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Now, in our family, Frank is the go-to guy if you are a kid wanting get away with the sort of base behaviors that usually appeal to other kids—ergo, anything that involves “toilet” humor, including the imitation of bodily functions that produce noises closely resembling the tortured tones of an emotionally abused bazooka.
I’m the one you take it to if you are in desperate need of a thrill seeking stop-over (such as cliff-hanging), while on a bus to Las Vegas with your life savings in your pocket and a bunch of other unfortunate punks who happen to feel lucky.
Therefore, I was more than a little curious when the children—four-year-old Lizzie and Alex (now a newly minted seven year old)—could be heard whispering together in the playroom with barely suppressed mirth, as they tried on their new Halloween costumes.
It was one of those “You first!” followed by a “No, you first!” breathlessly giggling shoving matches that will soon result in pile of arms and legs, punctuated by short screams of mixed delight, rolling tumultuously across the floor.
So, to bring things to a premature head, I went and stood before them, arms akimbo.
Last year, they were Red Power Ranger and Pink Fairy Princess.
This time, Batman and his “Miss Little Witch” (Lizzie’s preferred title) companion faced me, their cheeks pink and their eyes brimming with eager, tightly restrained mischief over guilt-infused grins.
“Out with it!” I say, with a thin tissue of pretended consternation holding my voice together, ready to shred at the slightest allusion to anything that will tip me over the edge into an abyss of laughter.
And that’s when my two little giggling ghouls produced an old chestnut that I hadn’t heard in over 40 years.
“Trick-or-treat, smell my feet. Give me something good to eat!”
What happened to all of the bright young minds born over the last half century—you know, our little eternal flames of human intellect, brimming with the genius of creative invention and symbolizing hope for the future?
When did humanity get its poetic license revoked?
And by the expressions upon their cherubic little faces, they were experiencing the same cathartic depth of philosophical self-examination as Laurence Olivier (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Laurence_Olivier) spouting Hamlet’s famous soliloquy (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/To_be,_or_not_to_be).
What was I supposed to do? Give them a standing ovation and pitch a few roses?
I had to do something. They had zoned-in with that hound-dog radar, intensely aware of every twitch on my face, wondering which way the wind was going to blow.
Then, the truth began to dawn: They were trying to break me. One corner lip quiver in the direction of my ear and they will have taken down my last line of defense and cleared the path for future infractions.
I think midlife moms bear the cross of having a foot in two very distinct time zones: The History Channel (http://www NULL.history NULL.com/) vs. What Will They Think of Next? (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Science_International)
Do we rely on so-called tried and trusted experience, or give way to new inventions?
All too often, I’m second-guessing rules and discipline because there’s always the inherent criticism of older folk that we’re too strict, suffer from tunnel vision, or fail to recognize the gold standard of new-fangled ideas.
(After all, I didn’t get my first home computer until I was about thirty—now my 4 year old has one.)
Halloween, for example, was a different sort of specter back in the 1960s.
For one thing, most of us made our own costumes—I can still remember constructing my “cone head” witch hat out of black Bristol board (unlike Lizzie’s battery-operated costume, complete with a string of flashing lights). It was half the fun and fomented the kind of edgy excited anticipation that far surpassed the late night sugar buzz to come.
Purchased costumes were deemed a sort of cop-out. Off the shelf accessories consisted of a mask at best. You were expected to invent something creative and you were usually rewarded for it on the doorstep with extra candy.
Homemade treats such as toffee popcorn balls, and caramel covered apples would appear in your bag and (surprise!) no one was dialing 911. There was always the urban myth about razor blades in the apples (http://urbanlegends NULL.about NULL.com/od/halloween/ss/halloween_7 NULL.htm), but we knew everybody in our neighborhood.
Groups of younger children went with their siblings. Parents went with the very young and capitalized on the opportunity to gossip with the neighbors.
In fact, we had a neighbor who would come around with her children carrying her own, unique “shell-out” bag. The grown-ups would jovially oblige by dropping a bottle of beer in her sack, provided she said “trick-or-treat”.
My father used to joke that, by the time she got home, she’d have enough to fill case of twenty-four.
Aside from Christmas, Halloween had the profound distinction of being the only time of year anyone was allowed copious amounts of candy.
Unlike today, there was an amnesty on candy consumption, because the rest of the year was about apples, oatmeal and broccoli—there was no such thing as a “Lunchable (http://brands NULL.kraftfoods NULL.com/lunchables/varieties NULL.aspx?navID=twin-packs&productID=turkey-and-mozzarella)” or a fruit roll up in anybody’s lunch sack.
If you wanted candy, you had to earn it, cop it on the sly, or wait for Halloween. After the 31st October, the Candy Land Express was abandoned, left to sit in the rail yards for another year.
I can still remember pouring out “the haul” on our beds when we got home from trick-or-treating and sorting it according to perceived value: chip bags first, chocolate bars second, hard candies, bubble gum and, last but not least, the humble old-fashioned “kiss” candy (http://ep NULL.yimg NULL.com/ca/I/candywarehouse_2075_726079410).
And, unlike today, we were permitted to keep our candy “stash”—even if it lasted until Christmas—until every last wrapper had been peeled away and the sweet within it, devoured.
Today, there are so many more restrictions (and most of them necessary) on Halloween than when we were young.
So, in the end, I looked Batman and Miss Little Witch straight in the eye and…smiled. And for one brief moment, I was seven again, wearing my homemade witch hat, with a black kerchief streaming from its tip, and singing Halloween ditties with my brothers and sisters, knowing I’d soon be rolling in sweet riches.
After all, who was I to stand in the way of a noble tradition?
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