I survived Halloween but for a moment I did feel like I was in some sort of slow-motion horror movie. Mostly, the horror was of my own making, because I was determined to give the kids some special Halloween night in a country where trick-or-treating feels more or less like a criminal activity.
The night doesn’t start well. I am held up at work and I’m late to pick up the kids from their respective childcare places. The Raging Bull, luckily, is already dressed in a bizarre get-up that is half 1950s sock hop teenager and half Madonna circa 1985.
The Chatterbox, however, is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I thought I’d have time to go home and change her into her princess costume (the only thing she will wear), but I realize that I was being wildly optimistic. Instead, I am running down a dark and cold street, urging the Raging Bull to keep up on her chubby three-year-old legs.
We are heading to my friend’s house, who has promised that we’ll go trick-or-treating as a group. I honestly don’t have the courage to go alone. I wouldn’t even know where to start – no one seems to do it around here, and ringing the doorbell makes you feel like a hooligan disturbing the peace.
The unwritten rule in England, I discover, is that houses with a pumpkin left outside might be participating in Halloween’s trick-or-treating traditions. Don’t even bother with anyone else.
Unfortunately, I don’t make it to my friend’s house before they set off, so I’m left to try to find them on a street around the corner from where she lives, dragging the moaning kids behind me, who have already been walking for 15 minutes and are tired. We wander around in the blustery night and find about three or four houses that open the door and offer candy.
It’s all a bit woeful and sad. I feel let down, although the kids don’t seem to care much. They’re just happy to suck on a lollipop, even if they only get one.
We get home late, the kids haven’t eaten any actual food and I’m still determined to ready myself for late trick-or-treaters. I don’t know why I even bothered because no one – not one lonely ghost or ghoul – shows up to ring our doorbell. I had left our pumpkin outside with a candle and had even decorated our door.
Later that night, the Chatterbox asks me why no one came to our house. I try to explain that, in England, it’s just not the same as it is in the United States (read what we did last Halloween), where people spend a fortune on candy and costumes. She accepts this and shrugs.
I am totally frazzled by this point. I feel like I’ve literally been on the move for hours, trying to be merry and jolly, even though all I want to do is collapse on the couch and gulp wine. It makes me realize that, as parents, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.
I was the one who had to meet these unrealistic expectations, I was the one who wanted everything to be ridiculously perfect. The kids would have been happy with less. Perhaps I was trying to recapture my own hazy memories of Halloween. In my mind I remember every Halloween as a pinnacle of childhood happiness. But, in reality, I think we only walked around my neighborhood for about an hour and then had a few pieces of candy at our kitchen table. Why was this so amazing? It’s the memory, of course, that has got sweeter with time.
Whether I try this hard or not, I think the kids will remember every Halloween as special because it stands out from the ordinary. No need to go to extreme lengths. In any case, imagination, a bit of chocolate and a scary story is all you really need.