Twelve years ago, my best friend since childhood asked me to be his best man for his wedding in Las Vegas. It all sounded like a blast until he told me his nuptials were set for Halloween.
I declined since my children at that point were 10, 7, 4 and 3 months old. There was no way I would pass on the magic of Halloween. “I only have so many years with my children when they will let me enjoy every minute of the Halloween experience with them,” I explained to him. “Childhood is finite.” I couldn’t have been more on the money. My streak of 22 consecutive years of trick-or-treating was snapped last year thanks to the pandemic.
My youngest, Jane, 12, is on her own with friends while going door to door. All I have left is myriad memories and advice for parents with young children. Immerse yourself every Halloween. It’s one of the greatest holidays. I look back at all the unbridled joy my children experienced – from selecting their costumes and dressing up to sprinting out into the crisp autumn air just after sunset navigating through neighborhoods having no idea what treats awaited.
One year, my kids stumbled upon a house that tossed dollar bills into the bags of the first group of children who visited. There was Mr. Pritz, a spry nonagenarian who gave out cans of soda. My children loved the extra weight since at the end of the night, their candy bags hit the scale. The Condran child with the heaviest pillow case won half of their siblings’ candy was the annual joke.
The kids always remembered who gave out the big candy bars in the hood. I told my children to think outside the box while running the streets. We visited a mom and pop movie theater, and their treat was Toblerones, a tub of popcorn and a soda. They reveled not just in the excess; they enjoyed the fact our discovery was their little secret.
It was always nice running into neighbors who you somehow identified in the dark. You have a minute to catch up before running after your children. And then there are the folks who go all out with over-the-top effort. We trick-or-treated on such a block that was akin to a Hollywood stage. Children waltzing around and laughing in delight while stepping onto porches with frightening tricks or into backyards that were turned into creep shows.
The streets from our tiny borough were lined with kids from outside our neighborhood, and they were embraced. I didn’t realize why they were visiting until our area was slammed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Sandy absolutely devastated the coasts of New Jersey and New York.
Sandy was so potent that while we lived 60 miles from the coast, we lost power for the week of Halloween. Our trick-or-treat night was moved to Nov. 2. However, nearby Philadelphia was up and running Halloween night.
We visited the neighborhood I grew up in, and I was shocked to see the lack of children going door to door and how many folks who just weren’t participating. I knocked on the door of the house I grew up in, and the folks who purchased my home were surprised and had no candy to offer. They tossed my children a box of cookies.
If my little demons failed to realize it, I told them how fortunate they were to live in a neighborhood in which Halloween was always so festive. I’ll never forget that evening in Philly, as my son Eddie was dressed as a cheerleader and fooled my mother-in-law. She was convinced Eddie was his older sister Jillian.
“Someone has a birthday coming up in a few days,” she said as we cracked up. Costumes were a huge part of the fun. Eddie still has issues with how often he was dressed as a girl since he also went out as Taylor Swift twice.
When Eddie’s little sister and I met Swift a few years ago, I told her about my son’s penchant for dressing up as the pop star.
“Do you have a picture?” she asked. I pulled up a photo, gave her my phone and was surprised that she pulled in tight on his face. “Wow, he’s really cute,” Swift said as she stared. Swift followed by waxing about her Halloweens and where she grew up, which was just 90 minutes from Philadelphia.
I look back fondly at Jillian’s Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Margo Tenenbaum from “The Royal Tenenbaums” and Tippi Hedren’s forlorn character from “The Birds,” Milo as Harry Potter, Milo and Eddie as Thing 1 and Thing 2 and Jane as a kangaroo and a policewoman.
I don’t remember a bad Halloween moment. The only regret goes back to my childhood when I decided as a high school freshman that I was too old to take part in Halloween. I recall watching the children through my bedroom window scurrying about in pursuit of Hershey bars while I dutifully studied for a history test.
Never short change yourself when it comes to Halloween as a parent. I was remarkably prescient when I decided to pass on the opportunity to be a vital part of my best friend’s wedding party in Sin City. Have as much fun as we prepare for a quasi-normal Halloween. Make up for last year’s lost holiday.
I’ll be handing out candy for the first time ever. I’ll also look back at photos and videos of when the kids dashed into the night with the scent of wood burning and beaming without a care in the world. The only drawback was the dental damage caused by an endless array of Nerds and sugared-up kids for weeks.
But it was all worth it since there is no holiday that’s more fun for kids and parents than Halloween.
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