When we were kids I loved Halloween. The costumes, the candy, the shaving cream we secretly slipped into our bags. I loved counting my treats, trading my Snickers for Twizzlers with my sister and procuring a spot for my secret stash, before my mother put my goodies out of reach.
I had heard that having one’s own children was a way to recapture the thrill of Halloweens past as we watch them run from door to door and squeal as a Milky Way bar is dropped into their bag.
As Halloween rapidly approaches, though, I can't help but feel that this holiday is one of parenthood's more overrated experiences.
Am I happy for my kids? Sure.
Do I feel their excitement? It would be impossible not to.
Is Halloween still spooky? Yes. But for entirely different reasons, most of which have to do with my kids transforming from relatively reasonable people into Halloween-obsessed sugar-crazed life forms. And perhaps I would cope better if the holiday was limited to the evening of Oct. 31.
When we were kids discussions about Oct. 31 began on Oct. 25. Now, Halloween starts at the end of the August and lingers until mid-November when the last piece of candy is consumed or forgotten.
While I am thinking about backpacks and sneakers for the new school year, the advertising industry has already moved on to Halloween, luring my children along with them. My daughter spent more time researching her costume then she did on homework during the month of September. She must have logged in a full 24 hours on the computer surfing for costume ideas.
And we were haunted by her quest as she solicited our opinion with every click of the mouse, finally deciding on a Cookie Monster costume.
When we were kids, my mother would have made that Cookie Monster costume—a blue shirt with denim jeans and a felt cookie pinned to it. Not so simple anymore.
By Oct. 1, an Internet-ordered Cookie Monster costume hung in her closet, along with Harry Potter and a Ninja for my sons, also the result of thoughtful decisions, several trips to and a frightening melt down worthy of the holiday that caused it.
When we were kids, schools protected the hallowed halls of learning even on Oct. 31. Today, Halloween at school is Mardi Gras with sugar instead of alcohol, complete with parties that include cupcake decorating and bobbing for donuts. And of course, the all-school parade where parents gather to watch superheroes, hippies and witches march while they cheer and snap photos.
When we were kids, by the time we were 9—two years younger than my daughter is now—we went out trick or treating alone. My parents stayed home to man the door and sent me out with my friend, with instructions to be back in an hour.
Today, I would never dream of letting my 11-year-old go out unchaperoned. I spend Halloween night as an air traffic controller, flashlight in hand, lighting the path up to each house so no one trips. I play traffic cop as I shriek to watch out for cars while kids dart into traffic in pursuit of chocolate.
And then when I actually accompany them to a front door, I am Miss Manners, appalled at these vultures I have created, who jostle each other to get the best view of the candy bowl and then, after spending far too long contemplating which piece of candy to take, forget to say thank you.
But perhaps the worst part of grownup Halloween is there is no gatekeeper.
When we were kids my parents monitored my candy intake. I was not permitted to gorge myself on Nestle Crunch Bars. If I was lucky, the candy lasted until Thanksgiving.
But now, I am the gatekeeper, and I am not very good at it.
First, I make my way, not slowly, through the left-over candy we bought for trick or treaters. Then I move onto my kid’s supply. My daughter is on to me, and she finds new real estate for her candy every couple of days. I know she keeps a careful inventory, too, because when I once swiped a Tootsie Roll, she confronted me almost immediately.
I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, she has become my reliable gatekeeper helping to keep my waist line slender and my blood sugar stable. On the other hand, I need my fix.
Fortunately, my sons still seem to still be oblivious to their rapidly disappearing hoard, which is bad for me, and my waistline, but good for my cravings. My rationale is the faster I eat the candy, the faster it is out of my house.
And with the candy gone, Halloween will be a distant memory, at least for another 10 months.
About this column: Each week, mom and educator Laurie Lichtenstein shares her (often wry) observations on parenting three kids in Westchester.