What could be worse than a holiday that celebrates death, dying and fear? Not much, for an anxious person like me.
What’s worse, though, is the effort required at Halloween. Working from home, I’ve lapsed into a comfortable routine of sports bras, yoga pants and no makeup. Then the Halloween party invites arrive: Not only do I need to wear actual clothes with zippers, I actually need a costume. One friend throws a gigantic gala every year, and people plot their costumes months in advance. Obscure movie characters, political foes, reality TV weirdos, fruits, monsters, Beyonce. It’s all fair game. People bring it.
I’m always paralyzed with indecision before this party to the point that, one year, at a complete loss, I ended up dressing as my brother, who is neither famous nor frightening. I put on a rugged cap, drew on some scraggly facial hair with a black Crayola magic marker and tucked some old, ill-fitting jeans into boots. I was going for “hipster-adjacent Medford 30-something”; I looked like a confused lumberjack.
It all started before I injured myself before a kindergarten Halloween parade and limped pathetically along in an all-fitting witch costume with a movable mole. My choices got dorkier and more obscure with age: Abigail Adams (seriously), a mustachioed businessman in a three-piece suit, a diapered baby. In order to make my hair powdery and Abigail Adamsian, I didn’t do the logical thing and don a wig. Instead, I dumped Johnson & Johnson baby powder onto my head and proceeded to give myself an asthma attack.
But I also have children, and they love Halloween. My older son prowls Amazon with me months in advance, carefully assessing costume by cultural significance, “Star Wars” relevance and price. This year, we scanned through Darth Vader and ewoks and quickly progressed to his latest obsession, raccoons. Surprisingly, it’s hard to find child-sized raccoon costumes (adult raccoon costumes are a different, and perhaps R-rated, story). He finally settled on a penguin suit that he’s sported every day after school since early October. It was once white; it is now light gray and odiferous.
My younger son was a polyester hamburger last year. He was an adorable though perhaps flammable sandwich, and I was pleased. This year, he’s inheriting his brother’s slightly faded dinosaur costume. Soon, we’ll attend a trunk-or-treat walk at his school, where families deck out their trunks with smoke machines, spider webs and other ghoulish apparatus. My car is full of old sandwich wrappers and a curdled milk bottle, which is scary in its own way, I suppose.
In fact, I have never made my children costumes, applied makeup or done anything more elaborate than hand them a plastic pumpkin collection jug. Which brings me to my next curmudgeonly point: The candy.
We’re never going to eat it all. Furthermore, some of it is just plain bad and not even candy at all. One year, a woman down the street handed out stale, slightly crumbled Luna bars. Luna bars! To say nothing of the slightly unwrapped Smarties, half-unraveled Tootsie rolls and high-rolling families who hand out full Snickers bars, which my child immediately and furtively consumes upon receipt. Within an hour, he’s writhing on the floor, moaning about his stomach.
There is also thievery. Because we go trick-or-treating as a family (I amble along with the toddling dino while my husband monitors the sugar-crazed penguin), we’re not home to hand out candy.
I used to love dispensing candy. I enjoy opening the door and benignly presenting sweets, rewarding little children who say “please” and “thank you” with an extra Reese’s cup or two. But with my own children, the house is now in darkness, save our rotting jack-o-lantern. This means that we leave a bowl outside, which is promptly ransacked and overturned within five minutes. We then become the Neighbors Without Candy, ripening us for hostility involving eggs and toilet paper.
Oh, and this morning, someone sent me a link with this exciting statistic: Children are more likely to die on Halloween than any other day of the year. Pedestrian deaths, mostly. This is to say nothing of pumpkin-carving mishaps, which account for 41 percent of Halloween-related woes.
I know. I sound like a witch. I just prefer my holidays to be indoorsy, low maintenance and with more culinary variety. Why not a day where we sit around in sweats, eating lox? Or lamb vindaloo-and-Netflix day? Why do we need to parade around in uncomfortable clothes in the dark to stockpile suspicious sweets?
But I’m trying to see it through their eyes. Kids have such little autonomy over their own lives. This is a chance to flex their creativity and to slip into a brave new identity (or a rodent alter ego) for a couple hours, with candy as the sweet reward. So maybe I’ll throw caution to the wind this year. Move over, Beyonce: Maybe I’ll dress up as Millard Fillmore or a microwave. Maybe I’ll festoon my house with a makeshift graveyard and smoke machine. Or maybe I’ll feign fatigue and rush home with my toddler after a few blocks to turn on taped “No Reservations” episodes.
As long as they have fun, I’ll be happy. If they bring me Reese’s peanut butter cups, that is.