Friday, October 28, 2011

My Halloween Story

I didn't want to write about Halloween.

This year, I thought I had made it. For the first time since Angelica was born, our fourth October together, I thought I had finally gotten through an October without being questioned several times what she would be for Halloween, without having an answer. This year, I would try to ignore the 'mama fea' (ugly mama, as she calls it) witch that comes out each fall to rise and fall with the autumn wind from a neighbor's tree not far from us, even though it would yet again ignite her imagination, provoke questions, and harass her dreams. I would politely decline invitations to children's parties, and I would simply not take her to school on the day of THE party. I would smile at all the other children's costumes--which I honestly do think are adorable-- on the babies and young ones. I would patiently endure the songs, stories, and projects done with holiday ferver the weeks leading up to the day at school, at the library, etc. I would remind myself that it's all done in good fun, and there's no harm in that, right? I thought I was coasting. Don't make waves. Don't make a big deal out of it.

You see, for years while I was growing up, we truly didn't make a big deal out of it. We didn't 'keep' Halloween. We didn't keep a lot of holidays, within the church where I grew up, and I was pretty used to getting called out of school on the days of parties of what we considered, pagan holidays. Plural. I would often fantasize about what holiday I would choose to 'keep' if I could...Christmas for the pretty lights and all the presents? Easter for the candy and easter egg hunts? Halloween for its candy and getting all dressed up? Round and round it would go in my head, but I never really came to a good conclusion. I guess I did feel pretty bummed each Halloween to not get the loot of candy that my peers did. And for not being able to get dressed up and go to the party. But I got used to what we did do, instead.

My mom, my dad, my older brother and I would sneak upstairs when it got dark on the last night of October. Back then, we had filmstrips. We'd turn off the lights, and sit back and enjoy the colorful images that would appear very large on the walls. We wouldn't even have to be quiet, since we were far away from the main door and therefore, no one would know we would home! Those silly trick-or-treaters would have to go on to the next door and be for candy. It was a splendid game of hide and seek, and we weren't to be found. We also made sure to keep our black cat indoors and safe from mischief. Looking back, it became a fond family tradition. I marvel at the fact that in each place I've lived as an adult, I've never had a trick or treater come to my door (Mexico, apartments, now our condo). If I knew they were coming now, what would I do? Would I face them with a half-hearted spirit and a bag of mini snicker bars? Or would I turn off the lights and hide again?

I was so close this year to sailing through, but the last week caught me by surprise in my angst. As it got closer and closer to the date, I felt myself starting to free fall again, into my fears of dealing with it all. Without even being conscious of it, I suddenly realized that this year I continue my childhood tradition by taking Angelica out of school the day of her party. I also chose not to take her to the big library party, which pained me. My husband and I rationalize--his being from Mexico means that Halloween means nothing to him, except a creepy kind of celebration--since she's three, this is probably the last year we can get away with it. Before she begs to go. Before she insists on being there. Before she realizes that she's missing out, like I did all those years before. I relish this one last year, where she's content to go and do as mommy says.

Even so, I know it's futile. I think we're doing a pretty good job at ignoring it, pretending it's not really there, while at the same time, she's really taking it all in, in her extremely perceptive, child way. She tells her beloved storytime librarian, after singing Halloween themed songs and listening to Halloween stories midway through the month, "My mommy and daddy don't like Halloween". Ten days away, we go to see a puppet show, the classic Hansel and Gretel. I'm delighted as she is completely engrossed in the story, until a quiet dread comes upon me. There is a witch in this story. And not even a fun, friendly one that smiles and sings. No, a wicked one that is scary-looking and fully intends to harm children. My worst fears for her, to be exposed to the dark side of this holiday, are all culminating in front of my eyes and there is nothing that I can do, but wait. How will she react? What will she say?

She says nothing, but sits wide-eyed and completely wrapped up in the story. After the show, she insists on going behind the scenes to see the puppets. She loves Gretel, and strokes her long braids. The witch is offered to her, but she ignores her. I think that all is well, she has learned to ignore it like her mother.

However, not even hours later, the questions start. "Why, Mama? Why is the witch so ugly? Why is she there?"

What can I tell her? It is a question I cannot answer myself. It symbolizes my entire childhood dilema. Why is it there, in front of me? I can do nothing about it but wish I could have some of its--in this case--tempting gingerbread house that not even Hansel could not resist...

I don't like Halloween because for me it's too real. Witches are wicked to me, ghosts are scary. I can't make them playful or fun.

So at 3:00 in the morning after seeing the show, she cries out for me because she's had a nightmare. She insists on going to the bathroom, so as she sits on the toilet, she asks me again. "Why, mama? Why is there a witch?"

I have nothing; I look into her big, probing eyes. God, I say, inwardly. Give me an answer, because I don't have anything. Before I know where it's coming from, it comes pouring out.

"Well, sweetie..." I begin, "remember Gretel? And how good she was?"


"And how her brother Hansel made a mistake? He ate the candy from the witch's house, because he couldn't help himself. He didn't mean to. We all make mistakes, like Hansel. But Gretel loved him anyway, and protected him. Like you protect your little brother, Adrian."

She nods in agreement.

"Gretel loved him no matter what, like God...Jesus. You know?"

"Sometimes bad things happen to us, like when we're scared in the dark after a bad dream, or when we get sick. Those things happen, we can think of them like the witch. We don't like the witch, she's bad. But remember what happened to the witch?" I hesitate, am I really going to say it? It's what she saw already in the show, I rationalize.

"Gretel threw her in the oven. Do you know what that means?"

She's completely tracking with me now. Thank you, Jesus, I think. I can get through this.

"It means that no matter what, Jesus--like Gretel--is going to beat the bad, the witch. The witch was all gone at the end, right?"

"Yes, mommy! The witch was gone, but what about the mama fea? What about that witch?"

I pause. What can we do with the neighborhood witch that has harassed her by its mere proximity to her safe, beloved home base each October? The mother lioness comes out in me: "Well, we can throw her in the oven, too!"

I'm relieved to think that she doesn't have the same mental imagery of throwing someone into an oven as I do. And I'm grateful that the explanation seemed to seal a well of uncertainty and fear that was creeping up into her heart. I know that we'll probably always struggle as a family with what to do with Halloween. Yet that late-night conclusion--we'll throw 'er in the oven--gave me new strength to forge on, and realize that it's okay for us to not 'keep' Halloween like everyone else. I may let her go to the parties, dress up, and pig out on candy in the future, who knows. I may let her find her own path in all of this, and not force my ways on her.

But I will do it as openly and honestly as I know how. She deserves to know my reasons, my story. I will tell her my story, and I hope that we'll keep slaying witches and throwing them in oven as we muddle through each October together.

3 more days, and it will be over once again!