Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween: The Empty Nest Years

I have been through several stages in my appreciation - or not - of Halloween.  As a child, of course I loved inventing costumes and spent hours imagining what I wanted to be.  Some ensembles were leftovers from school programs, some were purchased wherever we shopped in the pre-Walmart 1960's, and some were my own creations.  Whatever the get-up, the best part of Halloween was "Trick or Treat for Unicef".  All the town's children gathered at the VFW hall and were divided into age groups.  Younger groups canvassed the streets nearby, while older kids hiked across town and worked their way back on assigned routes.  At each stop we received treats - many of them homemade, like Mrs. Collie's fudge - plus a donation to our Unicef collection box.  I'm not sure we ever really knew what Unicef was, but we were all for helping out starving children in Africa if it got us more candy.  When all groups had returned, we spread out on the hard wooden floor of the hall with our bags of goodies and a bottle of pop and watched cartoons projected on the wall. 

My children don't think that sounds like much to get excited about, but they never lived in the world before Cartoon Network, when cartoons were only on for three hours on Saturday morning and that's when your mother wanted you to clean your room.  They also never knew pop as a rare thing.  We only got pop at home on Sunday evenings while we watched Wild Kingdom and ate popcorn.  Even then Mom divided three bottles among five people in cups with w-a-y too much ice so you didn't get much, so a whole bottle to myself was a thrill.

There's a gap in my Halloween memory beginning at junior high.  I don't recall paying much attention to the date at all between outgrowing trick-or-treat myself and having my own children.  During the preschool years it was fun to dress the kids up, take their picture, walk them to a few friends' houses and watch their adorable little faces when given a Tootsie Roll. On Mitch's first Halloween - at age 11 months - we dressed him as Mickey Mouse.  Assuming that a child of that age wouldn't take well to a mask, we painted on an adorable black nose and whiskers with face paint guaranteed to "remove easily".  Here's a parenting tip:  Don't paint a 1-year-old's face!  It did not come of easily.  In fact, after much scrubbing and screaming (some his, some mine) we just let the lingering bits wear off over time.

As the kids aged, the entire production lost it's shine.  It became a chore to shop for, sew, or borrow the perfect costume that would simultaniously make the little darlings happy, not break the bank and fit within our costume choices limitations:  only fun characters such as a clown, a cowboy, a football player, a princess - no serial killers or bloody zombies.  And if those restrictions didn't tic them off enough, then came the teen years.  The rule at our house was that trick-or-treat ended when you entered junior high.  At that age it becomes more about the "tricks" than the "treats".  Picture me (preferrably 10 years younger and 20 pounds thinner than the actual me) giving my sternest parental lecture:  "It doesn't matter if you actually pull any of the pranks or not.  If you are running around town you will be accused of whatever vandalism takes place.  Sometimes all it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time!"  Our answer to their usual reply, "We're just doing it for the candy", was "So, get a job and buy your own."  Our poor teens were restricted to the house every October 31st. 

*Pause*  A brief intermission to rant about my top Halloween objection: vandalism and theft being dismissed as "mischief".  This year the retailers, library, courthouse and other businesses joined together to decorate the town for fall.  One of the local florists sold pumpkins, gourds and straw bales at a discount to buisnesses who fashioned displays outside their buildings using those items, fall foliage, scarecrows, etc.  The picture down Main Street was charming.  Then came the TRICK-or-treaters.  During the week leading up to Halloween, nearly every pumpkin, including the wagon-load still for sale, were stolen and/or smashed on the streets in the name of "Halloween pranks".  I will spare you my full-throated, red-faced, steam-blowing tirade on the appropriate punishment for the perpetrators and the parents who laugh it off as an example of "Boys will be boys!"

In this, our first Empty Nest Halloween, I noticed another shift in our Halloween attitude.  We're free!  For the first time in eight years we had no teens at home to worry about (whatever they did at college is beyond my control and my knowledge so I'm not even going there).  No teens also meant we only had two cars to hide from vandals.  In the past, vehicles parked outside overnight were targets to be defaced with eggs, shaving cream, tomatoes, derogatory comments in window paint or more permanent substances.  This year however, with both cars shut in the garage and the kids out of town, we could have a peaceful evening enjoying the children at our door, "oooohing" and "aaaaahing" over their cute little faces and their creative costumes.  Wouldn't you know it?  The doorbell only rang four times!  Oh well, my favorite part of Halloween - more Tootsie Rolls for me!


  1. Loved your post! And all very very true! I have found the very best part of Halloween now is spending it with grandchildren - My first trip to see Elaine at Halloween - we took her to an apple orchard - she rode horses - a train - and picked out her pumpkin - we decorated it back at the motel with funny faces - and then she was afraid of them! Who would have thought? Grandpa mailed off a box of goodies - this year - including the Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin DVD!

  2. I enjoyed reading your remembrances of Halloweens of the past. How true the cycle is.

    I'm upset by your tales of current practices. I don't recall hearing this level of vandalism before. It sounds like a trend that needs to be controlled somehow.

  3. I was just contemplating the change of halloween over the years. It is so much "darker" now than it was when we were little and it was all about the candy.

    I LOVE tootsie rolls - and even bought a package yesterday when they were half price :)

  4. I remember collecting change with treats when I was little. We had a little box with a slot in it. And then I think we brought it in to school the next day and turned it in. We always had homemade costumes. As we got older, we made our own instead of relying on mom and dad to come up with something for us. Our car got egged once in our driveway which ruined the paint job. And I'm sure a pumpkin or two did get smashed along the way. The tree got TP'd once too. But the biggest bummer was when that nut job put razor blades in candy and spoiled all the goodness for the rest of society's trick or treaters. No more unwrapped/homemade treats. Parents insisting on tagging along or inspecting all the candy in the bag/pillow case before we could dip into it. For me, that was the beginning of the spiral towards our current P.C., helicopter parent society.