Wednesday, October 31, 2001


We’re going trick-or-treating tonight, my children and I.

My son will be dressed as Shrek. My daughter will be a green skeleton, complete with bony gloves and spats. She won’t be wearing the mask, because she can’t see through the eye-holes and she’s had enough with visually impaired Halloweens (don’t talk to me about the ghost costume with the roving eyeholes), but she’ll be a sight nonetheless.

We’re going trick or treating, and normally there would be nothing remarkable about that. This year, of course, the conventional wisdom has decided against it. Many folks have told me that they’re not letting their kids go door to door, and we shouldn’t, either. My son’s teacher is letting her class trick-or-treat, sans costume, from one special-ed class to another so that they’ll get it out of their systems and won’t need to go at night. If we do let them get candy from strangers, she suggests we buy each piece back from them and turn it into a math lesson. Certainly, we’re not to let them eat it. Bad things might happen.

Bad things happening has always been a concern on Halloween, in the post-razor-blades-in-apples era. But now, in the post-Sept.-11 era, bad things happening are a major national obsession. Stories of people buying thousands of dollars worth of candy to poison it and sell it back to stores, and stories of bad things planned for malls, circulate wildly on the internet (although the urban legend folks call them hoaxes). My son’s teacher, after telling me we shouldn’t go out tonight, mentioned that many people are keeping their kids home from school this Oct. 31, because bad things might happen there, too. They want everybody home and together, morning, noon and night.

But once you start thinking that way, where on earth are you safe? My house is next to a gas line and a high school; if they blew up either of those, we’d be safer at school or work. If someone poisons the water, your kids would probably be safer at school than at home. If shadowy forces are putting poisoned candy in stores, then you can’t even buy sweets for those parties you’re planning to substitute for trick-or-treating. And who’s to say the other food in the store is safe? Shall we all just starve?

What’s really the bottom line for me, though, is: If you decide not to trick-or-treat, and not to “do” Halloween in the way you always have, what exactly do you tell your children? This is not a matter of a parent not being able to say no; or a circumstance in which a child should just take “no” for an answer. It’s a tradition that has always been okay, that has been followed in busy times and inclement weather and even when the child was too young to really appreciate it. Why, all of a sudden, are we not doing it now? The only explanation we can give is this: “Honey, there are bad people out there, and we’re afraid they’re going to try to kill you.” And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to say that to my children. It may be true, but they don’t have to know it with quite that level of stark certainty now. I like for them to sleep sometimes.

So we’re going trick-or-treating tonight, my children and I. Shrek, a skeleton and a scaredy cat, venturing into the night in search of candy and the kindness of strangers. It’s a risk, but I take comfort in knowing this: This year, when I eat all their candy, I will be doing it as a self-sacrificing mother protecting her children from possible harm. Calories don’t count then, right?

No comments: