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The most rewarding moment of my life – the day I became a mother – isn’t something I could rightfully call “achieving a goal.” But the day I gave birth to my daughter, I added “raise my child to be healthy, happy, and independent” to my list of life goals. I didn’t sit down with pen and paper and make that into a “SMART goal” – it just was what it was. And sometimes, in the busy shuffle of the day-to-day, it’s easy to lose sight of that goal most of us parents share. Sometimes, it seems overwhelming, if not completely impossible – and, as it turns out, it’s not always completely within our control. Sometimes, in order to achieve this goal, we have to let go of it a little – revise it over the decades – and rephrase it to something like: “Raise them to be decent, self-confident adults who know that they are loved, who understand they have every right to pursue happiness, and who realize that happiness is a choice they make daily – starting with the choice to live reasonably safe and healthy lives.”
In today’s economy, it’s common for both parents to work outside the home. And even if working at home is an option, it doesn’t mean the kids get undivided attention from the mom or dad who has that “luxury.” In some ways, it’s harder to explain to a toddler that mommy is working when mommy isn’t out of sight at the office. The sporadic and unpredictable bursts of attention they get during the work day can be a bit confusing. And for the working parent, working at home with young children, it can be a constant struggle between being seen as professional and reliable (coworkers at the office occasionally imagine it’s all bon-bons and goofing off, when you’re out of sight and out of mind, “lucky you”), being productive and effective on the job, and being a loving and attentive parent to children who don’t understand why you won’t drop everything and play.
Kids, surprisingly enough, do like predictable routines – they are safe, secure, and comfortable within them. I rarely worked at home when my kids were little, though it killed me to know it was other people’s “job” to be doing all the fun things I would have loved to do for free. Fortunately, when my daughter was small, my mom stepped up and volunteered to take care of her grand-daughter while I worked. I think her words were, “You are not putting my precious grandchild in day care!” or something to that effect. I was working full time and attending law school at the time, so I definitely needed help. And thus, my mom and my daughter started off on a relationship that was very special – they had a deeper bond than many grandkids and grandparents do, I think. I remember my mom saying, “Oooh, now I have a grand-daughter, I get to spoil her rotten!” And knowing full well the number of hours my daughter would be spending in my own mother’s care, and being pretty sure my mom had not had a values and personality transplant in the past twenty-five years, I laughed. “That’s right. And any discipline problems you create, you get to live with, too!” Of course they had a lot of fun, but they also established rules and routines that my daughter quickly learned and relied upon.
Now, “routine” has an awful connotation, doesn’t it? “Predictable routine” sounds terribly dull and boring. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Another word for it might be “tradition.” Tradition is what you make it – it isn’t about someone else’s idea of fun. It doesn’t have to be “turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving.” (In fact, my daughter, who has always INSISTED on turkey and stuffing – later, Tofurkey and stuffing – has now requested a reprise of her birthday Moussaka when she comes home from college for the holiday.)
A Halloween Tradition
Halloween, in the U.S., is a largely secular holiday that appeals to kids and might better be associated with Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory than with the Devil himself. It was a special holiday for my mom and my daughter, particularly. Every Halloween, without fail, my mom sent a Halloween card to her grand-daughter, and it was stuffed with tiny, plastic spiders. Sometimes, the spiders shared an envelope with metallic confetti pumpkins, witches, and black cats. When we moved to Texas, it was a way for them to stay connected, and it never failed to bring a huge smile to my daughter’s face. Lacking all the solemnity and purpose of Christmas or Thanksgiving, Halloween can be its tacky, silly, fun self without the need for a huge outlay of cash, too. It is highly commercialized, but there’s no sense of guilt in completely ignoring the advertising hype, either. The truth is, Halloween is for kids – and the kid inside us all – and when it comes to the trappings: Jack-o-Lanterns, costumes, and treats – originality counts. Or should.
