What the Hell Happened?

Remember when people didn’t get their drawers in a bunch over children wearing Halloween costumes to school?

Gwen started Kindergarten this year. She was confused upon learning that Halloween costumes aren’t allowed. Costumes are for private preschools these days. Didn’t you know?

But why?

When did it become politically incorrect to don a costume and celebrate the ancient pagan holidays? Next thing you know, we’ll be burning little people at the stake for dressing up in Monster High costumes. What’s that you say? Fairy costumes are cool, but just not on October 31st?

Well that sucks.

Sure kid, you can play Halo and watch soft porn, I mean…the Vampire Diaries with Mommy on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. Sex, violence and swearing are A-Okay but that Lightening McQueen costume? I don’t think so.

You might offend someone.

Listen, I know you don’t understand this yet – those ever-changing rules and regulations governing our society – but trust me; we used to line up and parade through the gym when I was in Kindergarten. Parents came and took pictures and candy was handed out. Yes, some of the candy even had peanuts in it. Some of the candy was hard and some probably contained dairy. But look, I’m still breathing. I made it through.

I know, allergies are a serious issue and that’s not really what I’m ranting about here. I was just on a roll.

I’m a skosh sentimental for the days when there weren’t catalogs selling knee pads for newly crawling babies. When parents weren’t compelled to blunt every corner in their home with squishy foam material and we could hop on pogo sticks without protective head-gear. Kids used to hit their heads. Yup. It’s true. We also used Play-Dough… that wasn’t gluten free.

Once upon a time, children were allowed to have a bit of fun at school.

We used to call it the Halloween party. (Cue the evil music.)

I experienced the excitement of hopping onto the morning school bus, not as Kelli, but as the Bionic Woman. Plastic mask in place and condensation building on the inside with each gasping breath, I refused to fall prey to claustrophobia. No, I sucked air through those pin-hole nostrils and remained confident that this year my costume would be the coolest.

I had no peripheral vision in that mask but it didn’t matter. No one was overly worried about me falling down the school bus steps or that I’d experience some sort of fatal latex allergy. Plus, I wasn’t complete moron, so I was okay with a simple, “Be careful!” And guess what? If I fell down and bumped my leg I probably said, “Ouch” and moved on.

There was no way I was going to push that mask up onto my head and reveal my alter-ego until I’d entered the classroom. I relished that day of anonymity. Didn’t we all?

No one fucked with the Incredible Hulk on the playground. The princesses were breathtakingly beautiful. Lady bugs flitted from swing to slide. Hobos and skeletons squeezed in a game of kickball at recess. We came home with construction paper Jack O’ Lanterns and UNICEF cartons.

We were allowed to be kids.

A Note to Self

Today when I woke up I decided to take the bull by the horns. I made an announcement to myself while we were brushing our teeth. I said, “Self, fall is coming and this year we’re going to love it!” Self raised a cynical eyebrow at me in the mirror. Her expression said,”Yeah. Good luck with that.” I ignored Self and silently told her she was being an asshole. Off we went to busy ourselves with our day and I gave Self the cold shoulder for the rest of the morning.

Later, as I stood waiting for Joe’s school bus to come over the rise of our quiet country road, I was lost in thought. I stood listening to the breeze as it rode through the lush green leaves in gusty waves. In fact, it was the lush green leaves that I was marveling at when…THUNK! An acorn fell from heights unknown and bounced off the crown of my head. I swear that tree was reminding me that I shouldn’t get accustomed to the greenery because those leaves will soon be falling. Did fall actually just send me a warning message in the form of thug acorn? Seriously?

