"Ugh. I hate Halloween," a usually chipper mom-friend of mine said recently. Without her having to explain, I knew exactly what she meant.
Let me be clear: I don't hate Halloween. But when you and I were kids, Halloween was simpler. We put on a costume—for a lot of us, that consisted of whatever scarves, old hats, and necklaces we would excitedly scrounge up—and did as many spins around the neighborhood as we could before carting our haul home. We spent the evenings on our bedroom floors sorting candy into piles, making trades with our siblings, and going to bed with bellyaches.
Halloween now? It's not a day—it's a season. (Read: more work for moms.) I remember my first Halloween with my oldest, when I was caught unprepared for the invitation I received for a baby playgroup Halloween get-together... in early October. Already? I thought. We don't even have a costume picked out yet!
Turns out, that was only the beginning. There's the downtown trick-or-treat, where store merchants dispense candy. The "Spooktacular" at the zoo. Parties. The school parade. The town parade. A pumpkin sail. Neighbors to ghost and boo. With so much to plan for, decorate, and do, no wonder Halloween is feeling more like another Christmas—not necessarily in a good way.
Still, I love this holiday for children, and am determined to not let its simple joys elude me. So, here's a to-do list for myself, and others in danger of becoming Halloween scrooges:
1. Take the pressure off of costumes. Most years, I've dressed my kids in store-bought costumes. It wasn't that I was lazy (OK, maybe a little) but because whoever was the animated-star-of-the-moment was exactly what my children wanted to be. This year, we're going the homemade route on costumes for my daughters, 8 and 2, but I'm keeping it simple, using a handful of inexpensive accessories and makeup tricks to bring their looks together. Either way, as much as my hat's off to the parents who start costume-planning in the summer, and craft some truly incredible creations, I'll continue to remind myself that costumes should be about fun—not winning a prize in the Halloween parade. And having had a couple of years where a store-bought costume ended up on the floor in my house, I always have a soft spot for the small trick-or-treater who comes to my door in jeans and his favorite striped T-shirt. Sometimes, his mom or dad apologizes for him: "He wouldn't wear his costume." I just smile—and throw extra candy in that kid's bag.
2. Let the parents who love this stuff go OTT on the class party. When my middle child was in kindergarten, I decided to make monster-face apples for her classroom celebration. The night before, I cored many apples and brushed them with lemon juice, yet they still turned brown. I was more successful with the next batch, but then I couldn't get their creepy "teeth" (almond slivers) to remain standing after I individually jabbed them into the monsters' "mouths." It was a Pinterest fail before there was such a thing as Pinterest fails. Now, I do what's within my limited crafty capabilities. (This year, I'm making these mummy juice boxes.) Sometimes, though, I sit out making anything at all, and contribute spider rings I've picked up at Target. My kid's not keeping score, and yours isn't either. There are plenty of moms who will do their thing to make the class party fun and memorable—no one needs to be that mom every year.
3. Be the crazy house if your kids want it. Our first few Halloweens as a family, my outdoor décor extended to a tasteful autumn wreath on the front door, a cheerful stuffed scarecrow, and a pumpkin on the doorstep. When my kids got bigger and started expressing opinions about what we set up outside, I grimaced at their ideas. I didn't warm to the macabre stuff, but as my oldest got older (he's now 11), I began to see his side. It's Halloween. Tacky up! So now you'll find an assortment of glow-in-the-dark headstones and and creepy skeleton parts dotting my front lawn. It's not pretty and it's not pinnable. But it sure is fun. That's what it's all about, right?
4. Suppress your "no" voice, at least for today. I'm not sure how many Halloweens I had under my belt before I realized how much more fun it is to say yes than no, at least on this day. So I say yes on Halloween, all day, to everything. "Can we eat a lot of candy when we get home?" Yes! "Can we trick or treat for hours and hours, for as long as we want?" Yes! (The first time I said this my husband shot me a Wha? look, but I was going on experience—no matter how long my kids think they can go door to door, they never last for "hours and hours." Their breaking point coincides pretty closely with mine.) It's fun to be the yes mom and see the thrilled looks on my kids' faces, and genuinely share their excitement. You can always get back to normal tomorrow.
5. If it gets to be too much, try Halloween lite. I learned by accident that I can get away with committing to a lot less. Last year, Superstorm Sandy intercepted our Halloween, and canceled the trick-or-treating festivities, the class parties, everything. There was an alternate day for trick-or-treating a few weeks later, after enough of the storm debris had been cleared away, but it wasn't the same, and my kids were over Halloween by then. After living through such a destructive and disruptive experience, they kind of got it that more important things—people's homes, for instance—were at stake. We had entertained ourselves while we waited for our power to return by "booing" a few neighbors, and the kids polished off the little candy they'd collected at the downtown trick or treat, a few days before the storm hit. Parents' attitude is everything: I didn't make a big deal of what I knew they had missed, and neither did they. If the Halloween to-do list ever becomes too lengthy, to the point where I begin to resent this sweet holiday more than cherish it, I'll cut back. Halloween's still about the simplest of childhood's pleasures, after all.
Costumes, community, and candy.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock: pumpkins