A Dad’s Halloween: Trick or Trick?

Trick-or-treating doesn't start afterhours.

Trick-or-treating doesn’t start afterhours.

I’ve been busy, so there hasn’t been a new blog post in some time. I don’t apologize for it, but I’ve had numerous requests to continue. So here goes. I’m a bit behind on the calendar, but hopefully it’s still relatable. Enjoy!

Halloween is a tricky holiday for parents of young kids. One might think all the work is in simply walking them around and making sure they aren’t hit by cars. Not the case. Trick-or-treating doesn’t start afterhours, either. It starts with the costume.

Some parents make their kids’ costumes. I can only imagine this is due to a strong love for sewing, because it saves money, or because they have a flask of Scotch hidden somewhere in their sewing desk. To me, making a costume seems awful and exhausting. When I was a kid, my mom tried to teach me how to sew. How to cross-stitch, to be more accurate. I was to follow a pattern laid out for me, yet I was a lazy sewer and so the picture that was supposed to be the feature of a blanket had so many piled-up knots on the backside that we had to make it into a pillow. I’d dare say my wife is a talented sewer, but she has managed to retain most of her sanity like me, and so agreed that buying costumes for the kids was our best bet.

That’s when I saw the prices. I couldn’t have sold enough blood to warrant the purchase of a plastic dagger, a rice-paper-thin shawl and a mask that comprised my oldest boy’s first choice of costumes. The middle child wasn’t any thriftier. Yet, when I suggested they both get under-the-counter jobs to help pay for these, it was me who got the stink eye from my wife.

The world makes no sense.

So we bought costumes for the kiddies, except for the 16-month-old who wore the Mickey Mouse hand-me-down. The oldest was a skeleton/grim reaper thing and the middle child was a ninja turtle. For good measure, my wife decided on an Elsa costume from the movie, Frozen. I raised a brow at how much this one cost, but decided to let it go (pun intended). I swiped my credit card with tears brimming, at first trying to conceal my angst but then realizing that every father in the checkout line behind me was bawling in much the same way. My heart reached out to them, and theirs to me, I’m sure. It felt much like the time when the Delta Tau Chi fraternity in Animal House was disbanded by the mean Dean of Students, or when Rudy Ruettiger was told he wouldn’t get to play in the final game.

And then it came: the trick-or-treating hour, which gives new meaning to the term, The Long Mile. I looked outside to the dump of rain bouncing off the pavement. We’d need a canoe to get through it, but I knew there was no opting out of this. I didn’t even breach the subject for fearing of the children turning into the gremlins they are and ripping my limbs off in a maniacal rage. No, we were going trick-or-treating—and I was afraid.

On our way out the door, my oldest asked, “Dad, why aren’t you dressed up yet?” At which point my loving, but vindictive wife, gave me a look that hinting that that thing I probably did a while back that ticked her off but that she’d sworn wouldn’t ever be used against me was in danger of being revived if I didn’t go find a costume to wear. I am still a stupid husband, but over the years this hound has learned a few survival techniques to marriage.

I ran to the garage and dug up my old Grim Reaper outfit—a thin, black cloak and a plastic scythe—and then met my wife and kids in the front drive way.

We moved into the house we currently live in about a year and a half ago. We love it—absolutely adore the neighborhood—but most of our neighbors don’t have kids who are age-appropriate for trick-or-treating. The ones who do typically find other neighborhoods to candy-grub at. So when we began knocking on doors, we were met with a lot of stunned faces and frantic Wow, we haven’t had a trick-or-treater in maybe ten years! This was usually followed with a Just a minute, and then a scrambling about the house in search of something that would pass as a suitable Halloween treat. No one had turned their lights off to indicate they weren’t celebrating the holiday this year, and nobody took heed to my wife’s insistence that it was just fine if they didn’t have any candy to share. I always inserted a subtle, “we’ll gladly take money” whenever she said this, but I’m pretty sure it was never heard amidst my grunt which followed the elbow she sent into my gut.

I started making a game of trying to guess what the neighbor might return to the door with: we saw colorful hard candies that had likely been sitting in a glass jar for as long as the elderly woman had had dentures and couldn’t eat it, jolly ranchers that had fused to their wrappers, leftover fried chicken, among other unconventional delights.

When we were roughly halfway through our route, my wife and I had to start explaining to our oldest that he probably shouldn’t tell folks why the candy they gave him was subpar in comparison to what was given three houses down. In hindsight, though, his guidance on the difference between a Christmas character and Halloween character may have been a help to the neighbor who had supplied him with Santa Claus chocolates.

With a waterlogged toddler on one hip, three flashlights and two jack-o-lantern buckets around my other arm, as well as a plastic scythe pinned to my shoulder by my chin, I braved the elements, realizing that my soaked feet could no longer walk in full stride because of how frayed and tangled the bottom of my ragged Grim Reaper cloak had become. When finally we walked through the front doorway of our warm house, the kids leapt into the living room, planted themselves on the floor leaving behind a trail of mud and pine needles, and dumped their candies into separate piles.

The art of counting one’s Halloween candy is a time-tested tradition and one that I’m convinced is encoded into our DNA. Nobody ever taught my 16-month-older how to do this or that it was necessary, yet there he was, county and sorting his sweets like a practiced accountant while fending off his older brother from sneaking peeks to see if his stash was any better.

Meanwhile, after shedding myself of the Grim Reaper costume that was now a pile of disintegrated blackness on the entryway floor, I plopped myself onto the couch. My wife, still donning her Elsa hair—a blonde, braided wig—played referee between the three and ensuring none of them ate any candy without permission. Watching this ordeal, I realized how primordial Halloween really is—how it brings out our caveman instincts and forces us to become the beasts we dress up as. But then after a few minutes—once the middle child finally gave up his mission of trying to steal candy from his brother—the 16-month-old picked up a roll of Smarties and handed it to him with wide eyes and a big grin on his face.

The sight of this warmed my heart. Maybe there was hope for humanity, after all.

And right as the middle child was about to accept that roll of Smarties, the youngest pulled it back and whacked him in the face. Of course, the wife used this as another teaching moment—she’s very good at that—but it made me think I need to introduce another time-tested tradition into the fold—the one where dad drinks a shot or three beforehand.

Ah the holidays.

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