How (not) to ruin your kid’s Halloween

As a parent, teaching your small child to approach a stranger’s house with an outstretched bag feels a little like designating a day when it’s okay to touch all the burners on the stove.

If your kid’s too young to appreciate Halloween for what it is, you’re in for a terrible time. Photo by joebeone via Flickr

Halloween has something for everyone, whether you’re the kid tweaked out on sugar, the teenager who is clearly too old to be dressing up but unwilling to give up the free candy or the grown-up convinced that the word means “dress like a hooker day” in some wonderful ancient pagan language. By any estimation, it’s a great day.

When my son Luca was two-and-a-half, I was irrationally excited about his first real experience with Halloween. Some might say delusional, but let’s not skip ahead. For weeks leading up to the big night, we practiced our ‘trick or treat!’  When it was finally time, I dressed him up (as mothers like to do) in the cutest little devil costume, complete with horns and a little plastic pitchfork. As we left the apartment, I could see that he was more than a bit confused, but happy enough to be in a costume and up past bedtime. Camera in hand, we ventured out onto the street to make some seriously awesome childhood memories.

At first, everything was going great. Luca was fascinated by all the pint-sized superheroes come to life and out for a stroll with their parents (some of whom were in jeans and others who were dressed for the aforementioned Hooker Appreciation Day). My first mistake, though a minor one, was the pitchfork. Turns out toddlers don’t like accessories. Who knew? No big deal, though. Mommy carried the pitchfork and still had one hand free for photo-snapping. We were still doing great.

As a parent, teaching your small child to approach a stranger’s house with an outstretched bag feels a little like designating a day when it’s okay to touch all the burners on the stove. But hey, it’s tradition — what could possibly go wrong? As we ventured up to the first house, Luca’s discomfort became obvious. His devil-horned head was buried in my hip. I tried to gently peel him off me and instead poked myself in the eye with his pitchfork. I shook it off. Everything was still fine.

“But, Luca,” I cooed in my most reassuring mommy voice, “they’re going to give you candy!”

No reaction. Right about then the insanity of what I was doing occurred to me (Uh, hello? Stranger danger!). But somehow, at the same time, everyone was having so much fun around us. Everyone loves Halloween, right? I wasn’t willing to give up. I hadn’t even taken any pictures! How would anyone on Facebook know how much fun we were having?

While it might seem painfully obvious in retrospect, I was surprisingly discouraged that pretty much the same thing happened at each of the next 15 houses on the block. By the third house, I was carrying Luca, the pitchfork, the camera and the bag of candy, ringing the doorbell, saying “trick or treat” and holding out the bag. My arms were starting to hurt, but I was undaunted. This could totally still be awesome.

It was clear by the time we reached the end of the block that we’d gone a block too far. I now had a choice. Continue onward through my obvious denial or admit defeat. Obviously, we kept going. I was determined to impose the joy of Halloween on him through sheer force of will. And then, at the very next house, it all fell apart.

There was a little boy just in front of us at the door. I had put Luca down to take another shot at convincing him to say “trick or treat” by himself. I was willing to call it a night if I could just get one good photo to help rationalize all the poor choices I’d made up until that moment. Luca was standing in front of me, waiting his turn. It was working! He was going to do it! And then the boy in front of him turned around — just inches from Luca’s face — wearing one of the scariest zombie masks ever created (obviously by some sadistic child-hating asshole).

Luca’s reaction was so immediate and so terrified that he scared the little boy wearing the mask, who immediately removed it and stammered, “I’m just a boy. Look! Please don’t be scared. I’m really just a boy!” The poor kid felt so guilty he started to follow us down the block like a devastated Pinocchio — “I’m a real boy!” — as I carried my poor little devil, now sobbing with his arms ninja-clamped around my neck, back home. By the time I got him into our apartment, I’d dropped my camera twice and stabbed myself (again) with the stupid pitchfork.

Out of some strange mercy that I surely didn’t deserve, the fallout from that mommy-made disaster was only one sleepless night, a broken camera and a pitchfork bruise. In fact, for weeks afterwards, every time we went out for a walk, he would wander towards our neighbours’ front doors saying “trick or treat” as he approached.

If nothing else, perhaps my parental idiocy can be a cautionary tale to those venturing out with their little minions this year. Pay attention to them, and not to the photo ops or the fun you think they should be having. Keep it simple, and under no circumstances should you bring a pitchfork.

The only picture I took that night was Luca sitting happily on the couch before we left — exactly where we should have stayed. ■

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