29 October 2011
A Proactive Halloween
The October issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine contains a letter from the editor, Pilar Guzman, describing how Halloween goes down in her Brooklyn neighborhood:
"...,,,,..there is something so pure and magical about kids' relishing their assumed identities and proudly participating in a costume parade within steps of our house. I think I had to make three trips to the store last year to replenish the candy supply for the endless stream of kids coming to our door.
..............We take turns handing out candy......and taking our kids for short spins around the neighborhood. In the midst of hanging out on our stoop and watching the throngs go by, we duck in from the cold to load up on our friend Matt's beef chili. I realize it's the idea of the ritual - the same group of kids, more or less, who have been trick or treating together since they were toddlers - that matters."
If I had read this two years ago, I would have thought it was a warm, happy validation. Yes - this is Halloween. And it is good.
But I'm reading it this year..........and I get a catch in my throat. A classic case of you-don't-know-what-you've-got-til-it's-gone.
Where I once had "a costume parade of children within steps of our house," I now have a beautifully wooded neighborhood with no sidewalks and long, long driveways leading to dark houses. Perfect for the privacy-seeking nature lover but not ideal for the trick or treater.
We have bad Halloween feng shui.
I felt it last year, our first Halloween in New Hampshire, when I went outside to check out the vibe..........and I felt nothing. There was no excitement in the air. No calm before the storm. No vibration of hyper children too excited to eat dinner, trapped inside houses that weren't ready to release them.
We tagged along with some neighbors last year but it didn't take long for Liam to become mildly disenchanted and call it quits. And I wanted to say, "This is not how it works. I'm supposed to say 'it's time to go home, it's way past your bedtime.' And then you're supposed to cry and whine and beg for just one more block, please, please, please just one more block. And then I say 'ok, but just the even side.' You're not supposed to ASK to go home."
I think the distance between houses and the long driveways just seemed like a lot of work for a fun-size Bit o' Honey.
And just a few days ago, one of the neighbor boys told Liam that he was too old to dress up and he would not be participating. AT 9 YEARS OLD! Too cool for Halloween at 9! And even if he doesn't follow through on this declaration, the seed has already been planted. Because Liam is also 9, and I can see the wheels turning in his head and I'm like NOOOOOOOOO!
When I heard this, I admit, I may have overreacted. I suddenly feared that Halloween was slipping away from us like afternoon naps or picture books or kisses on the lips. Or the Backyardigans. I really miss the Backyardigans (damn you, iCarly!).
And I wanted to go find that kid and shake him and say, "YOU'RE ROBBING US OF HALLOWEEN!!"
I think about Pilar in her Brooklyn neighborhood and I think about our old neighborhood in the city - which I just found out was voted the best trick or treating neighborhood in the city. grrrr! - and I have a lightbulb moment: a good trick or treating experience is highly dependent on density. Lots of houses nestled closely together and full of kids who are excited because they feel the excitement of other kids who are excited because they feel the excitement of other kids who are excited because they feel the excitement of other kids................can you see where I'm going with this? Halloween fun does not exist in a vacuum; we need other people parading by to make it fun.
My last Halloween in Minneapolis, I went home overflowing with community pride; the whole evening felt abundantly communal as we laughed with neighbors, both known and unknown, and accepted offers of road beers for our trek through the hood. I was so grateful to the people in the spooky house for caring enough to create such an elaborate journey to the candy bowl (it involved clowns, dolls and chainsaws). And I was so proud of the parents who wore silly wigs and witch hats and banana costumes and prairie garb (the banana and Ma Ingalls; that's quite a couple) and had no fear of embarrassment.
Last year, my first in my new neighborhood, I wore my Maid of the Mist rain poncho and went trick or treating as a tourist from Niagara Falls. But no one laughed. And I looked like the person who thought it was a costume party when it was really black tie optional.
But I will not have Halloween taken away from us. So we are getting out of dodge.
I take my density theory and search for another neighborhood with more houses and more kids and shorter driveways. I question Liam about his friends from school; what are their costumes? who seems the most excited? Who else lives in their neighborhood? And I start making phone calls........"can we trick or treat with you?"
Halloween is an opportunity to come out of your houses and be one with your neighbors, your friends, your community. It's an American phenomenon built entirely around fun. And candy.
.........and I will not go down without a fight.