You know you’re getting old when you start off a sentence with “Back when I was a kid–”
But that’s exactly what I did this morning when my daughter woke up, found out Halloween was over, and burst into copious tears.
“B-b-but Daddy told me Halloween goes on for days!” she wailed.
“I think he meant days in advance,” I said drily. Off her blank look I added “you’ve been celebrating it for roughly two weeks.”
Time means little to a four year old. Elapsed time, even less. Elapsed time during which the child was eating more candy than any adult should in a decade and feeling absolutely fantastic about it? Unintelligible.
“Look,” I went on, “back when I was a kid, Halloween was only one night. About three hours. That was all we got.”
“Really?” Myra-Jean responded in a quavering voice.
“Yup.” I cuddled her a little closer–we were in her bed together, she under the blankets, me on top of them. “We didn’t have the Halloween festivals leading up to it, the block parties, the “Boo on the Boolevards.” We didn’t trick or treat at Starbucks a week before. We didn’t even have Starbucks. ”
She looked at me, obviously pained. “Whoa.”
I built up steam. “It was one night. A little sliver of time. We didn’t even get face painted at school. Heck,” I went on, musingly, “I don’t think I got face painted at all until I was, like, twenty.”
MJ started crying again. I should’ve quit when I was ahead.
“The point is,” I went on, stroking her forehead, “you get a lot more Halloween than me or Daddy ever did. So I’m sorry it’s over, but–”
Myra-Jean sobbed harder. “It’s really over?”
I looked at her in disbelief. “Didn’t we just discuss this?”
Her cries rose loudly in the small, morning-shadowed room. Jesus. You’d think her dog had just died. She would definitely wake Mike.
“Let’s go get some breakfast.” The kitchen was a bit farther from our bedroom.
Feeding the animals distracted her for a few minutes, but soon Myra-Jean was whimpering again. Standing by the dining room table, she poked at the ruined finish of the wood with a stray fork. “Mama. I’m not happy.”
“You don’t say.” Grabbing the utensil gently out of her hand I tossed it into the sink. Just because she was grieving didn’t mean she got to be destructive.
“I want to go trick or treating one more time!”
I sighed, staring at her uselessly. I was out of ideas. At my feet, Walter mewled. Mina nipped at him. Walter hissed. Myra-Jean screamed.
“Mina!” I shouted. “Walter. Myra-Jean! All of you calm down!”
Enter Mike. No big surprise. Hard to imagine how anyone could sleep through an uproar of such Biblical proportions.
“What’s going on?” he asked blearily.
Handing him a cup of coffee, I explained. “Mina’s trying to kill Walter, as usual. Also,” trying to keep any trace of sarcasm out of my voice,”Myra-Jean is feeling really sad because Halloween is over.”
Mike nodded gravely and turned to MJ. “You know, you can still wear your costume any time you–”
I had tried this tack already, and knew where it was going. I covered my ears.
“I don’t care about my costume! I want to trick or treat!”
“OK,” Mike said calmly. Really calmly, considering the hearing damage he’d just incurred. “You know,” he continued, “back when we were kids–”
“I tried this,” I interjected quietly.
Deaf to my warning, he went on. “Back when we were kids Halloween only lasted for one night.”
Shaking my head, I began washing dishes. Mike talked for a few minutes, repeating essentially what I’d said earlier. But he closed with something new, something said in a fun and conspiratorial voice:
“Even though trick or treating is done, we still have the candy! Lots of it! Candy eating goes on for awhile.”
MJ’s head swivelled towards me. “But Mama said no more candy after Halloween.”
Wuh-whoa. I’d forgotten about that conversation.
MIke cocked his head at me, then looked back at her. “I think she meant no more trick or treating.”
“No,” MJ declared. “Mama said I could only eat candy on Halloween, and after that it was only for ‘special occasions’.” She emphasized the latter phrase carefully, although she had no idea what it meant.
MIke shot a look at me.
Wincing, I muttered ruefully “I think I might have said that.”
“I wasn’t really thinking,” I squeaked. “Sugar’s just so bad for you.”
Mike nodded slowly. “So that’s why she was shoving candy in her mouth last night like a just-freed prisoner of war.”
How poetic. I nodded. “It might’ve been.”
“Is this what your parents did?” Mike demanded.
“No.” I winced. I could feel the word HYPOCRITE flashing over my head like a Broadway marquee. “We ate candy all month.”
Mike shook his head, then smiled. He wasn’t mad. He was just laughing at me. Which is worse. I couldn’t blame him.
I turned to MJ. “I’m sorry, honey. Of course you can still eat your candy. For many days to come. Forever.” Or at least a week, I added in my mind.
Myra-Jean smiled for the first time that morning.
When I left the kitchen she and Mike were happily sorting her booty into piles. There was a lot of it. An indecent amount. Absolutely no more trick or treating was necessary.
Just a little bit more give and take by the old timers.
Or one in particular.
If only you could trick or treat for that.