Sure, I couldn’t help but enjoy my first 2-year-old in his puppy costume, having a blast rolling his pumpkin around the condo. There are some very charming elements to Halloween. But as the years have passed, most of my kids have passed through this darling phase and into the greedily massing candy phase. Not so charming.
I also noticed that they seem to gradually (well, that’s if you call from one Halloween to the next “gradual”) grow out of wanting to be a princess or Clifford (3 years in a row–that costume was worth the effort and later alterations), and into wanting to be something scary. One of my own childhood Halloween memories includes trying to explain to my mother that I wanted to be this new frightening thing I’d just learned about. The problem was that by the time I told her about it, I’d forgotten just what the name of it was. “I really really want to be a mommy” “You mean wear curlers in your hair?”–“NO, THAT’S NOT IT!” I really really wanted to be a mummy, but my poor vocabulary spoiled the dream. Last year my daughter, at the ripe old age of 4, wanted to be a scary witch, insisting on green face paint, and she was disappointed with all the people who said she looked cute.
There’s something in us that is delighted in the macabre. And yet I know I’m not the only mom who doesn’t want to encourage her children to actually experiment with the truly evil. (Okay for you eye rollers, I may take things a little too seriously at times, but I have to live with the thoughts in my head the best I can.) Anyway, I love getting into holidays with the kids, but Halloween just seemed a bit less . . . worthy than the other holidays that are big enough to get out decorations for. So a few years ago when the candy monsters were at their sugary high, I sat myself down and had a think. What can I do to keep this holiday from becoming a nightmare for me?
What did I come up with for an answer? Of course! Good literature! One October, after the smaller ones were in bed (probably just one small one at that point), we lit the fireplace, popped some popcorn, and the boys and I curled up with a flashlight and started reading Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. (It was actually the Great Illustrated Classic rewrite.) We couldn’t read every night of course (boy scouts, school events, various meetings, etc.), but we did every night we could, by the fire. That is a great story! I got a copy of the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe and put it on the mantel with the Halloween decorations. Some years we actually read some of it. I found a recording of some of Poe’s stories (and his poem, “The Raven” of course . . . “Nevermore . . .”) that we listen to in the car each October. One year we read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, in the original (it’s not too long). That was actually pretty challenging, and I did a lot of stopping to explain old language usage to my 10 year old. But we’re glad we read it.
We also have mixed in a fair amount of scary stories, music, and other media to our collection that aren’t the kind of thing to be on any Best Books list. Random CD’s from the store (that I usually get for about $1 in November and put in the Halloween bin for next year), songs like “The Monster Mash,” an ancient recording that years ago I taped off a record my mother-in-law had that the big kids hate but the little ones love (“I’ve been working on my costume” sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”).
By now you’re probably not too surprised that I’m rather put off by today’s horror flicks (or their commercials), and even though my older kids are getting pretty, well, old, and are sometimes dissappointed by the restriction, we have a ban on R rated movies and rarely allow a PG-13. (I know there are a lot of good things about some R rated movies, but since we aren’t anywhere close to seeing all the good movies that aren’t restricted, why go there?) I actually wrote my master’s thesis on film, and I rather enjoy movies as art and social commentary. Which is why last year we checked out from the library the first season of the old TV show The Addam’s Family. Often we get a bit of groaning when we bring home something to watch that is in black and white, but they loved it. It was in the spirit of the season, appropriate for and enjoyed by old and young, and they were exposed to a bit of Cultural American History and our human delight in the macabre without the damaging, artificial rush of horror. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a bit scarier and not for small children, but entertaining as well as interesting (and as a trivial perk, that little town it is filmed in is Sierra Madre, CA, close to where I grew up). Alfred Hitchcock can also keep you busy for years of Halloweens (don’t forget to look for his cameo appearance in each film).
I am currently in the throws of deciding what we will read and watch this October (though I did promise last year that we would get The Addam’s Family TV series again since we didn’t get to finish it). There’s Dracula by Bram Stoker, but it seems a little much for us yet. Let me know if you have a good suggestion.