When I was a little girl, my Nana was often a part of our holiday celebrations. She sometimes came with us on vacations, or on the daytime adventures that my Dad arranged to keep us all entertained.
Nana had a way of laughing even when things went wrong. I have a vivid memory of her hiking with all six of us kids and my parents through “The Flume” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I can hear her laughing as a sudden storm overtook us. We were suddenly drenched and cold, and none of us was happy.
“We’re making memories!” Nana called out in her laughing voice as we slogged our way through the dripping path. And some 50 years later, I still recall that memory with a smile.
I always hoped, when I was the mom of young children, that we were making happy memories together. I hoped that our holidays made memories, even when we discovered that mice had nested in our Christmas decorations. I wanted my kids to grow up with happy memories, funny memories, memorable memories. Even when it snowed on our camping trips or when we all had strep for Christmas.
Tonight is Halloween of 2020. In the face of the terrible Covid pandemic, few people are going door to door to Trick or Treat. Our neighborhood is silent and empty of kids. My grandchildren won’t be going out for candy.
It is a sad reminder that life is nothing like what we want it to be this year.
But we dressed up anyway, Paul and I, in costumes meant to make us look like our dogs. We pinned on our false ears and tails, rubbed make-up on our noses, and put on the dogs’ collars.
I made a guacamole witch and a “Ghosts in the Graveyard” dessert.
We went to our daughter’s house, where she and her three kids were in costume and the house was decorated with light up spiders and glow in the dark ghosts.
We had a supper of “Mummy dogs” and “Monster pizza” and then the kids searched the house for hidden candy.
There was no traditional “Trick or Treat”. There were no neighbors or friends or other kids wandering with glow sticks. It was nothing like Halloween is supposed to be.
But as Paul and I were getting ready to say good night and head back home, my three-year-old grandson Johnny threw his arms around my neck and asked breathlessly, “Nonni, wasn’t this the best Halloween ever?”
And you know what? It really was.
It was the best because Johnny’s parents made memories for their kids. And those memories will last a lifetime.
When the kids were little, I loved Halloween. I loved decorating the house with scary witch cut-outs and pretend ghosts. I loved the excitement, the weeks of costume planning, the favorite candy discussions.
I loved….I really loved, carving pumpkins. And cooking the seeds.
I loved making Halloween treats like marshmallow witches and “ghosts in the graveyard” cake. The look of joy, excitement, and even slight fear in the eyes of all of the kids was a reminder to me, every year, that magic is real. Magic does happen.
When a shy six year old puts on a big hat and his Dad’s old shirt, he feels as if he has been magically transported into a world where everything is possible. When serious, strict teachers show up in the classroom dressed as light-up jellyfish, when tired parents put on silly wigs and clown makeup, that is magic. Children see that magic. They breathe it. They embrace it as only children can.
I’ve always loved the magic of Halloween.
As a child, I loved the planning and scheming that started in late winter and carried us all the way to October. I loved walking through the suddenly-spooky streets of my neighborhood. I loved the candy, but mostly I loved the idea of becoming someone else on that special night.
As a mother, I loved watching my three children filled with the tingling sensations that came with walking our safe streets at dusk. I loved seeing their faces light up at the sight of a neighbor’s jack-o-lantern in the window. I loved watching them feel powerful or beautiful or magical, just because of a bit of makeup or a piece of clothing.
As a teacher, I adored Halloween. The week before was filled with animated conversations about costumes. We’d spend most “morning meetings” planning our classroom party, choosing a song list, planning our games. We’d read about the history of Halloween traditions. Everything felt slightly more relevant and more intense than our regular history lessons.
Math facts and spelling rules faded into the background, where most of us felt they belonged.
And the day itself, the day of Halloween, was pure magic.
I have such clear memories of teaching a science lesson while wearing a tall black witch hat; few memories make me smile more than the image of myself nodding my head for emphasis and realizing that my witch hat was tapping me on the nose. The kids and I must have belly laughed for a full two minutes.
