Well Intended / Spooked by Halloween but charmed, too
The sunscreen and insect repellent are marked down, the candy corn arrives. Stacked high in cello bags the little striped nuggets materialize.
And because it is seasonal and not the sort of thing you can get in the middle of January (if one ever has such a craving), I buy a bag and try to recall whether the children like it or not (they do).
It's around that time that they start positioning for their dream Halloween costumes.
My son wants to dress as something that comes with a weapon or requires one in order be recognizable.
I didn't let him have toy weapons for most of his early childhood, going so far as removing the miniature scimitars from his Playmobil pirates.
I was idealistic that way. Yet, he crafted guns from Lego and swords from sticks as most boys do and borrowed Nerf artillery from neighbors. Halloween seems to him his best shot at arming himself.
And so, he begins to imagine the costumes he can create around a lightsaber or cutlass.
Before the back to school notebooks and college-ruled paper have gone on sale and fake blood and plastic vampire fangs have replaced them, they have imagined themselves a dozen characters.
My daughter wants to be an anime fantasy character of some kind.
She designs costumes on the paper snagged from the print tray, forgetting that I am neither seamstress nor pattern maker.
She's getting too old to trick or treat, and while I am enjoying the thoughtful intense person she is becoming, I miss the toddler that dressed in ballerina skirt or fairy wings daily.
When she was younger, she lived for weeks in a pair of monarch butterfly wings that tangled when she napped. How can I not try to help her find the six-foot bat wings she envisions this year and try to encourage her to select a skirt that is just a few inches longer?
Halloween is a chance to be someone else. I get that. We spend most of our days being our predictable selves, dressed in our ordinary clothes, doing what we're supposed to be doing; and seldom are we offered free reign to run from house-to-house soliciting candy. It's an alluring concept.
But, I have a confession. I'm afraid of Halloween.
Along side the Styrofoam gravestones and black glitter nail polish in the drugstore aisle, inevitably lurks a treat bowl that makes a ghoulish sound when you walk by. And when this occurs, I startle. From September until the end of October, I am wary of this response and have learned to avoid the Halloween section of big-box stores and neighborhood pharmacy alike.
The pop-up Halloween themed shops that manifest empty storefronts give me shivers.
And don't get me started on masks, spooky make-up or haunted houses.
My parents believed in Halloween. When I say believed, I mean they thought it was real. Mom's fundamentalist system not only accounted for a very present God, but his evil opposite as well.
And thus, Halloween was forbidden, or at least minimized to include harvest festivals or church parties where everyone dressed as angels. I can't say that we minded this. The parties were usually fun.
And we celebrated an enjoyable, safe and "uplifting" holiday.
But while mom was trying to do her best to shelter us from evil, both mystical and the kind that might put a razor blade in a candy bar, I wondered. I put too much thought into it. I tend to do that. And somehow, Halloween became something more menacing in my mind than people in costume having fun, getting candy.
On Halloween night, I help the kids into their costumes and get ready to trick or treat with them.
I try to feed them something healthy, but that's more for my own comfort than any expectation that they won't make themselves sick on miniature chocolate bars. When they were younger, we went out with a group of friends. And I'll admit to having felt safety in numbers.
Last year, it was just their father and I. And an ex husband is little protection from personal anxiety. I started the evening with a black crow pinned to my hair, but the kids made me remove it. We have reached the stage where I can be humiliating. As the evening progressed, mummies hung from trees, bats flew down from the eaves. The sky grew dark and a brilliant moon winked low in the sky. There were smoke machines and witch cauldrons, headless teenagers and bloodied appendages.
The kids ran up to doorways and were greeted by gory-costumed adults and handfuls of candy. They emptied their bags into a larger sack that I carried, offering me the occasional Kit Kat or M&M. They were unafraid of the spook and macabre, naturally. Of course the kids were fine, understanding the eerie components we had seen for months in the stores comprised the costumes worn by ordinary kids like them. They buzzed about, sword dragging, wings drooping on the mild October night amped up on candy and possibility.
We recognized and greeted friends from school as we navigated the maze of streets. Parents walked together in small groups sipping cups of wine that would occasionally be refilled by generous homeowners.
And it felt like we were part of something larger. Halloween is a night when we open our doors to strangers and to the strangeness within us. People dress their homes in cotton cobwebs in order to delight.
They buy thousands of calories of confections to please children they'll never know. We carve faces in jack o lanterns, set mums on our porches and light ghosts in our windows. We interact with the community on Halloween that we don't on any other holiday. And while I still jump at the grim reaper model in the entrance to CVS, I have a new reverence for Halloween.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.