that could make it not quite the same.  We also live in a crappy neighborhood where half of the neighbors keep their lights off.  Our end of the street is mostly dark, so I think a lot of people skipped us entirely.  Apparently a couple neighborhoods over it's quite active, but ours just isn't.  You can't cover as much ground when you're walking past so many extra houses, so I suppose it loses its luster more quickly.  It was way more fun as a kid, looking around at dozens of other kids running around and "competing" for candy, whereas when there's just a handful, it actually feels a little awkward. 

The thing is, it's becoming very apparent to me that Jacob is slowly but surely aging out of this holiday anyway.  It's hard to believe considering it seems like yesterday that I was trying on hand-me-down costumes to pick his first one at four months old, but we're really only a few years away from when I stopped trick-or-treating.  And God knows I hate costumes for his age, as they're mostly creepy or disturbing.  I'd love for Jacob to put some of his creativity to work and think up something more interesting than a chintzy grim reaper or a fake-looking zombie.  If I'm going to spend $30 on a costume, I'd rather have him put some brainpower into it.  There is so much more satisfaction in that.  But for the amount of time my kids use their costumes, I'd be so much happier if I could think of creative homemade ones that cost significantly less and have a use afterward.  An hour at school and an hour at trick-or-treating just isn't enough to make it worthwhile.  I honestly wish we had some sort of trunk-or-treat event at church.  This year they did have some sort of fall fun night, but I think I'd prefer to get the candy thing taken care of there.  Same concept, just more people we'd know and trust, you know? 

Who knows, maybe one of these years the kids will get inspired and this will become their favorite holiday.  Or maybe not.  But I guess I will keep offering it up in the hopes something sticks.  But like I said, this year it became even more apparent to me how much older Jacob is getting and how soon all of these Halloween traditions won't be necessary anymore.  So I guess for now I will just suck it up, buy the costumes, carve the pumpkins, do our best in our neighborhood (or find a better one), and try to enjoy it myself while it lasts. 

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