I miss that.
I miss the magic. I miss the transformation that comes so easily to children who put on a disguise. I miss watching how easily those children moved from shy, insecure little ones to all powerful super heroes just by putting on a cape.
I miss standing in the doorway of my house, handing out candy and expressing my delight at every adorable ghost and every terrifying 7 year old monster.
Today is Halloween.
It is a rainy, windy, strangely warm day here in Massachusetts. I spent the day with my two toddler grandchildren, eating healthy foods and watching Halloween videos. We made silly paper ghosts, played with playdoh, pretended to be various super heroes. Every hour or so, my little two year old grandson would shake and clasp his hands together:
“I so excited to go out Halloweening!”
His four year old sister kept asking how long it would be until they could go out to get the candy.
We had a sweet day.
But as it ended, and my daughter and son-in-law came to get the kids, the magic faded for me.
My husband and I have gone with our grandkids to Trick-or-Treat for the past three years. Every year, they join their friends, young parents we’ve known for all of their lives, and everyone has a wonderful time going to door to door in our small town, where every face is familiar.
The first year after our granddaughter was born, joining them was automatic: Of COURSE we’d want to be part of it all! The second year was the same. On the third Halloween, our sweet little grandson had been added to the family, and we wanted to be with him.
But at last reality has hit us.
We are no longer the Trick or Treat generation. We are the people who stand at the door to hand out the treats. We are too tired to try to find yet another costume. We are too tired to walk the streets at the end of a long day. Our doctors have cautioned us about eating all that sugar. Our back are too sore to carry tired kids home at the end of the night. The end of the night bath is so far beyond our energy level that we can’t even think about it.
It’s all good. It’s all correct. It’s all exactly as it should be.
I’m very happy that I can stay in my dry living room tonight. I’m delighted that I can put some ice on my sore back and pour a glass of wine and stay here with a good book.
But at the very same time, at the very same moment, my heart is breaking. I can still remember how much I loved washing the makeup off of the faces of the kids I loved so very much.
I mean, pshhhht, I came of age in the 1960s. Frosted lipstick, black eyeliner, pink blush sticks….I remember it all!
I used makeup when I was in High School and college. I dabbed on the lip gloss, I stroked on the mascara, I even learned to use Kohl to underline my already dark eyes.
But then I grew up.
I got jobs. I started a family. I realized at some point that I could either spend 10 minutes putting paint on my face or ten minutes asleep.
The sleep won.
Time went on, and my children grew. Eventually, they all grew up and moved away and nobody was there to watch me dab on the wrinkle eraser cream. I began to realize that my students loved me for my humor and my love of them, not for any semblance of beauty. I began to realize that my family loved me for myself, and rarely even noticed if I added a dab of eye shadow to some fancy get up.
So I kind of let the whole makeup thing go.
Until my one and only daughter was about to get married. At that point, I knew that I had to step up my game and go for some actual facial improvements. There would be photographers there, right? And dozens of friends and family with those ubiquitous camera phones in hand.
So after I chose my “Mother of the Bride” dress (pale sage green), I shopped for some Mother of the Bride makeup. Kate dragged me to Sephora, where I learned that one could either buy a vacation home or buy the right make up.
I chose to pass on the cream blush, brow enhancing stick and something that was supposed to bring on a “dewy glow.” Instead I decided to head for the local Rite Aide and see if they had any greenish eye stuff.
I found a lovely matte finish foundation, a waterproof mascara, and a small palette of eye shadow that included sage, a dark umber, and two shades of pale icy green/white. I bought them. I practiced in the mirror with them. I wore them to the wedding.
I looked AWESOME.
Aren’t I just glowing??
Then the wedding was over. The celebrations wound down. The happy couple did a honeymoon and came back. Since then, they have had two kids, bought one house and then moved to a better one, and fully embarked on their careers.
