Halloween ranks #2 in my house (a surprisingly close second to Christmas) and we have a blast every year. Last night, I realized that Halloween is a microcosm for one of the parenting issues that challenges me most: How to give our kids rich experiences without overdoing it.
I rolled in just after 4:30 to a kitchen full of excited kids. My four were dressing up as a bumble bee, Darth Vader, a scary clown, and Sarah Palin. My wife was a witch (no reflection on her personality!) and I was a “class nerd.” I can’t imagine why my kids picked out that politically incorrect one for me, but the photo will convince you that I am dedicated to Halloween!
After painting faces, finding the candy buckets, and about a million photographs, we walked down the street to our neighbors (Daisy’s good friend’s) for dinner with four other families. Oh – we didn’t all walk down the street, just the three younger kids and me since Johanna had to bring our 11-year old to her friend’s house for dinner and trick-or-treating (they live in the neighborhood that is Halloween central in our town). There were 14 kids at the Vaughn’s (one told me that their ages total 80, so you can imagine the age range) and they were all excited. We had less than an hour (Johanna only had 42 minutes) to feed, eat, guzzle a glass of wine, and try to squeeze in a bit of adult conversation. I managed to fit in about 10 minutes of quality conversation with a mom whom I don’t see enough of, and we were just getting into it when we realized we had to leave if we were going to meet the other families with whom we were going to trick-or-treat (Tucker’s posse) in another neighborhood. “Come on, Toby is waiting… Daisy, we’ll see Fallon again soon… You can do the scavenger hunt here next year… Hurry up!” We hustled up the street, decided to take two cars since the little guys might need to get home earlier than the olders, and convoyed over to Independence Road. As we cruised the neighborhood, assuring Tucker that no, we weren’t late and no, he wouldn’t miss any of the fun with his friends, we found the group. “Hey Tucker – we’ve already been to like 25 houses! Look how much candy we have.” Ouch. “Mom! You promised!” He piled out to join his buddies, we left our SUVs on the side of the road, and quickly realized we should have made a better plan. Tucker ran off ahead, Johanna and Daisy joined the back of that pack, and 4-year old Chester struggled to figure out what the hell was going on. He and I hung together, within view but perpetually behind everybody else, and were having a good time when word filtered back that the third graders had exhausted the supply of houses on Independence and were going to relocate to another neighborhood. Four families piled into six cars and drove two miles to Halloween central – Hubbard Street – which was a ZOO. I drove past Scout (Sarah Palin) on the way to the hastily agreed point of departure, so I couldn’t stop, but I arrived too late to embark with Tucker (who had traveled in another vehicle) or Daisy (who traveled in yet another). Chester and I meandered from house to house, occasionally catching view of my other kids, clinging to my wife’s iPhone (she had taken my Blackberry and gone to find Scout) for text updates on who was where, spending no more than a minute at any particular house… It was a frenzy. I didn’t do any trick-or-treating with my older three (they were always ahead of me or somewhere else) but they had a great time.
Halloween a family event? I hardly saw my kids or my wife. Did they have fun? Absolutely, but in my opinion we crammed too much into too little time. Am I just getting old? Perhaps. Maybe this is simply the way kids start to develop independence from their parents… I guess the first neighborhood was aptly named.
If my kids had fun, what’s the problem? The problem is that kids rarely (ever?) say “no thanks” to an opportunity to do something fun, and yet (I believe) constant activity without downtime contributes to stress in a big way.
I don’t know if this is making sense – it’s a complex set of issues that I’m just beginning to come to grips with myself – but let me offer an observation that is top of mind for me the day after Halloweeen:
Don’t try to do too much. Less truly is more, and our kids shouldn’t be overly conscious (let alone slaves) of the clock. If we are asking our kids to measure their days in minutes, we are not doing our jobs.
Last night, we tried to do too much.