WRITTEN BY Aileen Kelly
Holy Sh*t It’s Halloween!
Swinging around the corner at Target, barely in control of my overfilled, wobbly wheeled shopping cart, I abruptly stopped, horrified at what was spread out before me. Black and orange banners festooned with smiling bats. Cheap creepy clown costumes half off their hangers. Bags and bags of fun-size candy as far as the eye can see.
It’s only August, but Halloween is coming. There are still some backpacks and binders mixed in with the 6-foot posable skeletons and racks of colored hairspray, but the winds have shifted, and there is no going back.
Anyone who has parented knows that back to school is really the culmination of summer. Back to school wraps up the work you started in spring when you began planning out how the kids would spend their summer break. Whether it was at Grandma’s house watching racy daytime TV (in a variety of languages) or space camp, summer gets planned in spring, back to school gets planned in summer, and that first pumpkin perched out front of the supermarket is a harbinger of how much the next three months are going to make you wish you lived alone in a lighthouse somewhere in Maine.
But if you are a parent, the approach of Halloween means the beginning of holiday mayhem. Maybe you started early this year and are surveying the mass of costumes and accessories in early October. You still have time and options. It’s not picked over yet. The costume your child absolutely, positively must have is available in their size. Grab as many empty Halloween-themed goody bags as you can get your hands on. Someone will need them. Just don’t buy the pumpkin carving kit. You have three. They’re under the bathroom sink for some reason.
When I see the Halloween section, I hear the distinctive click click click of a roller coaster cart climbing up to October 31st, after which I will be jerked and jostled around until somehow it’s January 10th. I am broke and sick, and half my family is furious with the other half of my family, but no one quite knows why. Something to do with jellied cranberry sauce? Sides were taken. Grandpa announced that this was the hill he would die on, but I can’t remember if he was for or against jellied cranberry sauce, and he’s refusing to discuss it.
Halloween kicks off the holiday season. It begins with that one bag of fun size candy bars and ends with pulling Christmas lights off of the house mid January, exhausted and depleted.
At least, that’s how it used to be for me. I used to dread Halloween because I knew it started the holiday roller coaster, filled with extra shopping, cooking, and time management for the entire family.
Forget about The Nightmare Before Christmas; adulthood felt like a series of nightmares. There’s one before Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, AND New Year’s Day. There are many additions and subtractions for you and yours, but the idea doesn’t change. If you are the adult in charge, holidays can be horrible.
Time meant to bring loved ones together to celebrate their traditions tend to end up with at least one adult person crying alone in the laundry room.
What is going wrong here?
We think it has to do with a breakdown in conversations regarding shared values. When was the last time you asked your kids what they look forward to about Halloween? When was the last time you asked your spouse or partner what they love about Thanksgiving or all the other winter holidays?
When was the last time you asked YOURSELF what you look forward to and what you love about the holidays you spend so much thought, time, and money preparing for?
This is an opportunity to meet expectations. And we can only meet expectations when those expectations have been clearly defined.
Let’s look at an example.
I asked my older son what he wanted to do on Christmas Eve. He reeled off what we usually do on Christmas Eve. I said we can do that but do you want to? He looked surprised and then laughed. We tended to do a couple of things because we had been doing them for most of his life, and they didn’t hold much interest for him. So we cut those out. Then he talked about stuff we did that he liked and wanted to keep doing. He was kind enough to ask me the same questions, and as we talked, we came up with a Christmas Eve that sounded low-key. Instead of party hopping, we would swing by the family party for drinks and snacks. Then just the two of us would go to dinner and a movie at an outdoor mall with pretend snow!
You might be cringing at our plans, and that is okay! The point is to have conversations about how to enjoy your holidays in ways that honor the shared values of your family and not the random expectations of the world at large.
Commercials show us a long table with people crowded around it. There’s so much food you can’t even see the surface. Everyone is smiling. Someone is wielding a knife. There are seven kinds of pies.
This is what a “normal American holiday” is supposed to look like. If it’s just you and your Nana watching football and eating fast food off tv trays, then somehow you have failed.
They’re your holidays. Enjoy them in the way that best serves you and yours. Tell Nana to warm up the set. I’ll be there with a bag of tacos by noon.