Since then, Nonni here has retired, become a stay at home childcare provider and learned to embrace the joy of spending every day in flannel pjs and a baggy sweatshirt, and enjoying life without one tiny bit of makeup.
It’s been great!
But today was Halloween. I dragged out an old wool cape and some dancing skeleton earrings. I spent all day feeling excited with the kids. I was happy to know that they wanted me to come Trick or Treating with them.
As evening came on, and we waited for Ellie and Johnny’s dad to come get them, I put on my “costume” of black pants and sweater and a beautiful old woolen cape that I bought in Tunisia some 45 years ago. I thought I looked good!
Until Ellie asked, with a deep frown on her face, “Where is your scary makeup, Nonni?” I tried to tell her that Nonni was fine as is, but she wasn’t having it. “But you need scary black eyes!!!” she cried. “You need a scary spooky face!”
I wanted to give in (you know, that’s what we Nonnis do). But I didn’t have any scary face paint around. What should I do?
Yup. You guessed it. I dug into my medicine cabinet, and found the very makeup that I had worn to Kate and Sam’s wedding, more than four years ago! It hadn’t been touched since the ceremony.
I poked it. I stirred some things around, and added a drop or two of water to the rest.
It was good!
I layered it on, trying to achieve my creepiest look. Ellie cheered, while Johnny chuckled and shook his head in the background.
Here’s the final result. I think I look as fabulous as I did at the wedding!
Wouldn’t you want to give me candy?
I guess makeup has its place in my life, after all!
I was only a small child when I realized that there were two kinds of people in the world. Those who chose to carefully and slowly dole out life’s little pleasures, and those who simply devoured the good things when they showed up.
It was, of course, the twin candy orgies of Halloween and Easter that showed me this key life lesson.
On both holidays, kids like me were amazed to find ourselves suddenly surrounded by piles of candy. As children who lived with a health conscious, thrift conscious Italian mother, candy was a rare treat for us.
I learned pretty quickly that I was one of those undisciplined hedonists who tried to eat as much candy as possible in as short a time as possible. I remember counting every piece, lining them all up in order of deliciousness and then attacking the pile like a girl on a mission.
My little sister, Liz, was the opposite. Liz was the calm, self-disciplined one out of the two of us. She would carefully go over every piece, arranging them in her own order. Then she’d eat them one at a time. Slowly. Slowly.
So slowly that I have a vivid memory of her crying once because her Halloween candy (in January, maybe??) had turned all white and we thought it was ruined.
I haven’t really thought about this dichotomy for a long time. Now that I’m an adult, with good reasons to pay attention to my health, I eat my treats carefully. I am now able to exist in a house with a candy dish, filled with M&M’s or other goodies. I eat a couple a day, usually with my granddaughter Ellie and only after we have achieved something wonderful. (Like pooping in the potty).
But I’ve started to think about it again.
Not because of food pleasures this time, though. No, I think I’ve got that one covered.
Now I think of whether or not I want to indulge and get all the fun out of the way when I contemplate Netflix.
I mean. Wow. Sometimes you get a rainy weekend day when your back hurts and you think, “I should just settle in with some good TV.” Right? So the question becomes vitally important.
Do I binge watch “Stranger Things, Season 2” or do I slowly dole out each episode, so I can think about them between viewings. Should I wait for my husband, and watch together? Should the two of us grab a pizza and a bottle of wine and watch them all?
If we do, how will we go on? We’d have to wait another YEAR to find out what the hell is in the upside down! But….
Do I have the internal fortitude to let the cliffhanger hang for a week? Or two days?
Well, do I?
In our house, this is still an evolving issue. We have so far come to a middle ground of alternating shows in the evening. We go from “Bloodline” to “Madame Secretary” to “Grace and Frankie” to “Stranger Things.”
Paul is the slow and steady spreader out of the joy.
