[Photo credit… the brilliant Sarah Steenland with whom I’ve collaborated on some great kids’ books with more to come.   Watch her travel the world as The Cruising Cartoonist. Visit her Amazon Author page as well!]

Halloween: Act One–No Costume for the Lame

Halloween was yesterday.  It’s one of the biggest “holidays” of the year according to the National Retail Federation.  We spend nearly $7B a year on candy.  There’s not a kid or dentist on the planet that doesn’t love October 31st.

“Miss, this is my holiday, people mock it,” said a Wiccan student. She discussed the gifts of fall and how she celebrates gratitude.  I wished her blessings.

October’s not about religion for most of America, it’s about candy, so let the festivities begin!

I had no costume, no ideas.  Maybe it’s because we started decorating in September–it’s the boy’s favorite day–so I’ve been staring at pumpkins, bats, and witches for a good long time.  Perhaps it’s because school expanded the “no” list for costumes.

“No masks, no makeup, no face paint, no replica weapons of mass destruction, no hats, no inappropriate attire, no fun…” 

I should be used to “no” by now working in schools for so long.  No technology, no budget, no paper, no advanced notice, no time to go to the bathroom, no lunch

I dug deep, needing an intersection of imagination and raw materials.  A witch’s hat?  Teacher clothes? Black outfit and a tail–a cat?  Nothing.  Just a pair of wrinkly jeans I hadn’t washed in a week.

That’s when inspiration struck.

I’d be a startup person.  I wished for BetaBrand yoga pants, a San Francisco tech staple–you can go from yoga to a pitch without even changing.  I never bought them when the coupon came around, so I shook the wrinkled jeans, imagined adding a zero to the price tag, and thought about creating a strategic rip.  I rummaged through my laundry pile for the rest of the costume.

Black leather boots from last year’s collection, tech hoodie, t-shirt from a company whose name I can’t spell–it’s changed three times–with a well-placed microbatch olive oil stain from a foodie event.  Accessories?  Black West Coast computer bag, iPad, MacBook, iPhone. Ear buds, everything pinging.  A bag full of avocados for Trick or Treaters who dared seek candy. Home-cultured yogurt smoothie, french-press coffee, two boiled eggs and leafy greens. 

Lunch and a costume.  Ready. Set. Go!

It was a little too clever, and in satire, clever is bad.  I wondered if anyone in school would know what I was?

“Ewww, Miss.  You’re weird.”

Yes, indeed.  Looks like I’ve nailed it.

“Want an avocado?” I asked.  That was the prize.

Much to my surprise, she accepted.  Thank God I had more.

Halloween: Act Two–The Town That Shuts Down

My Normal Rockwell Sleepy-Hollow New England town shuts down for Halloween.  There’s a Halloween parade for all costumed children and their sugar-fearing adults.  This year, it was on Friday since Halloween was Saturday.

All three officers shut down traffic on our main interstate cut-through so angry commuters could watch our children collect candy.  At the end, the Lions Club fed them pizza and soda then they ran around attacking each other with all the fake-weapons from the “no” list at school.

“Ahhh,” I said to a mom.  “It’s really nice to see them pig piling and tackling each other.”  We always stop this behavior, but it’s a healthy part of the ritual of growing up.  She agreed.

Declan was in heaven.  “Can I have soda?”  I don’t buy soda.  I handed him a coke.  Three days of unlimited candy and soda–life doesn’t get better than this.

“Here, buddy, have two pieces of pizza,” said the Lion’s Club member.  “You’re the most polite boy I’ve seen all day.”  I looked behind me to see if there was another boy there.  I realized the compliment was for mine–a mom moment of pride.  Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

“Polite” didn’t last long.  Sword fights.  More pig piles.  Then crying. “Mom, she broke my pirate hook!”

“I’ll fix it.  Attack safely.”  I’d made it out of tape and tinfoil while putting together my Halloween costume.  I should’ve bought a high quality hook from China.

Monsters, ghouls, and creatures tired and dropped out of the fray, one by one.  Zombie apocalypse, complete.

Scary HalloweenThis was a prelude for the real Halloween, where they’d shake down the entire town, not just the village, for every hidden chocolate bar, leaving nothing but avocados behind.

“Mom,” he asked, “How many days till Christmas?”

“Thanksgiving’s first.”  I said.

“Thanksgiving’s stupid.  I hate turkey.  Being thankful is dumb.”

“Being thankful isn’t dumb.  What are you thankful for?” I asked.

“Candy.  And presents…”  I was about to give up, then he said,  “And you, Mom.”

All is not lost this Halloween.

Halloween: Act Three–Liquor Treating

If parents are going to put up with the high-fructose corn syrup invasion, we deserve something, too. We were invited to Trick or Treat with one of Declan’s friends.  It wasn’t just trick or treating, it was an extravaganza–one of those experiences where kids seem to evaporate and adults have fun, too.

“I lost my kid,” I said a hundred times.

“He’ll be back,” another parent would say.

And he was.  Kids collected candy, adults enjoyed beverages.  I started to think this really could be the best holiday ever invented.   Our group was the entire boy half of the third grade, but twice we collided with the girls’ group.  The entire third grade in one place and time.

I remembered why I’m not an elementary school teacher.  If you are, I worship you.

“Want to go with the girls?” I asked Declan.

“Ewww… no…” he said.  I wonder how many more years before that’d change.  For now, hanging with the boys is enough.

Negotiations began the minute we returned. “I’m eating all my Swedish fish so no one takes them,” said one boy.

“Good plan.”  I said.  I told him it worked well in government and education–consume everything because you’ll never get it again.  He blinked twice and opened another pack of candy.

“I’m trading,” said Declan.

“Good,” I said.  “Trade well.”  This isn’t about candy.  Trading is a valuable business skill.  I watched the art of the deal go down until every boy was satisfied with his stash.

I wanted to stay all night.  Declan was having a blast, I was having fun, too.  I’m not used to that much fun, and I didn’t want to overdose or turn into a pumpkin, so we said our goodbyes.

“That was great!” Declan said.

“Yeah, it was.  It was really nice of them to invite us.”  I said.

“Yeah.  Can we have a party like that?”  That was my fear–the bar had been raised in his little mind.

“No.  We’re not that fun.”  If I set the bar low, I can get away with less.  It’s my go-to Mom tactic.

“Can we learn to be fun?”  he asked.  I’m always talking about learning–how everyone can learn everything if they just try–that the world of learning is at our fingertips these days.  No excuses.  Now is no time for learning… throwing good parties is hard.  Learn when it’s math time, kid.

“Maybe.” I said, hoping he’d forget.  Kids never forget when the outcome could be cool–only when it’s something like “Do your homework,” “Shower,” or “Clean your room.”

This morning, the season of High Fructose Corn Syrup is officially over even though there’s still candy left in the bag.  We will now have a short break for the Season of Gratitude which will be overrun by the Season of Shopping.

But I’m hoping the Season of Fun stays with us throughout the year.