Confession: I don’t like Halloween.
Let me clarify … I used to like Halloween, in two separate stages of my life. One, of course, was when I was a kid. The Jerry Seinfeld bit about Halloween pretty much sums up my experience of Halloween as a kid. Crappy costumes, the humiliation of having to wear your winter coat over said costume, balanced by the overriding joy of realizing there was a holiday with a sole purpose of getting candy.
Halloween lost its luster for a bit when I was too old for trick-or-treating and too cheap to enjoy buying candy for other trick-or-treaters. And then we became parents. There is this sweet spot for Halloween when you can throw a crappy costume on your toddler, parade them around for an hour, and keep all the candy for yourself.
Then one year Halloween rolls around and the kids have an opinion about what they want to wear. They have expectations about how the house should be decorated, thanks to that one over-achieving neighbor we all have. And they want to keep all the candy for themselves (except for the Baby Ruths and Tootsie Rolls, which … eww). I love Christmas and have no problem putting the extra effort into making it special, but the Halloween spirit eludes me. I dread it all and have a hard time getting into it.
The one task I dread more than any other is carving the pumpkins. It’s one of those things that always sounds like a lot of fun to do with kids, until you actually start doing it. Suddenly it’s an art project gone south, with the participants messy, grumpy, and armed with sharp objects.
Like previous years, I’d put off carving pumpkins until the I couldn’t hold the kids off any longer. We spread newspaper on the driveway, lugged over the pumpkins and got to work. We just got all of our supplies ready to go when a couple of the neighbor boys wandered over. Could they help scoop out the pumpkin guts? Job #1 that I can’t stand taken care of.
With the guts out of the way, we moved on to design. Eli wanted a simple Minecraft design, which I obliged, while Elena was able to draw her own. Equipped with a small, child-sized serrated knife, Eli got to work scoring the pumpkin along the lines I’d drawn. Elena, who has spent time in the kitchen this year learning some basic knife skills, carved her own.
For the first time in my entire parenting career, I spent a good portion of pumpkin carving time not needed. Of course I stayed on hand to supervise, but I wasn’t the one doing all the work. Suddenly I realized how this could actually be an enjoyable activity, one in which pleasant holiday memories are made. Turns out, pumpkin carving just needed maturity, basic skills, and the ability of the parent to back off a bit to turn it into a pleasurable experience for everyone.
Funny, now that I think about it, that applies to a plethora of parenting experiences!
How do you feel about Halloween? In what ways do you let your kids claim some independence during this holiday? Do you let them carve their own pumpkins, trick-or-treat without you, or decide for themselves how much candy is okay to eat? Or do you feel like you have to monitor it all?