Before trick-or-treating last night, as I was putting on my costume, I offered my yearly address regarding Halloween etiquette to my children. It is remarkably similar to the speech my mother would deliver to my sisters and I before we would embark on our trick-or-treating romps through the old neighborhood. In my perfect world, I imagine other parents recite similar words to their children before sending them off into the night.
So, as I was adjusting my pointy, black hat with the silver stars, I gently but firmly reminded them that there are a few Halloween rules by which they must abide if they want to be permitted to trick-or-treat. The mandatory, non-negotiable Halloween rules in our house are:
Only approach houses with porch lights on.
Say “trick or treat” when someone answers the door.
Say “thank you” when the candy is given.
Do NOT not balk at what you are given. You’re lucky you’re getting anything.
The boys pretended to listen and promised to be good, and I sent them on their way with their father so I could hand out candy from our house. As I finished lighting the jack-o-lanterns on the porch, I was feeling as optimistic as a couple of pear ciders will usually convince me to feel. I dumped the last of our ginormous Costco bag of assorted candies into the pumpkin bowl, turned off the lights inside the house, and donned my purple gloves just waiting for the costume-clad hordes to arrive.
I like being in costume to hand out Halloween candy. It’s unexpected; the majority of trick-or-treaters are genuinely thrown off when I open the door and they see I’m in costume. I’m normally a fairly predictable person so I revel in my chance to confuse someone, even if that someone happens to be a 4-year old dressed like a bumble bee. But, wearing a costume also puts me into the Halloween spirit. Although I am usually somewhat reserved around people I do not know, a costume gives me the freedom to be a bit more bold.
As the doorbell rang for the first time, I hadn’t yet decided which witch I was going to be for the evening, the good witch or the wicked witch, but I didn’t have to wait long for my character to develop. I opened the front door and stood there in my costume and standing there staring back at me were a princess, a knight, and a vampire, all approximately age 6. They said nothing. I stood there staring back at them until one of them finally offered up a feeble “trick or treat.”
I opened the storm door and started to put multiple treats into the bags, and one of the children questioned me.
“Do you have any gum?”
Trying to be as polite as possible while not letting on that I was slightly annoyed by the blatant request I replied, “Sorry, sweetie. No gum.”
He replied, “It’s okay. I don’t like gum. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t going to give me any.”
Then they wandered off my porch without a second glance while I stood there incredulously. I found myself wondering when children got so brash as to make requests for what they want in their plastic pumpkins or pillowcases. Should I be impressed that he’s a kid who knows what he likes (or doesn’t like) or is it okay that I found his attitude a bit troubling? One of the best parts of Halloween when I was a kid was spilling the loot out onto the table after trick-or-treating and trading treats with my sisters or friends. I don’t like Butterfingers, so I was more than happy to trade them to my sister for her Almond Joys. The negotiations were brutal, but we always ended up with what we wanted. What was this kid’s plan if I had dropped gum into his bag? Was he going to take it out, hand it back, and ask for something better? I felt myself starting to turn a bit green.
I placated myself with the thought that surely my children would never do such a thing and hoped the next group would make me feel better. The doorbell rang a few minutes later with a parcel of five children. This group also stood there looking at me without uttering trick or treat. When I finally requested the obligatory phrase, they acquiesced.
As I started putting candy in their bags one child at a time, I noticed a little hand begin to creep towards my stash of treats. I stopped what I was doing, turned sharply, stared the child down, and stopped just short of smacking his hand (although I really wanted to).
In a voice that was gravelly and somehow not my own, I scolded him sharply. “I hand out the candy.”
He quickly withdrew his grubby little paw and I went about finishing my task. This group at least did manage a couple “thank you” comments as they walked away.
I walked back into the house pondering when it became acceptable for a child to reach into the candy bowl as an adult was actively passing out candy. Did I miss the memo? I mean, I was standing there in costume with my own hand in the bowl. Did he not understand why I was there? Was he afraid I was going to skip him somehow or was he, like the previous child, just trying to grab what he wanted? Whatever happened to children like the kind I was, the kind who was afraid of adults and wouldn’t have had the nerve to just grab candy from the bowl? Are all children so brazen these days?
Before I had time to think any further on that, the doorbell rang again. This time there were two 10-year-old girls on my doorstep. They were clever enough to sing-song a cheery “trick or treat”. As I opened the door to hand out the candy, the princess heard something from within her treat bag and started rooting around in there.
“It’s my cell phone,” she told me. “Hold on one second.” And, she put her forefinger up to let me know she’d be with me in a minute.
Galloping ghosts! Did this little girl just put me on hold on my own front porch? I am fairly certain I looked around for the hidden camera. This had to be a joke, right? I stood there for a minute while she had a conversation with her friend, Henry. Apparently, Henry was trying to meet up with them but couldn’t figure out where they were. At last, she ended her call, dropped her phone back into her bag, and then presented her bag to me. I dumped something in and as I did I noticed that my fingers seemed somewhat longer and bonier than they had before.
One 8-year-old child asked me why I didn’t have any lights on inside my house. I didn’t understand where he was going with that question. Perhaps he was implying that it looked as if no one was home (despite the porch lights being on, the lit pumpkins sitting on the porch railing, and candlelit paper bags that were illuminating a pathway to my doorstep)? Still I found myself answering this child, as if I owed him an explanation. Maybe if he had been dressed like a cop I would have been clever enough to invoke my miranda rights? As it was, however, by the time I had finished elaborating regarding the non-illumination of my household, I noticed a broom leaning against the corner of the porch.
As the evening progressed, I became depressed by the number of children who did not feel it necessary to grace me with a “trick or treat” when I opened the door. I thought that was standard Halloween protocol. Amazingly enough, it was the teenagers who made me feel better; most of them came to my door with better manners than some of the younger children who had parents standing nearby. At least the majority of the teenagers seem to comprehend how the whole Halloween thing is supposed to work. I don’t mind teenagers trick-or-treating. I realize that some folks think there is an age at which one should stop the charade and move on, but I like Halloween and feel that if you’re willing to get dressed up to ask for candy when you’re sixteen then you deserve a flipping Kit Kat.
I could cackle bitterly on and on about my experiences last night. I could tell you how no more than half the children who darkened my doorstep bothered to say “thank you” or how some of their equally rude and lazy parents actually followed their children around the neighborhood in their cars so they wouldn’t have to walk in the 50-degree temperatures. But, maybe it would just be better at this point merely to straighten my hat, tie a double knot in my cape, and fly out of here on that broom. Who said the Wicked Witch of the West is dead?