Down the block from our old Brooklyn apartment lies a Halloween wonderland. The entire block of East 4th Street, between Caton and Albemarle avenues, goes all out for the holiday. Every yard is adorned with displays and dioramas, and every house becomes haunted. There are few places better to trick-or-treat in New York City.
I’d always loved Halloween, and cherished my memories of my own days going door to door for candy as a boy. But I’d seen nothing like this growing up. What this neighborhood was doing was Halloween as I’d always dreamed it could be.
It was difficult not to get more and more excited as Oct. 31 drew nearer. My son and I would walk down that street each day, watching with delight as more and more decorations appeared, and as more and more of the houses grew haunted.
One place had dragons and monsters posed on the roof, and coming out of the windows. One yard had skeletons engaged in a mock political debate, complete with captions. There were graveyards, inflatable characters, zombies, ghosts and goblins galore. One place even had a giant bat which would swoop down on you from the roof.
This. Was going. To be. AWESOME!
Costumes were decided upon. Liam liked stars and superheroes, so he would be Captain America. My wife and I would dress to match him. We carved pumpkins, decorated our own house, and talked about how we would soon go trick-or-treat.
Finally Halloween came and it felt like Christmas. I was so excited to make Liam’s first trick-or-treat an amazing memory that I could barely wait. I dashed around all morning, picking up candy, accessories and last-minute details before it was time to go out.
We passed through the neighborhood again that morning, and it was bustling with activity. People were already milling around in costumes, adjusting displays and decorations while testing their sound systems. The atmosphere was one of joyous celebration, and everyone was smiling and happy, cranking up my anticipation even more.
Finally, it was time. Liam happily played with his Captain America shield and his trick-or-treat pumpkin bucket. My wife and I donned our matching superhero outfits and loaded up the stroller with necessities. Now it was time to go celebrate Halloween.
Trick-or-treat … or have none of it
Excitedly, I led my family to the Halloween wonderland on the next block. Music played, crowds of costumed children laughed and squealed, and people handed out candy everywhere. It was right out a movie, right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was perfect!
And Liam was having none of it.
Our first thought was that he was scared or freaked out because of the way Liam was screaming at people. Soon it became apparent. Liam wasn’t frightened, he was pissed off! When people offered him candy he would slap it out of their hands. He would scream at other children not because he thought they were scary, but because he wanted them to go away.
It didn’t matter to him at all that some houses were putting on a great show. He didn’t care about the flaming Jack o’lanterns on poles. He barely glanced at the Star Wars themed house. He wanted nothing to do with any of the activities or playgrounds that people had set up for visiting children. He just wanted to get out of there.
I couldn’t understand it. How could he not be into this? This was an awesome Halloween setting. There could be nowhere else as awesome as this for his first trick-or-treat! What the hell was the problem with this kid? Couldn’t he see how perfect this was? We were so excited for this!
That’s when I caught my mistake.
It wasn’t Liam who was excited to go trick-or-treat. It was me.
The Parenting Fail
None of this was his idea, and he hadn’t asked to do any of this. After all, he wasn’t even 3 years old. He didn’t know or care what Halloween was, let alone what it meant to go trick-or-treat.
I’d been projecting my own feelings onto him. Because I was so hyped up for his first Halloween adventure, I’d made the assumption that he was, too. It had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be into the idea of trick-or-treat, and do you know why?
Because I wasn’t thinking about him. I was thinking about me.
A basic truth about parenting is that we are all kinda making this up as we go. There aren’t any instructions, everyone gives us conflicting advice, and what works for one child won’t work for another. So if you’re trying to do something because it works for you, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your child.
In my rush to create a good memory for my son, I’d been overtaken by the desire to create a good memory for myself. And that’s not how good memories are supposed to work. You can’t make them happen, you have to let them happen.
And so we did what Liam wanted. We left the Halloween wonderland and decided the memory of his first trick-or-treat could wait another year. Instead we stopped off at a local eatery so he could have French fries. Liam loves french fries. They make him happy. And when he’s happy, we’re all happy.
We’ve since moved out of Brooklyn. We no longer live near the Halloween Wonderland of East 4th Street. I don’t know if we’ll ever get the opportunity to go back there for a trick-or-treat trip, but it’s something I’ve filed away as a future possibility.
But the thing is, it doesn’t matter if we get back there or not. Our new neighborhood also has lots of Halloween awesomeness. The same excitement is growing in me again, but this time I’m tempering it with what Liam wants to do.
Last year when I took him to trick-or-treat, I was only tricking myself. This year, it will be an actual treat for everyone involved. Maybe even good enough to skip the French fries.