It’s still August–although it will be September by the time you, Dear Reader, are reading this–but this week my wife bought and hung our first Halloween decorations of 2017. This year, like every year, I am determined to make Halloween the best it’s ever been. And this year, like every year, I will likely get busy with work, find too little time and too little money to properly decorate the house, forget to get myself a costume, do a half-assed job of trick-or-treating and accommodating trick-or-treaters, and, finally, try to make up for it by drinking a few pumpkin ales (which are always better in theory than practice) and listening to lots of The Misfits.
Despite my inevitable failure to make Halloween live up to everything I’ve wanted it to be since my high school goth days, I’m certain this year will be special in at least one way: both of my kids are old enough and aware enough to fully participate. They’ve picked their own costumes (kind of), they’ll pick their own pumpkins (maybe), and they’re both ready for some serious trick-or-treating.
There’s just one problem. All that candy everyone’s handing out? Yeah, my daughter can’t have that. And I don’t mean we don’t want her to have it or she isn’t allowed. I mean just about every single piece of Halloween candy at every single house contains at least one thing she’s allergic to. She can’t eat it. Cannot.
Last year, when the children were three and one year old, was the first time we went out trick-or-treating. We didn’t talk or think much about it beforehand, and the excitement of going door to door, seeing (and being terrified by) the neighbors’ costumes and decorations, and having something–anything–handed to them was enough to make it an absolute blast for the kids. The actual spoils of the evening’s activities were very secondary, and were quickly forgotten in a day or two. The Dude had a few pieces of candy, but most of it was stashed in a cabinet and never asked after. A couple pieces are still sitting on the shelf above my wife’s desk.
Four, however, is a much more sophisticated age than three (and two than one). The Dude does not forget so easily and is developing a more complete understanding of the world. He’s also starting daily preschool this year and will no doubt hear from his classmates all about their Halloween exploits. And by exploits, I mean candy. He will want to eat his Halloween candy, too, and I’m sure he won’t be so easily duped as last year.
And this, Dear Reader, introduces a problem. While we are not big on candy and sweets here, I really have no problem with The Dude enjoying his Halloween pull. The concern is fairness. My daughter’s no dummy. She knows when someone’s enjoying a treat, and she knows when she’s being left out. Sure, a little tact and timing this year will get us through with minimal conflict, but what about next year, and the year after, and on and on?
I love Halloween. My wife loves Halloween. We want our kids to love and enjoy Halloween, too. The holiday is, of course, more than the candy–movies and music, costumes and decorations, seasonal foods, and so forth are all part of Halloween and are really what makes us love it–but trick-or-treating is the communal experience through which children celebrate it. Imagine for a moment the frustration of a child who can and does participate in everything leading up to Halloween night, who goes out in full costume with friends and family, who rings every doorbell and overcomes her shyness to hold out her little bag and cry, “Trick or treat!” and who comes home after it all only to empty her bag onto the dining room floor and watch it all get taken away. Year after year.
How long would it take you to hate Halloween? Would it be by the time you were seven? Six? Maybe five?
Now how long would it take you to outgrow the resentment? Long after your peers stopped going door to door, would you still cringe at the aisle full of candy at your local grocery, balk at invitations to Halloween parties with your friends or at your workplace? And what would you even do with all that angst when every trip to Hot Topic dropped you eyeball deep in the very source of your pain? I mean, if a girl can’t commiserate with Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, what can she do?
No, friends, that is not the future I want for my sweet little girl.
And here’s the part where I beg you, plead with tears in my eyes, Help me. Help my little girl and the nearly one in ten children who have food allergies.
Last year, we began participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project. This year, I invite everyone reading this to join us. It’s a very simple thing: when you’re out buying you Halloween candy, pick up a few non-food treats. You won’t need many, and since they aren’t food, you can save any you don’t use and bring them out again next year. It’s not like Halloween ever changes. Then, you put up a teal pumpkin somewhere to let folks like me know that you’re on board so we can maybe not ring quite so many doorbells just to come away empty-handed.
When we went out trick-or-treating last year, there was just one other house in our neighborhood participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, because they also have a child with food allergies. That means that for both their child and ours, there was only one house to go to, only one doorbell to ring, where they were sure they would come away with something that would not be poison to them. Put yourself back into the shoes, or better yet the Halloween costume, of a child. Would one house be enough for you?
If you’re like me, as a kid you hated those houses that gave out non-candy treats–apples, pencils, quarters. But for my daughter, those houses will save Halloween. Will yours be one of them?