Sunday, October 28, 2007

Kids grow out of Halloween -- sigh

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel October 28, 2007)

With Halloween such a significant date on the family calendar, I had no idea that someday the 31st of October would arrive with no accompanying fanfare.

This year it has happened. My youngest child has outgrown trick-or-treating!

Halloween has always been our family's favorite holiday. Ever since the kids were toddlers, we would dress up in crazy outfits and try our luck begging for sweets. I made costumes out of cardboard, paint and papier-mache.

We fashioned mimes, gypsies, witches and ghouls out of old clothes, scarves and hats. Everything was impromptu and thrown together, but it always worked. The last day of October was a much-anticipated time of fun and candy, in that order.

Of course, half the fun -- maybe more than half -- was sorting out the bounty once it was gleaned. After a night canvassing a nearby neighborhood, (that's what you do when your own abode is out in the sticks) we would return home with bulging bags of goodies. With costume parts strewn around the living room and makeup barely removed from little faces, each child would spread out a large towel on which to empty his or her weighty bounty.

Stacks were created -- sucking candies in one section, candy bars in another, a third pile for Smarties and another for Tootsie Rolls, M&Ms and assorted chocolates. There was even a separate section reserved for rejects -- candy too yucky for even sugar-deprived kids to find appealing.

Once each child had his or her stash sorted, the true action began. Trading.

So serious were the transactions being negotiated that you would think you were on Wall Street instead of a candy-cluttered living room.

"I'll give you two Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for five packages of M&Ms," someone would offer.

Swift came the reply, "Throw in a Mars Bar and you've got a deal."

When the kids were young enough to be tempted, we would offer up coins in exchange for their sugar-laden treats.

"I'll pay you a nickel for every piece of candy you give me," my husband would suggest.

That worked for a few years, but eventually candy trumped cash. When you live in a household where foods containing refined sugars, artificial colors and preservatives are usually taboo, a chance to eat quantities of forbidden fruit is difficult to resist.

My husband and I were hardly uninvolved observers during Halloween activities. Not only did we sample the collected spoils, but we also enthusiastically participated in their gathering.

We would dress up in silly costumes and accompany the children on their door-to-door rounds. Most of the time, I'd be a witch -- my alter ego. But during years when my husband came along, my costume was designed to complement his. I would dress up as a businessman, complete with painted-on mustache, beard, briefcase, suit and tie. My husband, whose real beard and mustache cover most of his face, would spend a few hours once a year as a woman.

On top of his mop of unruly hair, without making any real effort to conceal his own dark brown locks, we would place a platinum-blond wig. With a significant amount of effort, he would squeeze into a gaudy flower-print dress that fell just above his hairy calves. Stuffed into the bodice were two plump, round and strategically placed beanbags. The costume was completed with his white socks, sneakers and a large purse to hold any candy he was offered.

The treats poured in -- literally as well as, um, "figure-atively." Ralph's get-up never failed to elicit a reaction. With shy giggles and suggestive cat whistles, an evening spent canvassing suburbia in his company was anything but dull.

But that was before our youngest son turned 15. It's not cool to go trick-to-treating with your family when you're 15. Duh. Anyone knows that.

Whoops! My bad. Add it to the list of other infractions I've committed as a parent of a teenager.

The way I see it, I'm at the edge of a precipice -- steps away from falling into yet another parenting abyss. My kids are no longer little, but young adults. But they're not yet parents themselves, which means no grandchildren are in the picture. Without little kids to legitimize play, certain types of cavorting feel inappropriate and out of place. Trick-or-treating on Halloween, an activity that has defined our family for a quarter-century, will be put on hold this year.

That's OK. It's only temporary. And sometimes, it's good to take a break from tradition. Besides, why pound the streets in search of candy when there is so much sweetness in our everyday lives? Happy Halloween, everyone! Enjoy your treats.

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