Don’t Overdo It

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.

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4 Responses to Don’t Overdo It

  1. MPE says:

    But at least it was a Friday night and we (as I had a similar kind of night) didn’t have to deal with the repercussion of waking everyone and getting them out of the house for school.

    I’m guessing my kids are close to not not caring about Halloween (though right now the planning starts on Nov 1st and it’s discussed all year) so I try to look at the craziness as something I’ll be wishing I still had 5 years from now when they are too cool to hang with their parents and trick or treat. So, at 4:45, when I had finally finished carving the pumpkins, setting up the fog machine, strobe lights, sound track loop and phantom (the one from Frontgate with the glowing multi-colored eyes), I dove in to the “halloween experience” and tried my best to accommodate each child’s desired schedule. I think everyone had fun.

    What I really want to know, is that your “Glory Days” outfit?

  2. DV says:

    That picture of you – and the way you’re staring off in the wrong direction as the pic is being taken – completely made my Halloween. Thanks!

  3. Amy Pasley says:

    I completely relate, thankfully we never had to leave our neighborhood but on Halloween night after literally shoving down a fantastic pulled pork sandwich at what was to be a nice Halloween dinner at a neighbors home but instead was a scene from “beat the clock”, I lost my 10 year old instantly to her three neighborhood buddies determined to be parent free this year in their trick or treating adventures while my 8 year old was scooted off with her best neighbor friend in a completely different direction. I lagged far behind enjoying the slower pace of my visiting brother and his very young family while wondering to myself what happened to the days when me and my girls relished each door bell ring and discussed exactly what was collected and whether they would share it with me.

    Lo and behold at the end of a very hectic night when I finally caught up with part of my family, my littlest one was a little teary eyed because it turns out she missed those days when we puttered along as a family too. So she and I clutched each others hand and walked just a little further to that one house we’ve never been to before and slowly walked down the walk and admired each pumpkin’ along the way. When we rang the doorbell we took a few extra moments to let the kind candy distributor admire her costume and I didn’t even rush her when she pondered over which candy to take. And yes, we even took one more moment to smile and say “thank you”.

    We walked back home slowly discussing everything I had missed earlier in the evening both realizing together what we really love about these holidays is the shared memories we create and the extra time we spend together.

    Thanks for sharing your story it made me think about mine.

  4. Nancy West says:

    This was a good post. You are brave to be so honest about the fact that what looks like picture-perfect family fun sometimes isn’t. What you described is how I sometimes feel on Christmas — with everything looking like a page from a catalog, why do we feel so crazed? I was actually somewhat surprised by how many families I talked to this year with kids my son’s age (4th grade) who were going trick-or-treating as a family rather than letting the kids go off in packs of friends. It wasn’t like people had made global decisions about this, and it definitely wasn’t driven by fear of any kind — more just like the kids and parents alike were gravitating together organically. Probably just a coincidence but it did catch my attention. My son is popular but slightly agoraphobic and has never liked Halloween craziness, so he turned down several invitations in order to go trick-or-treating as a family, and it was fun.

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