Crafty moms and dads can get out the sewing machine and make some extraordinarily creative costumes – and I applaud them for their skill and originality, and the care that goes into those things. Harried moms and dads can rush out and brave the crowds at the annual Halloween markets that spring up in September and vanish in November, spending thousands on costumes and accessories. Even that can be fun, provided no one goes bankrupt or ends up in a screaming fit over the $600 pop-up lawn ghoul – whether it’s because dad finally put his foot down and said “No $600 lawn ghoul! We haven’t got the money – but also, where would we PUT it the rest of the year?” or because the thing popped up unexpectedly just as Jenny found the “perfect” fairy princess costume.
There’s a lot to be said for do-it-yourself silliness. How about a box decorated as a recycling bin as a costume? Along with candy, your child can pass out tips on recycling, and collect aluminum cans and call it a volunteer service project. Brainstorm original costume ideas – and ways to construct them on a budget, out of ordinary household items – as a family. Even if you can afford the expensive, store bought, theatrical quality costumes, it’s just more fun and satisfying to sit down together and plan a fun project. Odds are, the store-bought thing won’t be worn twice. No one wants to wear last year’s costume.
Use your imagination. Be tacky, be tasteless, but don’t be gross or offensive. Check out these costume don’ts. A year or two ago, my college-aged daughter went out dressed up in a blue skirt, blue tights, and blue shirt. The shirt was festooned with blue tampons; she carried an artist’s palette and wore a jaunty beret. What was she dressed as? Picasso’s Blue Period, of course.Makes a mother – one who loves puns, anyway – proud. Hand-made costumes beat store-bought, in my opinion – and they’re much more fun to put together. Search the web for “punny costume ideas” if you need something to spark your own.
There’s a former coworker who has emailed me every year around Halloween, just to say “Hi!” and to mention (again) how she always thinks of my daughter and me around this time of year, because of the pumpkin we entered in the company’s “Fall Festival Pumpkin Carving Contest” back in 1996 or 1997. Did we win? Oh yeah. First Place, one year. Best of Show, the next. We went head to head with fancy stenciled squash art from some very skilled carvers – ours looked, well, odd by comparison. But the judges give points for odd – and lots of points for original and for effort, which ours had plenty of.
The first was inspired by one my mom thought up, back in the 1960s or 1970s – we entered it in our church’s pumpkin carving contest, feeling a little guilty for our mischievousness, and won. Remember the old Alka-Seltzer ad: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”? Well, our pumpkin was dressed up and carved to resemble a black cat. It had a “furry” tail, two felt ears, and pipe-cleaner whiskers. There were feathers trailing from its mouth…
Our Best of Show entry looked like this:
The base is a “yard” constructed of florist’s foam, with Spanish moss and “autumn leaves” (real ones, or potpourri) hot glued to the base. We added a few skeletal twigs as dead trees. From the dead trees, we hung cheap plastic skeleton earrings and tiny witches’ broomsticks (hung with thread so that they appeared suspended in mid-air). We carved the pumpkin house “door” in the shape of a coffin, then used it in the “family cemetery” just outside the pumpkin house. Windows became flickering “eyes,” when lit from behind. A black cat shrieks from the “nose” window, casting shadows upon the yard. There are wispy bits of spider webs behind the windows, and rats trying to get in, but they are kept at bay by a rickety wooden fence. That year we won the contest with this design, we used some of the plastic spiders Grandma had sent in her Halloween card.
Trick or Treat
Trick or Treat is often a missed opportunity to get to know our neighbors a little better. In my neighborhood, though, Trick-or-Treat (called “Beggar’s Night” in some communities) is kicked off with a costume parade led by a fire truck. At the end of the main street, the firemen hand out glow stick necklaces and urge the kids to be safe. Parents are seen in abundance – standing just far enough down the street not to be an embarrassment to our kids, but close enough to keep them in sight. We chat – sometimes, it’s the only time during the year we see each other and give each other more than a passing nod, which is a little sad. When I was growing up, the local dentist handed out apples and toothbrushes down by the road, while his wife stood up on their front porch giving out her homemade oatmeal cookies. He would try to “intercept us” with lessons on good oral hygiene, then playfully, if reluctantly, give up – provided we promised to brush before bed. Here’s a little story – a very true story – about one Halloween that stands out in my mind:
One Halloween, my friends and I dressed up and met on the road to go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. It was a small, close-knit village; my mom had grown up there, too, and many of my friends were children of her school friends. None of us could make a move without it getting back to our parents, so we were all pretty well behaved. And the neighborhood was safe; we were allowed to roam, mostly unsupervised, for several blocks at night, ringing doorbells and begging for candy, provided we only went to houses that had their porch lights on.
