Archive for October, 2007

Halloween RIP

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve written about how I dread Halloween. I think a lot of my stress is due to feeling that every year we start over again. Sure, the tradition of the kids dressing up and trick-or-treating doesn’t change, but it’s working out the details that causes me anxiety. Waiting for my daughter to decide who she’s going to dress up as, how we’re going to make or assemble the costume, does the it require help at school for hair and makeup, then, who’s pairing up for trick-or-treating”¦” and on and on. Every year I have the thought, “Can’t we just find something that works and stick with it?” Unfortunately, none of the kids (especially Ethan) liked my idea of being a princess for seven years in a row.

OK, so flexibility and spontaneity aren’t my strong suit. But I do love traditions.

So this year, we happened upon something that may actually give me reason to look forward to Halloween next year. And I have Martha Stewart to thank.

One day in early October we were in Michaels buying poster board for a school project, when my daughters’ spotted Martha’s Holiday Halloween magazine issue and started flipping through it. Although my practical side (“Who has time to make bat garlands, carve turnips, and cut out life-size witch window silhouettes?”) usually wins out when it comes to what I buy, the beautifully crafted decorations, food, and table settings sparked my daughters’ creativity. And even if we never made any of the crafts or treats from the issue, I agreed with them that we would get $6.95 worth of entertainment from reading it.

Later on that week, my daughters and I made a point of sitting down together and looking through the magazine over several evenings. We commented on how clever some of the projects were and talked about if we could imagine ourselves making any of them. We decided that we had sufficient craft skills to tackle recreating the mummy and skull cupcakes and filed those ideas away for upcoming bake sales at school.

Spurred by the ideas we saw in Martha Stewart’s magazine, Jennifer and I started to scan other Halloween craft and food magazines while we were standing in the check-out line at the grocery store. We happened upon an idea that particularly caught Jennifer’s eye: gingerbread men that had white frosting piped on to suggest a skeleton.

This led to a frenzy of gingerbread baking. Knowing that we were going to need treats for the bake sale and for Valerie to take to a party, I found a recipe online that made six dozen gingerbread cookies. Jennifer worked her little fingers to the bone rolling out the dough and transforming them into skeletons”¦and counting and recounting to make sure that we would have enough for the bake sale and still have some to enjoy at home.

She ran out of energy after the first half of the dough, so the whole exercise was repeated again a few days later. The house smelled wonderful for a week. Then she moved onto the mummy cupcakes from Martha. Even her teenage sister had to agree that they looked just like the ones in the magazine.

Jennifer was so proud when she was done and her little army of skeletons were lined up. And then when we took them to the bake sale, she literally ran over to Steve and me jumping up and down that her skeletons were selling like hotcakes.

OK, so maybe Halloween has something going for it after all. We spent time doing something together and we’ll do it again next year. I guess that’s something to celebrate.

Now I’m Really Scared

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Why I hate Halloween, Part 2.

As I wrote about last time, the angst over what my daughter is going to be for Halloween was mercifully solved last week when an impromptu costume shop sprung up in the form of a garage sale at a house around the corner from us. We scored a wonderful skirt with a black petticoat that will be the basis of a gypsy costume.

So a few days later, we made a trip to the Goodwill Store in search of a billowy blouse and accessories to complete the outfit. The way the merchandise was organized made it very easy for Jennifer to zero in on a long sleeve white blouse, but once we had found that, she was ready to pay and make a beeline for the door. Who knew that the Goodwill Store should have an MPAA rating for “violence and disturbing images?”

Apparently, whoever is responsible for the store’s window dressing was off their meds that week. Hanging on the walls, placed on the counter, and in the small display case under the cash register were stuffed animals that were stabbed and “bleeding” red stuffing. The image of a Bedtime Care Bear with a 12 inch file in its chest and red fiberfill exploding from its seams tends to stay with you. We’ve donated a lot of stuffed animals to Goodwill, so Jennifer was very concerned that a young child might come into the store and be traumatized by seeing what had befallen their cuddly friend. I think she’s right.

