By Lisa Barr
What happened to Halloween that it has become such a pressure cooker for our kids?
Way back when we were kids, Halloween was actually fun. It was not about 'teaming up" into littles cliques of costumes -- rather, everyone dressed-up individually. And if truth be known, homemade costumes were all the rage (not these $50 plus One Hit Wonder rip-offs). I remember searching through all of our old stuff in the depths of our basement to transform into a hippie, a hobo, an Indian princess, etc. No two of us "trick or treating" would be wearing the "same" costume. There was no exclusive "costume cloning" like the recent trend.
No, my group would consist of one gypsy, one pirate, one superhero, one princess, one hippie, one boy dressed as a cheerleader, one girl dressed as a football player. Individuality was encouraged, not looked down upon. Now, if you are not in a "group costume" -- well then, you must be a "loser."
When we were growing up we got the standard "Watch Out for Razor Blades & Weirdos" talk. And one year I remember the big scare was when a guy stuck Tylenol in random candy -- so that our parents had to check (cut through) every piece. But the bottom line, if my memory serves me well, kids in my generation LOVED Halloween, and not dreaded it, as seems to be the case these days. It was usually after school, usually raining or freezing, and 'trick or treating' with a pack -- usually with kids from your neighborhood. Sometimes parents shlepped along (also dressed up) -- and the goal was to score the largest amount of candy.
My personal goal was counting up my candy and beating out my next-in-line brother (I'm the eldest of six) ... THAT was the competition and not the pettiness, meanness, and at times "exclusivity" crap that we've got going on here in the 'burbs. Anyone could join any group with a simple -- Hey, Can I come too?
Done. No biggie.
A few weeks ago I was speaking at a local book club, which was reading my novel Fugitive Colors. Of course, after discussing the ins and outs of my book, the group of women there wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of parenting. Lots of subjects were discussed.
One Mom said, "My kids are in high school and college now -- but I will never forget the summer before they went into Middle School, and one friend said to me: 'If you get past Halloween, you can get past anything.'"
All the other Moms in the room echoed her sentiments.
I wondered (and still don't know the answer): When was the turning point that Halloween was no longer fun, but became a dreaded "Event".
I could be wrong (and parents please comment if I am), but it seems the Halloween "pressure" is much more fierce in the Girl World. One month plus prior to October 31 -- the drama begins ...
Who are you dressing up with? Can I join? And instead of Sure, why not ... the answer many times is: Umm, I really don't know what I'm doing yet. (translation: I'm looking for something better than you to come along. Or, I'm part of a group that does not want you to join, and I don't quite know how to respond.)
And then there's the Halloween "After-Parties" that your kid begins to stress-out about: Will I be invited? Will my friends be invited without me? And if THAT happens, with whom will I 'trick or treat'?
Nowadays, the actual act of "Trick or Treating" has become in some circles considered as somewhat uncool ... so the very thing that makes a kid a kid -- CANDY, and lots of it -- is rejected. And apparently it is cool if you are a rejector.
I'm not making this stuff up. These are things that I have gathered from so many Moms over the past five years. I could literally blog a series ...
A while back I wrote a blog about what it's like being the kid who is left out, what it's like being the Mom of the kid leaving kids out, what it's like if two moms are friends and one child is popular and the other isn't ... so many scenarios to navigate. There is one particular situation I do want to bring up again, because it is a scenario that seems to gets replayed in (too) many different forms:
A 12-year-old girl made her Halloween plans with a group of seven girls. They all bought costumes together and they were planning on 'trick or treating' and hanging out. Another girl in the class, one who was up a "rung or two" on the popularity ladder, decided two weeks before Halloween to have an all-girl party. She invited six of those seven girls to the party. They all of course said yes, thrilled to be invited yet knowing the seventh girl -- their friend -- did not make the cut. Not one of those girls or their parents said: "Hey, our daughter has plans with "Morgan" -- she was the only one of our group who was not invited. My daughter would love to come to your party, but would it be okay if she came too? I would hate for her to be left out." For the record Morgan and the Party Girl had no problems; they simply were not close friends.
In the book of "Suburban Social Protocol" -- Morgan's Mom CANNOT make that call -- but other Moms CAN do it on her behalf. I have made that call on behalf of one of my daughters' friends on various occasion, and each time it worked out.
In Halloween-speak: Moms don't be afraid to go to "bat" for another kid. It will NOT "penalize" your own child. Therein, I believe lies the true fear:
So many parents are just happy (relieved) that their kid is "included" that they won't take the extra step for someone else's 'left out' kid.
In my book, this is the suburban curse.
I've got three daughters as many of you know spanning Middle School and High School. I am in the thick of this. For some reason, High School just seems easier; the flow, the friends, the ability to join in with others isn't as exclusive as the Middle School Lock-out.
So, the good news is that it does get better. The bad news is that it seems to be getting worse with each passing year in Middle School.
I know that everyone cannot be invited to every party. You can't have 150 kids come to every gathering. But the one thing as a parent that you can do is this: If your son or daughter invites someone to his/her party and that someone has plans with another -- just say YES to the call of a Mom going to bat for that kid. I promise, it will create a chain reaction, and like everything good that you put Out There, it will come back to you AND your kid, when the cards fall differently and it's their turn to be excluded. Everyone gets excluded at some point -- that's life.
When the whole costuming frenzy comes up, and everyone is jockeying for position -- if your daughter or son says X wants to join our plans but we have too many people dressing up as "Superheroes" -- and we just can't fit in someone else ... Respond: Oh, yes you can. Remember, just ask the powers-that-be at Disney, there is ALWAYS room for another Superhero, another Prince, another Princess. Teach your kid to also say YES, if a friend of theirs asks: "Hey, X does not have plans, can she come with us too?"
This truly will make a difference. A wide-open YES instead of the exclusive NO will return Halloween from Hell, and bring it back to what it was meant to be from the get-go:
Good, old-fashioned fun.
Lisa Barr is the editor of GIRLilla Warfare: A Mom's Guide to Surviving the Suburban Jungle (www.girlillawarfare.com) and the author of "Fugitive Colors" (Available on Amazon and local bookstores).