Having a baby has made 2014 a year of firsts so, when Halloween rolls around, my wife and I get into gear.
After dressing Natalie up as Snow White we run over to an arts and crafts store, hit up Target for candy and go home to decorate our front porch. “If you don’t have any Halloween decorations,” my wife warns. “People won’t know you’re giving out candy.”
My wife is very creative and, with a minimum of supplies, casts a large spider’s web over our front porch – complete with with spiders made of yellow and black ribbon. Add a few pumpkins and voila! A house ready for trick or treaters.
When I was a waiter I wasted Halloween serving costumed Yuppies so I make it a point to hand out candy to the kids every year. Knowing children will hit the streets the moment school lets out, I fix a cup of coffee, leash Buster to the railing, and sit outside with a large stainless steel bowl full of candy. My wife will join me but she’s busy changing Natalie. Because two sets of grandparents have to see my daughter’s outfit in pristine condition, diaper duty has taken on the tension of a bomb disposal scene from The Hurt Locker. One slip and it’s all over. Damn those white tights that came with Snow White’s costume. Yellow or brown would have been better.
A gaggle of children walk past. They see me but, to my surprise, keep going. As their parents bring up the rear I say, “Hey, we have candy over here.” The adults don’t even look at me and push their brood around the block. I’m pissed. Do I have a sign that says, “Child molester” hanging around my neck? I’ve lived in this neighborhood for eleven years.
Annie joins me. “Natalie is conked out,” she says. “I want her to sleep before your parents arrive.”
I tell my wife about the paranoid parents. “I’m glad you’re here now. Maybe having a woman here will lower their anxiety.” Then another group of children walk right past us, their parents ignoring my offer of sweets.
“What the hell?” I almost shout. “What’s wrong with these people?’
“Calm down,” Annie says. “”These parents are probably sticking to the homes of people they know. Nowadays it’s all about safe trick or treating.”
“So what do they think we’re doing?” I sputter. “Putting Drano in the Snickers Bars? On the hunt for kiddie kidneys? We’re not on any sexual offender lists.”
My wife shakes her head. “You’re getting too worked up over this. When Natalie gets older we’ll know more parents and they’ll come around to our house.”
The idea of “safe” trick or treating pisses me off. After working the locals once or twice, my brother and I would walk for miles until until we bagged enough candy to last us past Easter. Everybody gave out candy on Halloween back then – even the barefoot hippie pot-smoking weirdoes with the long hair and beads.
“What can I say?” Annie says. “People are worried about their kids getting poisoned.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “We had that when I was little. They told us sickos put razor blades in apples and rat poison in the candy. Do you know there had never been a documented case of that happening? Not once.”
“So you’ve told me, many times.”
“If someone was stupid enough to do that,” I say. “Parents would burn the house down with the guy in it. Cops would probably stand by and say, ‘We didn’t see anything.”
My wife shoots me a dirty look. “Chill out, now.”
Eventually some normal parents come by with their children and help themselves to our candy. That makes me feel better, but not by much. Halloween isn’t the holiday of my childhood. Less and less children come around every year. Being a dad this time around makes the contrast more poignant.
“It’s a shame when you think about it,” my wife says as the children walk away. “This is a time for people to get to know their neighbors. A chance for little kids to interact with adults they usually don’t have.”
I say nothing. Parents have been cocooning their kids from every possible form of risk for years. Wonder why young people are having such a hard time today? Most of it has to do with economics, but helicopter parents haven’t helped. Last month a schoolboy asked me for directions to his house as I was walking my dogs. The child lived four blocks from where we were standing! Shocked, I asked why he didn’t know where his own house was.
“My mom drives me everywhere,” he said. That’s messed up.
I’m not afraid of raising a child, I’m afraid of other parents. Dealing with over-protective nitwits will test my patience. I’ll be that contrarian father at P.T.A meetings. I’ll be the voice saying, “That’s nonsense!” Teachers will groan when they hear my name. Oh. That guy. For Natalie’s sake I’ll have to bite my tongue for the next eighteen years. I don’t know how I’ll manage.
My parents arrive and we walk Natalie around the block to get a few token treats. Most of the houses aren’t giving out candy and I notice the costumed children we’re tailing aren’t from my town. Not unusual. The city across the river isn’t the greatest. I notice one of the visiting fathers has a flashlight. So do I. The greatest danger to kids isn’t poisoned candy; it’s the automotive dolts and drunk drivers. As the sky darkens I pray everyone gets home safely.
When we get home we discover Natalie has peed though her outfit and discard it. As far as she’s concerned it’s just another day. In a few more years I hope Halloween will be as exciting for her as it was for me, but it won’t be the same. The old days are long gone. But no matter how much I grouse about change, I’ll have to make Halloween a nice day for my little girl.
My parents are hungry so we go out for dinner. Before we leave I place the candy on my stoop so the kids can help themselves. When we get back two hours later the candy is all gone. So is the bowl.
“They took the fucking bowl!” I say, forgetting my mother is right next to me.
“That’s the bowl I use when baking,’’ Annie says.
“I don’t mind the candy being gone, I’d have just eaten it. But the bowl? Unbelievable.”
Halloween isn’t what it used to be.