That macabre aspect of Halloween is one that I try to avoid if I can. And Jennifer feels the same; she said she never wanted to go back to that store again. A different Goodwill Store? Sure, just not that one.

But back to why I really don’t like Halloween: it’s full of anxiety-producing events. And “who to go trick-or-treating with” is next on the agenda. It would seem straight-forward enough, just ask a friend and head out down the street.

But it’s not nearly that simple. Sometimes the girls Jennifer would like to go with have already paired up with others. And she certainly doesn’t want to be left with Mom walking in our own neighborhood. That happened one year, and because there are so few homes with young families where we live, we really did feel like we were in a ghost town. The houses that did have lights on each gave her a pound of candy. But even a year long supply of Milky Ways doesn’t make up for Jennifer feeling like everyone else was out having a great time with their friends, and she was stuck on a dark street with her mother.

And to add to the complication, where you go is also important. Last year she was invited to go with her good friends from school, but their families chose to trick-or-treat in a neighborhood that goes all out with decorations ““ some are scary and some are very elaborate ““ so that it is a big draw in our town for everybody who wants to celebrate Halloween. And the result is that the streets are so crowded that you feel like you’re in Disneyland in August. Plus, because these houses are handing out treats to so many kids, the loot is pretty skimpy. Jennifer isn’t greedy, but even she felt a little disappointed when one house dropped a dog biscuit into her bag. Good thing we have a dog.

Achieving the balance between friends, neighborhood, and treats ““ we haven’t succeeded yet but we still have”¦sigh”¦a few more years ahead of us to try to get it right.

Halloween Haunts Me

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

I really hate Halloween”¦but not for the reasons you might expect. I don’t dislike October 31st because of its roots as a pagan festival or even because it gives people an excuse for outrageous behavior. My aversion to the holiday isn’t even about the gruesome aspect of it that a lot of folks like to indulge. While severed limbs and tombstones are not my cup of tea when it comes to lawn decorations, I just do my best to overlook the scary stuff when I come across it in stores or front yards.

The real reason I hate Halloween is because the day is always a letdown for my elementary age kids. Every part of the Halloween celebration is so important to them ““ choosing a unique costume that expresses something about who they are, showing it off at the parade and party at school, and then trick-or-treating with their friends for pounds of candy that will take hours to sort ““ how can a day that carries such high expectations for fun and fantasy not be a disappointment in some way?

We had more meltdowns every year on Halloween than the other 364 days combined. It started the year Ethan was in second grade. Steve worked for days on a “Legends of Batman” costume but because of some design flaws, the first kid who saw him at school said, “What are you, “˜Legend of Big Head?'” I think that was the same year that his three year old little sister threw the biggest tantrum of her life at his class party when there weren’t enough cupcakes for her to have one.

Continuing on”¦mindful of what happened when Mom and Dad made his costume, Ethan decided a couple of years later that he would make his costume himself. He was going to be a menacing dark lord from one of his video games. Ethan was very happy with what he crafted out of felt, hot glue, and Sharpies, until he got to school and the first kid who saw him said, “What are you, a dead bunny?”

That’s just a partial list of the costume disasters. I haven’t even gotten to trick-or-treating.

I’m sure my kids have recovered from these traumas, but obviously I haven’t. I guess you could say I have a lot of baggage associated with the day. So early in the school year, when Jennifer brings up the subject of what she should be for Halloween, it sends shivers up and down my spine. And coming up with a costume idea for a sixth grader is much more challenging than for a younger child; anything associated with Disney is considered way too young and not befitting her role as a more mature upperclassmen.

Now that princesses and pirates are not an option, we really have to start getting creative. Jennifer wants to make more of a statement about herself and the coolness factor has become important. So even though she has a pixie haircut that would make her a perfect Peter Pan, she quickly nixed that idea. Darn, a yard of green felt and green tights and I would have been done.

For about a week, Jennifer thought she wanted to dress up as a celebrity”¦thankfully she didn’t mean Britney Spears”¦what she really meant was that she wanted to be a cultural icon. One by one, she suggested someone and then we discussed if that person was a doable costume option:

“I could be Martha Stewart.” Not distinctive enough appearance.
“Audrey Hepburn?” No one in my class would know who I was.
“Albert Einstein?” Definitely lacking in the “cute” factor.
“Marilyn Monroe?” Even if we could find a blond wig and white dress, I’m thinking this is way too much sex appeal for sixth grade.

