“Therefore, it stands to reason, does it not, sisters dear? That we must find the book, brew the potion, and suck the lives out of the children of Salem before sunrise.”
~Winifred Sanderson, Hocus Pocus
Last year, my step-daughter, who was 14 and an 8th grader at the time, told us that while she was out trick-or-treating with some of her friends, an adult had commented, “Aren’t you a bit too old for this?
For months before that Halloween night, my step-daughter had agonized over whether or not she would trick-or-treat that year. It was as though she had one foot solidly planted in her childhood and another tentatively taking her first steps into young adulthood.
It was clear she was growing-up and embracing opportunities to enjoy and explore her independence. And my husband and I were happy, albeit a bit wistful, to allow her the space to expand.
But there were still glimpses of the little girl she’d once been. The one who had delighted in the elaborate Halloween parties her dad and I had thrown for her and her brother when they were younger. The one who could still be cajoled into participating with our son, seven years her junior, in the Easter basket scavenger hunts we created every year. Even the occasional game of make-believe wasn’t entirely out of the question.
So when she talked about trick-or-treating that year, it was with a nostalgic sort of sadness. A part of her was saying that maybe it was time to hang it up, but her heart and her spirit were still drawn to the simple joy of walking the neighborhood on a crisp fall evening, shouting “Trick-or-Treat!” and then returning home to count and sort her haul.
Her friend group was split about 50/50 between those wanting to go and those wanting to do something a bit more grown-up, like a costume party at someone’s house. And as the date got closer, it was beginning to seem as though most of the girls in the trick-or-treat camp, were gradually beginning to veer more toward the party.
When my step-daughter talked about it, tears welled in her eyes. We told her, “You can always come trick-or-treating with us!” Meaning her baby brother, her dad and I. But we understood that wasn’t the point. She wanted to cling to that experience with her friends. She didn’t want to be left behind. She wanted them to stay with her in that piece of childhood, just a little longer. I could understand.
When I was a kid, Halloween was my absolute favorite time of the year. I loved all the movies and neighborhood lawn decorations, the costumes and of course trick-or-treating.
As my brother and I got older, we were allowed to trick-or-treat with a group of other neighborhood children by ourselves. We would tear through the streets, hitting as many houses as possible on foot, before returning home to dump out the pillowcases we carried, for maximum capacity candy collecting, and then we would hop on our bikes and branch out into other neighborhoods until the last porch light went out.
I loved the freedom of that night. Cruising the streets, long after dark, with a gaggle of other kids. And we were all quietly well aware of the responsibilities that came with that freedom. We were always respectful of other trick-or-treaters, adults and the homeowners property. So tenuous did we feel that privilege was, that we made sure to never even walk on someone’s lawn if it could be helped.
In those few hours on Halloween night, we were learning what it was like to be responsible for ourselves and to make good, safe choices, without a grown-up standing by.
And it was fun! Even as we too began to find ourselves in that space between childhood and adolescence, we still reveled in the joy of dressing up and losing our angst for a while, consumed in the spirit of Halloween.
I don’t recall anyone ever saying that I was too old to trick-or-treat. I made the decision to stop going when I started high school. But that first year I stayed home and passed out candy, instead of collecting it, plenty of my classmates still came to my door. I envied them a bit, but I didn’t feel sorry for myself. The time had simply passed into a cherished memory for me and it had been allowed to happen in my own time.
Fortunately, my step-daughter has some great friends and a few were willing to indulge her desire to trick-or-treat that last year. So they struck a compromise. They agreed they would meet at a friends house, who was hosting a costume party for all the girls, trick-or-treat for a bit and then return to the party. It seemed she would get the best of both worlds.
And by all accounts, the girls were having a great time. They weren’t heckling the little one’s, or taking handfuls of candy from unattended candy bowls left to the honor system. They were giggling their way from house to house, in full costume, saying trick-or-treat and thank you along the way.
When my step-daughter told us later about the woman who had chastised the girls for being too old to participate, it was clear she’d been hurt by it. The woman had made them feel embarrassed, ashamed and self-conscious. Feelings that, quite frankly, are all too common for teenagers, like, 99.9% of the time as it is, without some snotty middle-aged woman adding fuel to the fire because she thinks she’s the designated trick-or-treat police.
I can barely look at social media these days without seeing some meme, or editorial, bitching about “kids these days.” How they can’t seem to be able to handle life’s ups and downs. Well, maybe we should stop evicting them from childhood before they’re ready.
So, “old people these days” calm the fuck down. Let them be kids. Let them linger in innocence for as long as they can, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. And I think for far too many, it’s gone long before they are even close to being ready for it.
And if you can’t do that, you should do what the generations of crabby old people who came before you have done. Turn off your porch light and hide in the dark.
Happy Halloween! Don’t be a jerk.