My first Halloween as a parent was spent in the air. My wife Kat and I were returning from showing off our first baby to friends and family in Colorado. Traveling home on October 31, we dressed our ten-month old in a little knit pumpkin-top hat and orange onesie, making them the darling of any gate agent or flight attendant in their path. In addition to any oohs and aahs, we may have received an extra packet or two of Biscoff cookies, but no candy was necessary as our little one was still on a milk-only diet.
The next year we were at home for our first Halloween in Richmond, and it was time to take my fully ambulatory child trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In the Loudoun County suburb of my youth, trick-or-treating was an every-house affair. Sure, some people figuratively weren’t home and more accurately weren’t interested, but every door got knocked on.
In our Northside Richmond neighborhood, little did I know that the rules were different – it was an opt-in situation. Around dusk on Halloween, the houses that would like to be extorted by costumed youth would turn on their lights, open their doors, and proudly display any spooky decorations. Houses that didn’t would remain dark and closed, but they wouldn’t put up any pretense of not being at home. This being my first Halloween in the neighborhood, my kid and I knocked with abandon, surprising many neighbors who weren’t expecting to see us. This resulted in impromptu treats of granola bars, dollar bills, and enough breath mints for me to question my oral hygiene.
When the kids were little, I liked being the one to go out with them. Waiting at the sidewalk with my friend John while our kids ran up to the door, I could practice my best late-Generation X detachment while simultaneously being a semi-responsible caregiver. As the kids got older, the number of adults in our pack grew, while the kids themselves required less and less attention. It wasn’t long until the children drastically outpaced us, and I just got to enjoy an evening walk with other grownups, perhaps bringing along a flask of something to warm my bones on a cool fall evening.
In any multi-adult household, there’s the question of who will stay home to distribute candy and who will chaperone the kids. I greatly prefer to be the one who leaves the house. On days that aren’t October 31st, a knock on our door is such a rare event that
I don’t even consider it a possibility. On Halloween night, this is flipped on its head. We expect to hear the knocker. It could happen at any time. Folks, someone could knock on the door while I’m in the bathroom. Anything I’m doing might be interrupted, so it’s better to do nothing and just wait. But, I can’t seem like I’m just waiting, because just waiting would be silly. I have to pretend to be reading a book or playing on my iPad. Then, when the knock does happen, I can’t seem too eager, because the 6-year-olds might judge me. I make a point of placing a bookmark in the book I’m not actually reading, putting it down, and doing my best Han Solo “fly casual” to the door.
To many (like Kat), this is what makes being at home worth it:
You open the door to extremely cute children and bring them joy by handing them candy. I cannot do this. Instead, I run every conceivable scenario in my brain. Is there a candy-grabber on the porch? Do I open with “take two, please” and sound stingy? Do I wait for a kid to take a handful, then admonish him? How do I do that without looking like a big, scary, man-with-a-beard? What if I’ve got a grab-and-runner, and the polite kids complain about inequality when I don’t let them grab a handful, too? The answer, of course, is to just buy more candy, but try telling that to my overly analytical brain. Kat’s brain actually functions as it should in this regard, and she’s happy to be the one who stays home.
Halloween 2020 promises to be unlike any other Halloween in my lifetime. With “safer at home” still the order of the day, I can’t imagine we’ll practice the holiday like we have in the past. While Halloween does increase the likelihood that my kids will be wearing masks, the idea of sending them door-to-door to collect food after six months of social distancing is so inconceivable to me that not even Inigo Montoya could question my word choice. This year, I wager we’ll improvise. There will be video calls to show off cosplay outfits. There will be time spent framing the perfect picture to post on social media. And I’m still working through some ideas on how to use candy to make this the highest-stakes game of UNO ever played at our house.
But even before this outlier of a year, the adult-involved Halloween was on the way out in my family. My oldest, entering their tween and early teen years, would be invited to a party or want to be driven to a full-size-candy-bar neighborhood. My youngest has chosen in recent years to go meet up with her school friends instead of staying closer to home. It’s what I’d want to do, too, if I were their ages.
I’m glad I had those years to be with them and commune with my fellow sidewalk parents for at least one evening. In years to come, I’ll be looking forward to the kids heading out completely on their own, leaving Kat and me at home together. We’ll sip some wine, she’ll answer the door with joy, and I’ll hide in the kitchen perfectly content.