I did enjoy spending a few minutes thinking about the mix of personalities on her list and what it says about the way she sees herself.

But back to reality, it’s mid-October and she still hasn’t decided on a costume. Even Jennifer commented that this is late for her. Maybe that means that Halloween isn’t as important to her as it once was. But whatever the reason, I’m getting stressed that we only have two weekends to nail down a costume and do any shopping, sewing, or tracking down accessories to achieve the desired effect.

But then something totally unexpected happened. When we were coming home from running errands on Saturday, we saw signs posted in the neighborhood for a “Garage Sale ““ Lots of Costumes!” It turns out the people holding the garage sale had had a dance school and were selling the costumes from years of dance performances. Jennifer found a gypsy outfit that with a little modification, she is very excited about wearing. I don’t know how God feels about dressing up on Halloween, but I definitely consider finding that costume a gift from above.

One Halloween hurdle down. Now it’s onto the variables in trick-or-treating. Who with, in what neighborhood, how crowded, and how much loot?

Taking Refuge in TV Land

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

A couple of nights ago, we were doing laps around the cable channels trying to find something to watch for a few minutes before we went to bed, when we landed upon a show that was well written, funny, and could be enjoyed by the whole family: I Love Lucy.

I think the last time I watched a rerun of I Love Lucy was decades ago, when I was sick and stayed home from elementary school. My recollection of the show was that it was very silly ““ I pictured Lucy’s exaggerated expressions and the ridiculous situations she finds herself in.

That can certainly be true in some scenes like when Lucy is arrested and she ends up in jail. At that point, it leaves reality and turns into a cartoon. But that’s not all the show is ““ there are real emotions behind what happens to her and I was surprised to find myself relating to what she was experiencing.

In the famous episode where Lucy is wrapping the bonbons on the conveyor belt, the reason she is working at the candy factory is because she and Ricky thought each other had the easier job so she goes to work and he becomes the housewife. Although Lucy’s comedic gifts make that scene truly memorable, when you take out the antics, the overall message of the episode is that she and Ricky find more appreciation for each other’s lives.

Because Lucy takes place in the 1950’s, Ricky and Lucy go back to their distinct roles but that doesn’t mean that appreciating your spouse isn’t a good theme even today. Who doesn’t want to be appreciated for what they do? As I’ve taken on more work responsibilities and Steve has taken on more household chores, we’ve certainly grown in our appreciation for what we each have to deal with. So my heart was with Lucy and Ricky.

My daughters’ and I loved the retro aspect of the show. It certainly pointed out how things have changed. The only marketable skills for women seem to be either as a bookkeeper, stenographer, or telephone operator. And men were a nuisance when it came to having babies; Ricky is exiled to the Waiting Room when Little Ricky is born. Then his new son is shown to him by a nurse behind a glass window, like he’s choosing a roast at the butcher’s. I’m glad those times have passed.

It’s hard for us to imagine a time when you didn’t just get in the car when you needed something, housework was a full time job, and food actually had to be prepared, not just zapped.  We liked the 1950’s clothes too. We all were laughing about Fred wearing his pants up to his armpits. Although we thought Lucy looked very contemporary in her ballet flats and ankle-length black pants.

One major reason watching Lucy with our kids was so enjoyable was because it was such a relief to turn on a program that we knew was safe. There wouldn’t be any discussions about sperm donors, no has-been celebrities acting crazy, no gender bending, and no bikini-clad bimbos in hot tubs. Just carefully scripted dialog acted out in scenes set in the same familiar apartment, episode after episode with a happy ending guaranteed.

There was a shocking moment in the episode: that was seeing Lucy and Ricky smoking. I don’t think my kids have ever seen anyone smoke on a TV show; that’s a good thing. However, now that smoking has joined sex, violence, and language in determining MPAA ratings, it made me wonder. Is I Love Lucy no longer Rated G? That would be ironic.