Ahhhh, the end of October. Take a deep breath and smell the rich aroma of falling leaves and pumpkin spice lattes. Let your Pinterest account runneth over with autumn craft projects you know you won’t get around to doing. Pull out your sweaters, scarves, and boots, and if you’re a big box store, your Christmas light displays because ‘tis always the season to cash in on Jesus’ birthday. And if you’re a parent, enjoy your rising panic as the fear mongering about childhood obesity, cavities, and nefarious neighbors who are out to poison your children spreads across the land.
I remember rolling my eyes at my mom back in the 80’s when she scanned my trick-or-treating haul for razor blades and tampered wrappers and warned me against stopping at certain weird neighbors’ houses. Today, though, many parents forego the trick-or-treating entirely in favor of trunk-or-treating (where parents gather in suburban parking lots in broad daylight and closely supervise their costumed kids flitting from car to car collecting organic snacks) and meticulously organized parties where absolutely every moment of “fun” is carefully scripted and controlled by overbearing mothers insisting their children smile and pose with the crafts they’ve created so all the grown-ups on Instagram can see.
I read a Halloween article in a parenting magazine recently that asked, “Do you have a plan for the candy?” My only plan for my kid’s Halloween candy is to figure out how much of it I can sneak before she notices. This article, though, suggested elaborate schemes to force children to swap their Halloween candy for healthy snacks and seasonally appropriate books and toys, even going so far as to recommend finding a dentist who will trade cold hard cash for candy. Because heaven forfend a child eat candy one night a year.
Are there any children who aren’t going to think this is a rip-off? Or are kids today so accustomed to their parents squashing every last ounce of joy out of everything in order to keep things “healthy” and “safe,” that they really would trade all of their candy for some Halloween pencils without a fight?
In the 70’s, this would have resulted in all-out war between adults and children. Back then, little witches and ghosts roamed the streets late into the night — without their parents OR their flash lights — demanding candy from their neighbors and holding up those offending jerks who gave them apples instead at knife point. (You know, the knives. The blade retracted as you pushed it into your skin, looking like you were really getting stabbed. A toy no parent would allow their kid to have today, of course.) Anyone who failed to cough up real candy would have had their one lonely jack-o-lantern bashed to pieces and possibly their entire yard covered in toilet paper. Do kids today even know what a jack-o-lantern is, given that they’re messy and involve knives and their moms probably prefer to paint and bejewel the pumpkins themselves because the front porch will photograph much better if the kids don’t get involved?
The same parenting article that argued in favor of taking the “treat” out of trick-or-treating, actually asked parents completely unironically to recall the magic of their own childhood Halloweens. The fun, the article insisted, was in the costumes and being with your friends, not the candy. Um…while the costumes and friends were definitely fun, what was most fun about Halloween was being able to run around, outside, after dark, without your parents, while grown-ups loaded you up with candy. Then you’d go home, eat sugary junk until you felt nauseous, and run around like a banshee until you passed out on the living room floor well after your normal bed time, still in your costume and face paint. Your mom would eventually come and put you in bed, where you’d wake up the next morning, face paint still lingering at your hair line, excited to go to school and tell your friends about all the fricking candy you got to eat the night before.
I get it. We all want our kids to be safe and healthy. But unless your child has an immediate and pressing health issue, chances are one night of candy isn’t going to hurt them that much. Worst case scenario, they barf on their Hulk costume. And if you’re that afraid of your neighbors, maybe you should try getting to know them. Go outside. Say hello. Ask them about their hydrangeas. Figure out which ones are totally normal (probably most of them) and which ones are creepers you definitely don’t want your kids taking candy from at any time of year.
It’s depressing remembering all the great things about my childhood my kid won’t get to experience, not because the world is a more dangerous place (it’s actually safer), but because parents today are so afraid of everything. And I wonder what it means for kids when everything they experience has been sanitized, organized, and closely monitored by adults. Kids don’t get the chance to test their own independence in safe ways—and let’s be clear: walking around their own neighborhood, in most neighborhoods, on a night when lots of kids and families are out and about, is pretty darned safe. They also don’t get to learn things for themselves—like maybe you shouldn’t eat an entire bucket of candy because you’re going to vomit.
On October 31, give your kid a flash light and a bucket. If they’re old enough to navigate the neighborhood safely after dark on their own, let them go by themselves. Roam your own neighborhood instead of going to a party where each activity is carefully directed by an adult. And when your kids get home from trick-or-treating, let them eat their effing candy. It’s one night a year. It’s not going to hurt them. And more importantly, they’ll have fun.
Let them have fun.