It was right about then that Self piped up again and said, “I told you so. This fall will be no different.” I stood in the driveway rubbing the bump that was growing on my head and told Self to shut up. I laughed at the irony of that rogue acorn and began thinking about how my psyche is completely ruled by the four seasons. Fall should be terrific. It’s a season bursting with color and crisp, cool air that requires fabulous sweaters and tall leather boots. My hair stops being frizzy and my skin doesn’t break out in the fall. I can start whipping up all of those delicious cold weather soups and stews, pairing them with warm, crusty garlic bread. We can have roaring fires in the kitchen fireplace and make s’mores. We’ll be able to turn out the lights and sit in front of the crackling fire with bellies full of chocolate and marshmallow, listening to the wind howling outside. We’ll hear the rain coming down sideways against the windows and feel the biting, damp air as it winds its way under the door jams to chill our bones. The trees will become skeletons, shaking their barren branches at us mockingly. Oh wait…, I think I got sidetracked. I’m supposed to be thinking positively.

Fall. It also brings about the yearly celebration of my birth. Yay. This year I will be celebrating my 40th year of life. I love birthdays, just not mine. I don’t really mind the getting older part; it’s just that up to October 15th, fall is bucolic. The leaves are putting on their yearly show of color; the days are still sunny and pleasant. Yet, each year on the dawn of October 15th, the sky suddenly looks like someone dipped a brush in the dreariest of grey paint and brushed it right over the sun. I look around at the leaves and realize that the few that remain are desperately clinging to the trees and looking rather dead. The ground is wet and rotting leaves lay stuck to the driveway. It’s like someone took an eraser and wiped all of the color from the world. The only colors that seem to remain are orange and black.

I love Halloween. I seriously love Halloween, but as a kid my birthday parties notoriously had a Halloween theme. Once…, just once I wanted a pink party. I coveted a party so obnoxiously pink that it would make grown women puke. What did I get? Orange and black. Witch hats and bats. Spiders and apple bobbing. I’m writing this and it all sounds so fun now. What the hell was my problem?

I have pictures of me and my 9 year old friends enjoying a Halloween themed birthday party inside my big old farmhouse. In the background of those photographs the windows frame a grey, rainy sky. I don’t recall it bothering me at the time. I remember racing from the living room and into the center hall with balloons, sitting on them and laughing like little maniacs as they popped under our bottoms. We must have been so obnoxiously screechy and giddy, a group of 9 year old girls racing thru the house on that blustery day. How I loved those friends and I missed them so in the years that followed.
Those were incredibly happy times. I lived in a perfect little town, nestled at the edge of New York and Vermont. Fall was beautiful there with our horses and apple orchards. Sleepovers and innocence ruled. There were Saturdays when the school’s gym was opened up for roller skating parties and we all went together, happily skating the afternoon away in our Fair Isle sweaters and ribboned barrettes. Round and round we rolled with Hall and Oates, Donna Summer and The Village People. We were just beginning to notice the boys and the boy I “loved” was named Kyle Hunter. I’m not sure we ever spoke more than three sentences to one another.
Halloween was spent trick or treating in “town”, which was a tiny little village where everyone knew everyone. We walked up and down the road in our costumes, carrying our UNICEF milk cartons and pillow cases to collect donations and candy. I remember daring my neighbor to ring the bell of the old woman who lived in the grey house on the corner. She was rarely seen and in our minds, she was an old mean, hermit lady. Ringing her bell required hours of preparation. One needed to build up vast amounts of courage and I only did it once that I can recall.

Those fall days were incredibly beautiful. I don’t think birthdays and back to school became so difficult and gloomy until after I moved away. Maybe I left my innocence and happiness behind in that little town, along with my best girl friends. In my high school and college years I occasionally ran across some of those old friends. I was so jealous that they all got to stay there in that place. I wanted nothing more to be there with them, where everyone knew one another. I imagined them going thru their teenage years together as a kind of extended family. I was so angry, sad and jealous that I would pretend I didn’t know them if I happened to see them.

Anyway, this is the fall that I am taking control. There’s no way that I’ll let that negative old Self hijack the bus and drive us to Bummerville. In fact, I think I might just plan a party for the kids. Complete with witch hats, bats, spider rings and apple bobbing. And as I watch those little people having the time of their lives, I’ll think of my old friends and smile.