Halloween is upon us. I haven’t bought our candy yet. I haven’t done a thing about costumes. It’s the usual: wait until the day before, then improvise like crazy (making myself nuts in the process).
But it works for us. My children reinforced the wisdom of this method last year. Months in advance of Halloween they told me they were going to be Frankenstein, then the night before they decided they had to be Manny Ramirez. (That was back when Manny was on steroids and could be counted on for a few homeruns. But I digress . . . . )
With last year in mind, I ignored my children this September when they told me they wanted to dress up as race car drivers forHalloween. I’m sure they meant it at the time. But lo and behold, last week my third grader came home from school excited about his plan to dress as UCLA SuperFans with three buddies. He’s going to be the “A.”
Lucky for me, his three fellow SuperFans have mothers who excel at Halloween. They have already bought four blue and yellow wigs, four t-shirts, and all the face paint required. All we have to do is show up and ask for candy.
We did get a jump on decorating our house this year, and it has been ready for two weeks. We crawled into the corner of our garage and pulled out the box of creepy stuff we put away last year. Under real spiders, dead and alive, we found our hand painted signs saying “DANGER” and “DO NOT ENTER.” Those now dangle from wire hangers on our lemon tree. Construction paper spiders are taped to our windows. A large pumpkin sits on the porch waiting to be carved. The crown jewel in our collection is a skeleton hanging from a hook in front of our door, wearing a white boa and a crown, just for kicks. It’s an odd assortment of Halloween-ness, but it’s homey.
I felt pretty good about our house until I walked around the neighborhood. Halloween in this manicured suburban neighborhood is a big deal. Every house is decorated. And by “decorated” I do not mean home-made pumpkin signs and old sheets stuffed with newspapers and hanging from ropes. I mean orange-and-purple-blinking-holiday-lights and giant-inflated-purple-spiders-hung-on-rooftops-by-hired-help. Capital D Decorated.
My kids think it’s cool, but I confess it leaves me feeling a bit empty, disappointed. House after house has the same perfect, tasteful and professionally-installed mega decorations. What could be a festival of home-made surprises and creative ghoulishness is instead uninspiring cookie-cutter show-off-iness. In six weeks these same houses will sport matching giant Santa’s and Reindeer on their roofs. They are cool, but lack soul.
I suppose the neighborhood makes up for it with a different tradition, one I learned of only last week though I’ve lived in my home for many years. After pouring candy into trick-or-treat’ers’ bags, some of my neighbors pour wine into parents’ cups. How could I have missed this? I guess I’ve been home waiting for the doorbell to ring. Now I understand why our house doesn’t get much action. No vino.
I can adapt. This year I’m locking up the house, getting my paper cup, and trailing behind my kids, together with my husband and all the parents in-the-know. I have to seize the chance to trick-or-treat with my children while my sons still accept the parent-train behind them. I know at some point that will end, that they’ll want to head out on their own to seek candy and laughs with just friends.
When will that come? When will they say, “Bye Mom and Dad,” and we’ll answer, “Be home by 8:30.” When will we be willing to give them that freedom without panicking about the thousand things that could happen. They could get separated from their friends. They could get swept away by a stranger. They could—gasp—gain independence.
I keep them close. I hold them tight. I don’t look too far down the road. I don’t want to see what I know is coming. I see my niece who, at thirteen, has broken free of her mother’s grasp. I hang on, I close my eyes, I block out the future. I would rather it take me by surprise when it arrives than spend the present anticipating it with worry. Because, at least for now, when I hold my UCLA SuperFan and his race car driver brother, they hug back.