October 30, 2012
Halloween : A love/hate story
Can you feel it in the air? It’s coming. The time is drawing near. Tomorrow is that crazy, over-done, bizarre holiday. I sorta love it. But truthfully I kinda hate it. It’s Halloween.
Like a moth to the flame every year I get caught up in the whirlwind of it all - plugging in my pumpkin-scented air freshener, humming an eerie little tune, making spooky crafts, planning costumes. But at the same time I find the actual day, the 31st, a rather chaotic nightmare of sorts. Mostly it just makes me tired.
The season starts off innocently enough. I spend two hours of my Saturday crawling and crashing around in the storage closet trying to find the Halloween decorations, then the kids and I get busy hanging lights with miniature smiling pumpkins and sticking clingy ghosts to the windows. There’s a skeleton for the front porch and ghost salt and pepper shakers for the table (with last year’s salt hardened into a brick inside). We finish with some pumpkin tea-light holders and string up some cotton “spider-webs” on the porch . . . all this, and my husband hasn’t once looked up from the football game (but hey, that’s a whole other joyous part of Fall that I won’t go into right now).
“Can we go to that cool costume store?” my daughters ask. They’re referring to this huge mega-Halloween store that comes into town just during the month of October. I think it’s a national chain, and they move in each year and transform a vacant commercial building into a living nightmare of costumes and decorative paraphenalia. It’s amazing — and amazingly overpriced.
I agree to take them, and prep for the journey with a pair of ibuprofen washed down with a Diet Coke. Once inside, we navigate our way through the aisles. Did you know you can buy extremely realists scabs, gashes and head wounds? You can even get them with maggots munching on the exposed muscle or under-the-skin worm infestations. It's so icky and they are so real looking that I can hardly stomach standing near the displays.
There are actual walking mummies, headless men holding chainsaws, and severed hands that crawl across the floor. There are full-sized gravestones to decorate your yard (some come with a half-decayed guy crawling out of the bottom), flying bats, screaming skulls with red glowing lights in their eye sockets, and a corpse bride holding a champagne glass full of her own blood. They’re everywhere, surrounding you like the zombie people in the Thriller video. I cannot get out of there fast enough.
When did Halloween become so crazy and overblown? When I was little we just gathered stuff from around the house to create our own costumes. I would put on my robe, a bath cap and slippers, then grab a doll and Voila! I was an “exhausted mother.” Or we’d throw on Dad’s woodworking goggles and toolbelt to go as a carpenter. One year I borrowed my Aunt’s beekeeping suit and clomped through the neighborhood as a beekeeper. Ah, the simple days. Not to mention the financial advantages. But as my kids would remind me, it’s not 1975, and dressing as a hobo isn’t acceptable anymore. Aside from the fact that the days of riding the rails with a knapsack are pretty much over, dressing as a homeless, marginalized member of our society seems terribly distasteful.
So we open our door to the latest trends and watch as hundreds of children become pop culture icons and characters from Disney’s latest endeavors. We host slews of Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles at our door. Last year there was a long line of Dora the Explorers, their bobbed wigs slightly askew. There were princesses in sparkly dresses paired with dirty sneakers, a couple Obamas, a Pikachu, Lady Gaga, and several 1980s girls traveling with a gaggle of Batmen.
Usually the evening starts in mass chaos. I try to fork a few bites of broccoli casserole into the kid’s mouths and take a few photos for posterity while they argue against wearing a coat over their outfits (it’s like 10 degrees outside!), and call all their friends to map-out their route.
My husband is in his element as designated “flashlight finder.” His duties include locating a few of the ever-elusive 50 flashlights we own, then hunting down a handful of working batteries. There is a bit of swearing and fussing involved. “Why are there never any flashlights when we need them?” he yells, at me of course, since I obviously spend a lot of time cooking and cleaning by flashlight light (NOT!).
The kids head out and I settle in for a night of opening the door to an assortment of kiddos – all those red-nosed children, peering awkwardly through the eyeholes of plastic masks, tripping over their ghostly sheets, and crashing through my chrysanthemums as they clamor off the front porch. It’s like a painting by Norman Rockwell, except for the part where the mom (that'd be me) keeps eating piece after piece of the 'Pal' gum from the candy bowl. Within an hour I’ve exhausted most of the supply and my jaw is making a weird clicking sound from all the hard chewing. If you’ve ever had one of those little gum pieces you know how addictive they can be. They’re so sugarydelicious when you first chew them, it’s like tasting heaven – though I hope the flavor in heaven lasts a longer than the flavor of Pal gum. Within two minutes you have a nasty acrid taste in your mouth and you must IMMEDIATELY spew the gum into the trash. THEN, however, you think about the gum and how tasty it was in the beginning and. . . it starts all over again.
Another part Norman would never paint is the part where the night turns shady. The part where the older kids throw on their camouflage coats and start slinking up to the door in large groups. By this point my own kids have come home, counted their loot, and brushed their teeth extra-hard (per my instruction). Then, just as I plop onto the couch to watch the news and sip my bedtime tea, the real goblins start to bang on the door. These aren’t princesses or robots. They’re . . . (gasp here) large teenagers! Some have stubble, some even look old enough to drive my carpool, and no, they’re not even dressed up. They’re wearing their usual teen garb. They’re holding pillowcases filled ¾ full, and in case you didn’t know . . . that’s a LOT of candy. They have nose piercings and pink hair and wear sweatshirts that say “Kiss my A*$.”
Normally I might be tempted to say something like “Aren’t you getting a little old to be Trick-or-Treating?” but it’s really dark, these kids are the size of giants (I’m a mere 5’2”, and that’s on a good day), and they look extremely hormonal. So I don’t say a word. I just nod cooly and throw a couple Snickers in their bags. They turn without saying a word (occasionally one will grunt) and vanish into the darkness. It’s scary – on so many levels. Oh, and heaven-forbid you run out of candy! That could mean eggs on the back of the car, pumpkins smashed on the mailbox, and probably other shenanigans that I can’t even dream up. To avoid the wrath one year I had to scavenge the house – cough drops, peppermints from the last time we ate at Pizza Hut, a couple Pepto-Bismol tablets. I barely made it, but I had something for everyone.
The night usually ends with a migraine and jitters from all the Pal gum. I drift to sleep, penciling a post-holiday list in my mind: tear down the decorations, dig wrappers out of the bushes in the yard, eventually use a shovel to scrape the rotten jack-o-lanterns off the front steps. I ponder the issue of candy allotment and distribution that I will deal with for the months to follow. Do you let them eat it at-will, suffering through the sugar highs and lows? Do you dole it slowly, meanwhile risking that you’ll give in to your nightly cravings and end up betraying your child's trust as well as putting on ten pounds? Do you have them binge for a week and toss the rest? Ahhh, the decisions and indecisions of parenthood.