I am, naturally, the one who wants to pull the curtains and watch the rest of any of one of those series with a bowl of popcorn and a chocolate bar.
How do you approach the amazing wonder of a complete season of drama at your fingertips? And does it match the way you ate candy?
Some days you are just running on empty. Done. Spent. All hollowed out.
Some days you just have nothing left. Nix. Nada. Nothin’
Today was a day like that.
I blame Big Papi and those bearded bad boys of Boston. Way too many late nights around Beantown this month. Way too many. Last night I stayed up for every last pitch, every beard pull, every champagne shower.
So good, so good, so good!!!
But you know what I’m gonna say, right? This morning was not. So. Good.
I was in a deep, deep sleep when I began to be aware of distant bells. Lyrical and sweet, they seemed to be calling me to some lovely place where I could rest. I was enjoying them, right up until the moment when I realized that they were coming from my iPod alarm, and that it was 5:30 AM.
I hauled myself out of bed and into the shower, then headed for the espresso machine. Twenty minutes later, I found myself on the front steps, in the pitch black morning, with my work bag and purse on one arm and a bag of extra clothes in the other. My witch hat was balanced precariously on my head, and my cape was dragging. A coffee cup wobbled in one hand.
“Grrrooooof”. Something BIG whuffed in the woods right next to my car.
What the HELL!
As I tried to tell myself that it was just an owl, about a hundred branches came crashing down, and whatever it was out there gave another big “grrroooof”. I squeaked like a terrified mouse and frantically shoved everything into the back seat. My heart was going about a billion miles an hour. In 4 seconds flat I had vaulted into the car and hit the lock button.
As I sat there gasping for breath, and hysterically trying to peer through the foggy darkness, one hopeful thought burbled to the surface. “Well, at least I’m awake now!”
I drove to work with my knees shaking, and got ready to start a day of Halloween festivities. With 24 fifth graders. With a head ache. On 4 hours of sleep. Woohoo.
I gobbled down some ibuprofin, took my pulse, tried to put the Groofer out of my mind, and quickly threw together a big black beard to go with my witch costume. I organized my desk, turned on the computer and suddenly remembered that I had a morning parent conference. With a Mom I had never met. I looked up just as she entered the classroom. “Hi!”, I chirped, trying to recover my equilibrium. “Come on in!”
Ever cool in the face of disaster, I swept my cape gracefully around my shoulders and pulled out the student’s folder. “Have a seat!”, I offered in my best hostess voice, which for some odd reason sounded muffled and sort of fuzzy. Realizing that the young mother in front of my was staring at my chin, and realizing at the same moment that beard fuzz was flying up my nose, I hastily pulled off the beard, and the conference began.
Considering my costume and the 52 sneezes that exploded out of me, I think the conference went pretty well. Sort of. Ish.
Enter the 24 hyper kids. “Did you see the game?!” “I love your beard!” “When can we eat candy?” “Where are my fangs!?” “Do we have homework?” “Can you guess what I am?” They were all talking so loud and so fast that I started to miss the Groofer. I briefly considered taking more ibuprofin, but my liver started to melt, so I decided to just go for another cup of coffee instead.
It’s now 8pm. I’m still in the black skirt and orange sweater, the pointy hat and pumpkin spangled socks. The beard is gone, but the headache persists. Over the past 12 hours I have served cupcakes, pretzels and lemonade, danced to “Rock Lobster” and the “Monster Mash”, cleaned up feathers and beard fuzz, corralled and lined up the whole crowd five times, had another conference and attended two professional meetings. Then I drove in the rain through rush hour traffic to give out three bags of candy to the kids in my mom’s neighborhood. All while dressed as a witch. On four hours of sleep. With the fear of the Groofer in my soul.
But every time I start to complain, I remember Big Papi, sweeping Koji into his big arms. And I have to smile.
I may be spent, and I may be destined to become a Groofer snack, but at least I got to see another Red Sox championship.