This all started when I was seven years old, the exact age of my oldest son right now. It had to do with a cheerleader costume, a puffy coat, and my mother's less than considerate sense of humor. That, for the record, was the last time I trick-or-treated as a child. My mom, who HATES (only pronounce the H and then silently mouth the "ates" part) Halloween, had finally won. "But you were only seven!" you might cry. Yes, that's true, but my sister was thirteen. My mother had been battling the holiday for six years before the cheerleader incident, so we can give her some credit.
I was bitter and angry for many years following second grade, convinced that Halloween always could have been fun if it hadn't been so heartlessly ruined for me. But then I became a middle school teacher. Middle schoolers have a rather obnoxious sense of humor as it is, you know, probably made worse by the fact that they always seem to find themselves so original. Yes, seventh grade boy, you really must be the first one who ever got a running start and then jumped up to tap the top of the door frame. Surely no one ever thought of that before you did.
Some teachers really get into the holiday, and I salute them. I really do. But being the poop I apparently am, I could never really get past the fact that the tween girls wanted to be slutty and the tween boys were frankly stupid, and everyone seemed to think it was all a big excuse to make poor choices and act like they were five. And you know, the point of middle school is to sort of train them out of making poor choices and acting like they're five. So Halloween seemed, to me, to be a little counterproductive.
Then I had Joey.
Joey brought back the magic for me, I can tell you. His first Halloween, he was an adorable, cuddly monkey who slept through the whole ordeal but still managed to score his parents candy based on cuteness alone. His second Halloween, he was Roo from Winnie the Pooh. The best part of that costume was the little tail in the back. I also enjoyed the fact that his name is Joey, which is also another word for a baby kangaroo, but most people didn't appreciate that. Or even know it. "Oh, really?" they'd say, and look at me blankly for a long uncomfortable second before turning away to find someone more interesting.
Joey's third Halloween is actually one of my favorite nights of my life. It was the first year he chose his own costume, and the first year we let him stay up late and actually trick-or-treat. He was so excited in his little pirate costume (deemed by everyone who saw him the cutest pirate ever; even by the parents of other little pirates, which I found terribly satisfying). I was actually pregnant with Noah that year, and had had some complications just before Halloween, but I still insisted on walking house to house with Joey. The weather was mild, the stars were shining, and my little boy, I felt sure, had the brightest and best "TRICK OR TREAT!" I'd ever heard.
But then everybody started school. You want to know what can really kill the Halloween magic? Classrooms full of costume-bedecked children. Counting paper cups. Spilled Hawaiian punch (dude, lose the red dye, PLEASE). And...wait for it...TREAT BAGS. Oh, lord, the treat bags! I never even knew that treat bags were a Thing until I showed up AFTER Joey's first party in pre-K and all the super tidy, organized, experienced moms were self-righteously handing out these amazing little bags, themed for the holiday, containing darling little candies and stupid plastic toys. Like spider rings and bouncing eyeballs. Do you know, children shouldn't even have to GO trick-or-treating after they've been to their school party? There's certainly no need if the interest is in candy gain. After the parties alone I think I could supply a small third-world country with desserts for the rest of time. Not that small third-world countries need a lifetime supply of desserts. They'd probably rather have...chicken. Or money. Anyway.
I don't want you getting the idea that I hate Halloween like my mother did. No, that would be wrong. I would never, for example, follow my trick-or-treaters in the car, roll down the window after EACH house, and call out, "Are you done? Can we go home now? Aren't you cold?" I would also never stuff my pretty little girl into a puffy coat and then her cheerleading costume and follow her to each house and shout to whoever answered the door, "ISN'T IT FUNNY? SHE'S A FAT CHEERLEADER! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!" But today, as I packed Joey's change of clothes for school, had him practice getting in and out of the costume without ripping it, and wrote him a note to pick him up because who KNOWS what would happen on the bus (hear me moan: Oh, God, the bus, I hate the bus!), and then dressed Noah in his costume, tucked him into the car, and loaded up with napkins packs, jugs of Hawaiian punch (seriously though, why dye it red?--it's just as tasty and fun without being red!), treat bags, and, cruelly, an additional gift bag for a child whose birthday party we missed, I thought...do people actually find this fun? Because, and I hesitate only a second before making such a declaration but, it's NOT. It's a total pain in the @$$.
I felt guilty for even thinking this way as I drove through the morning traffic to drop Noah off at pre-K. After all, I do tend to stress over ordinary things more than ordinary people, and I'm self-aware enough to recognize that as a flaw worth working on. And I do. Work on it, that is. But then, as I walked into my children's school carrying oh-so-many bags, my insanely happy little Ben 10 alien skipping alongside me, I looked around. First I noticed dozens of other insanely happy little children, all dressed as robustly as my own child: Ariels and witches and Jessie cowgirls and Batmen. But two or three steps behind each child? A huffing, puffing, game-faced parent laden down with as many bags and cupcake boxes and Hawaiian punch jugs as I was carrying.
I delivered my child and the exorbitant amount of goodies and walked back to my car, smiling to myself at my newfound knowledge: It's not just me. Halloween, for all its magic and good points, really is a pain in the @$$.
A shot of our pumpkin. It's sideways. I don't care.