Just around the corner from my house, there was an older wooden home set back from the road, almost within reach of the railroad tracks. I’d never been there before, on Halloween, but the light was on so I started up the sidewalk. My best friend, Mary, and her sister, Val, stopped me.
“You can’t go there!”
“Because that woman’s a witch. She hates kids. She’s got a gun, and she’ll shoot you. And she’s got a guard dog. He’s mean. He’ll eat you.”
I thought this was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, but they were quite serious, judging by their wide eyes and pale faces. They tugged at my sleeve and tried to drag me away from the house. “The light’s on,” I said.
“Well, wouldn’t the light be OFF if she didn’t want us to come to the door?”
“She’ll shoot you with her gun. She’ll sic her dog on you.”
I pulled free and marched right up to the front door. Val hung back, on the road, ready to run for help. Mary timidly joined me. I rang the bell.
The door opened, and the woman who answered it peered out at us through Coke-bottle glasses that made her eyes seem three times larger than normal. “Hello,” she said. She looked like somebody’s grandma.
“Trick or treat!” I said.
“Oh, do come in. You’re the first trick-or-treaters I’ve had all night. I was afraid no one was coming!” Her dog, a tiny little bundle of energy and enthusiasm, pressed his nose to the door and wagged his tail. “I’m Mrs. Morgan. And you are…?” She opened the door and we introduced ourselves. We stepped into a well-lighted foyer, where card tables were covered with little cups full of apple cider and plastic bags filled with homemade cookies. There were enough treats, there, for all the neighborhood kids.
Mary and I looked at each other. How could we tell this sweet old lady that the other children wouldn’t be coming? That the word on the street was, she was a mean old hag who liked to shoot kids and feed their bones to her dog? I bent down to pet the vicious mutt. He licked my hand.
We couldn’t do it. We drank some cider, took a bag or two of cookies, and told Mrs. Morgan we had to go – but that we’d be back.
After knocking some sense into Val and goading her into walking up to Mrs. Morgan’s house for cookies, herself, the three of us made the rounds and told everyone that they’d better go to the “witch’s house” or be branded chickens and idiots for life. We showed them the cookies they’d be missing if they didn’t. We told them all about the nice old lady and her yappy little furball “guard dog.” I think we made her night.
Mary and I became frequent visitors at Mrs. Morgan’s house after that, bringing her flowers from our gardens: bright yellow branches of forsythia, fragrant purple lilacs, red and pink tulips, and the occasional sticky, ant-covered peony bouquet. She always seemed delighted to see us, and spent hours telling us about herself, her family, her dog, and the history of the little town we were growing up in. She had an old-fashioned crank telephone and lots of antiques. Her house was one of the original resort homes back around the turn of the century, when the whole village was a resort and amusement park.
I finally confessed to my mom that I had befriended the woman everyone had said was a witch, despite worrying a little that my mom would be mad I’d spent so much time talking to a “stranger.” She laughed, and told me she knew Mrs. Morgan – who, Mom said, seemed old back when she was a kid. The kids had called Mrs. Morgan a witch back then, too, and Mom was glad I’d discovered the truth for myself.
A Challenge for YOU
First, as a thank you for supporting us and to help get you and your family into the Halloween spirit, I’ve written a FREE spooky ghost story to tell at home or around the campfire! All we ask of you is a simple Tweet in exchange! Grab your copy by clicking the button below.
Leave us a comment about how you create special family traditions, and what those mean to you and your kids.
Send us your favorite creative pumpkin carving and costume pics, too. Extra credit if you carve a pumpkin to look like our Froggy – or dress up like him and send us a photo!
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