An Unexpected Treat

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    Halloween is the ultimate kids-will-be-kids holiday.

    It offers no social redemption, except perhaps the remote possibility of teaching your child how to say thank you – like she means it – before she bolts down the steps and across the neighbor’s newly seeded lawn to the next front porch where she will demand more Halloween crap. Uh, I mean treats.

    Despite how that last part sounded, I don’t have a problem with Halloween.

    For a long time, as a parent, I had no real expectations for the holiday. There was a period when I thought I wanted my daughters to design their own costumes – like my husband and I did when we were kids. Then I found out making homemade costumes for kids younger than seven meant Mommy had to dust off the thirteen-year old sewing machine she had received as a bridal shower gift.

    So what was it that helped raise the bar on Halloween? I witnessed the healing power of cute.

    When a mother from school emailed that she was taking her daughter trick-or-treating at her grandma’s nursing home, and, Did you want to come along with the girls? My first thought was – Just what we need, more candy! After a moment’s pause, however, I considered my three daughters and how much they enjoyed their costumes this particular year. The harem girl and both fashion witches would appreciate this chance at a Halloween eve dress rehearsal far more than the Skittles they might receive.

    That evening, we gathered in the lobby of the nursing home with a clown, a state trooper, a cowboy, and a sleek black cat that kept its eyes trained on an irresistible little mouse who preferred squeaking to talking.

    What had been billed as trick-or-treating turned into a makeshift parade through the main dining hall of the facility. Because I’d had some personal experience with nursing homes, I had the presence of mind to discuss with my girls exactly who lived here and why. Not so, the parents of the young cowboy, who immediately blurted out, “What smells?” when we entered the large room full of seniors and patients of all ages with long-term disabilities.

    My girls were speechless. The oldest finally managed to follow my friend the organizer’s lead and call out a few Happy Halloweens as the line of children and a few of us parents wound in and out of tables and wheelchairs. One woman with a tuft of gray whiskers that made her look more like a pap-pap than a grandma grabbed hold of the fashion witch’s arm as she passed. “What a sweetie!” she croaked. My little one didn’t say anything, and more importantly, she didn’t jerk back her hand. She just nodded in awkward agreement, her eyes fixed on the chin of someone else’s forgotten grandmother, until the parade carried her away.

    Before we headed to the lobby, where the staff had filled huge orange pumpkin bowls with Smarties and Snickers, the children stood in a half-circle and attempted to sing a Halloween song. For the kids, it was a chance to practice the songs they had been working on at school that week. For the residents, it was one more chance to experience the healing power of cute.

    On the way home, my daughters and I talked about nursing homes and old people and how good it feels to make someone smile.

    And nobody even realized that they didn’t get any candy.