I just finished reading another article, this one in the Chicago Tribune, about how parents are sucking the fun right out of Halloween. This one was about a new trend in which a bunch of parents drive their cars to a big parking lots on Halloween and have their kids run from car to car to collect candy.
How fun—the smell of exhaust, the sun blazing down, the magic of knowing you have nothing to be afraid of.
My son came home last week with a set of “Halloween guidelines” for his school, grades three through six. These included: no mask wearing, no facial make up, not wearing your costume to school, but only putting it on when the teacher says and then taking it right back off again, no candy, no weapons (okay, I get that one) and no scary costumes.
Wha?? The kids were encouraged to dress up like “historical figures”, “someone they admire” or “a hero for their time.”
My son left the house this morning with his zombie costume tucked surreptitiously in the back compartment of his back pack, likely to have it confiscated upon arrival by the airport security-like system I assume they’ll make the kids submit to before entry onto the premises.
I get it. School shootings. Child abductions. Allergies. Drugs. Bullying. It’s a f*cked up world out there.
Here’s a news flash. It’s always been f*cked up.
When are we going to learn that we can not insulate our kids from every hint of danger, every whisper of doom, every mean kid, every peanut and every uncomfortable emotion? By doing so, we are creating a generation of humorless neurotics and that bums me out.
I have great memories of running around in my princess of death costume (that I made myself) after dark in my neighborhood in the Boston suburbs, forcing myself to be brave and go to the doors of houses that were unlit or had creepy music playing outside or possibly an over zealous adult waiting to jump out from the bushes and scare the bejeezus out of me.
Now my son ambles from house to house in the relentless light of day where happy pumpkins gaze benignly from the doorsteps and parents are more worried about manners— “Say thank you!”—than they are about fun.
Don’t misunderstand me; I believe in manners and safety—but I also believe in mischief and mystery.
When we tie everything up in bubble wrap, we don’t give our kids the chance to experience things directly. We mute their connection to their own emotions and to the fearsome beauty of the real world. A kid who has never been scared is a kid who will never be brave—simply because s/he hasn’t been given the opportunity.
We parents need to exercise bravery, too. We are so invested in manipulating environments, and accustomed to that being the norm, that we have succumbed to the illusion that we can and do control everything. At heart, we are just frightened children in bigger bodies, trying to protect those vulnerable little ones to which our hearts are irrevocably tied.
But a generous half of our motivation is selfish—we are trying to protect ourselves, too.
I believe we need to loosen the ties that bind, and give our kids a whole lot more wiggle room. I’m not saying let them play with loaded guns—I’m just proposing that stuff like a little face paint or a scary mask or running around the neighborhood after dark isn’t going to scar anybody’s psyche.
There will always be some freak handing out apples stuffed with razor blades (though I have yet to encounter one), but should we really let those freaks ruin everything for everybody else?
This Halloween, let your kids run amok. Let them don the masks and toss out the apples…and on November 1st, discover that they have miraculously survived.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise