Halloween is cancelled this year

My husband and I are traveling to California this week. He’s coming back Saturday, the Eve of All Hallows’ Eve, but I’m staying until Monday to visit a friend. Our neighborhood is lively with trick-or-treaters so I asked him a couple of weeks ago if he wanted me to do the usual porch decor and candy.

“Are you going to do Halloween?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

Of course, that’s fine. It’s fine. We’ve been doing Halloween for 23 years in a row, not including our childhood and college years. We’re empty nesters now. Why shouldn’t year 24 be different?

And yet.

Halloween in downtown Waxahachie with the cousins, 2008.

Halloween was the craziest of holidays when the kids were little. Crazier in some ways than Christmas Day or any birthday. A few reasons:

• Texas “fall” makes it impossible to pick a weather-appropriate costume before you see the day’s forecast, which isn’t how Halloween costumes are chosen you may realize.

• While I am not super into Halloween per se, I am into anything that makes my kids happy. And Halloween made them the happiest. We did some sort of Halloween ding-dong-dash that involved adorable treats and leaving a ghost-shaped note on friends’ doors. Oh the giggles as the boys dashed away as fast as they could and watched their friends discover what we’d left. We planned for weeks, buying plastic Halloween goblets and stuffed ghosts. While most kids on the list were evergreens, sometimes a new friend would be added. Every now and then, I come across the printed instructions for this game and they never make it into the “throw away pile.”

• But the main reason was that my hometown of Waxahachie starts trick-or-treating downtown in the afternoon (if Halloween falls on a weekday; if not, the Friday before). My parents and sister and her kids always took part in this small town tradition, so we started joining them Noah’s first Halloween. He was four months old. He was maybe a pumpkin that year? He definitely was Cat In The Hat when he was 1 or 2. Once he started pre-school, I’d pick him up early and trek the 40 miles with baby and then toddler Sawyer, meeting up with my parents, sometimes Clyde’s mom, always my niece and nephew. We’d drop by to see Dad’s best motorcycle riding buddy, who had an insurance shop just off the downtown square. On warmer Halloweens, we’d stop at the ice cream shop. I’d sometimes run into old high school friends who still lived in town or were doing the same with their closely out-of-town kids. We’d stop by my grandmother’s house, who made each of her great grandkids a Halloween sack of their own. Then I would strap my sugared-up too hot or too cold babies into their car seats for the 40-minute drive back to Dallas.

Sawyer as a sumo wrestler, 2010.
His friend Ben is a package of gum.

[Enter the part of the story that likely leads to Clyde’s Halloween neutrality.]

We’d get home about 6 pm, meeting Clyde after work, and order a pizza. Always a pizza. If it was just the four of us, we’d eat it on the red, white, and blue quilt, aka the “pizza blanket” we used for living room pizza picnics. Often friends would come over because, again, our neighborhood is Halloween mecca. As the kids got older, they could handle this six- to eight-hour Halloween extravaganza. But there were days. Days they just didn’t.

It was maybe Noah’s second Halloween that, by the time we were headed home from the town square and the insurance friend and the grandparents and cousins and great-grandmother that Noah started running a fever. He was cranky and limp and done.

Clyde was so disappointed. I get it. I was running ragged for those 6-8 hours. It was the fun ragged times of early motherhood. I mean, it wasn’t all fun. But it was a lot of fun. Like so many days, I had the brunt of all the bullshit that comes with parenting. Those days were not all magical and no, I did not enjoy every minute. Little ones often are unintentional assholes. But when there’s endless candy and costumes and grandparents, they are the cutest. I was there for most the shit (literal and otherwise), yet that means I was there for most of the memories. Honestly, I was doing some of my best parenting in those candy- and fake-fur lined trenches.

He saw the photos. He heard the stories. He even took half a day off work every now and then to join us. But he doesn’t remember like it was this morning how it felt to pick up two little boys from school early — two little boys who felt like they’d won the lottery because they got to leave school to go eat candy with their cousins and be loved on by people who think they are the best humans. THEN come home and get candy from strangers with their friends.

That 30something mom knew it was special, even as some days the best part of it was strapping those babies in their car seats and the deep sigh that came when I knew they’d fallen asleep. At 50something, she knows you never see the last small town Halloween coming, the last Halloween ding-dong-dash, the last time your grandmother will make the little bags, the last time Mom would ask what the kids were dressing up as this year.

So it’s not that skipping THIS Halloween is such a big deal. It’s the memories that come flooding in like the flashback sequence at a soap opera wedding. No sappy music or soft focus comes with the flashback but you get the idea.

The cousins again in Waxahachie, circa 2003. This Halloween is remembered by the 90something temps
and Noah’s furry wolf costume.

I strangely have no pull toward the trunk-or-treat at our church. I have no idea if my friend will have Halloween plans but would be perfectly happy with pizza and wine by her Orange County pool. So why do I care that Clyde will be at our house, porch light and living room lights off, neighborhood kids walking right by our house?

Because I do miss how we did Halloween. For 23 years.


About Dawn McMullan

Dawn McMullan is a freelance writer/editor in Dallas, Texas. Her two sons are now 21 and 24, Sawyer in college and Noah starting his post-college career, and both interrupted empty nesting during the pandemic. Dawn helps run a non-profit in Eastern Congo and is senior editor at the International News Media Association.
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