Halloween Heartache


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.

Life goes on.

And it leaves some heartache behind.

Of COURSE I Wear Make Up


Of course I do!

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.

They did!

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.

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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!

scary nonni

Wouldn’t you want to give me candy?

I guess makeup has its place in my life, after all!