Halloween and Christmas are good gauges for growing up.
As parents, we’re never quite ready for the changes. They always seem to come too soon. But our kids let us know, in little, silent ways, when something, that was once important, loses its allure.
The past few days, I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts on homeschoolers who celebrate Halloween. Everyone seems to have had a good holiday. Nothing is so charming as a child in costume, after all. But the older kids, well, you don’t see them as much. Halloween changes when you get older.
This is the first Halloween that my 17-year-old, the one with autism, did not ask to wear a costume, or to trick or treat. It is a milestone. And I cannot help but feel a little sad.
My son has always loved holidays. He silently counts them down, and then springs them upon you.
In elementary school, he was in Paradise. So much was made of all those moments in time, all the commemorations (like MLK Day), the anniversaries (like 9/11), the individual student’s birthdays. Then there were the Big Ones: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter (or their secular versions). There was a craft, and a treat, and a card, and a movie. It was an ingenious way of breaking up the humdrum of everyday schooling.
I made sure to implement the same methods, in the early days of homeschooling. Lots of crafts, stories, and worksheets based around the holidays. My older son ate it up. My youngest, not so much. About the age of twelve, he began to groan when anything celebratory was introduced.
But my older son could not get enough of holiday-based work. Probably it felt more like play to him. The content is familiar. Everyone knows their holidays by the time they are eight or ten. Manipulating the symbols and words in puzzles or crafts seems more like fun than work.
On the other hand, I tried, once, to push a series of letters from Pilgrims and other Thanksgiving characters of the time on my unsuspecting children. It was met with much resistance. Not everything about the holidays qualified, at least in my son’s book, as fun.
Of course, I naively thought of it as an “opportunity for learning.” No. I was crossing the line between play and work, and that would not be tolerated.
The Tricky Tweens and Teens
Holidays like Halloween definitely change as you get older. I still remember trick or treating at thirteen, years and years ago. I can still hear the crotchety old gentleman, backlit in his doorway, refusing to give me candy: “Aren’t you a bit old to be Trick or Treating?”
That was the beginning of my awareness that I had entered adolescence. I think it’s much the same way for kids today, although the rules of how old is too old seem a bit more flexible. Even so, walking the neighborhood with someone taller than you can attract attention. That’s part of why—besides my bum hip—I had my husband, who is still taller, take my older son out the past few years. I figured as long as he enjoyed it, he should be there. Enjoying it.
Last year, he was Sherlock Holmes. What a great costume. But brutal! A woolen coat in the Florida heat. He didn’t seem to mind. He was in character.
But this year, not a word. No urgent insistence on going to the costume store. No demand to be allowed to choose the correct candy (his favorite, of course). No longing looks at the pumpkin patch. We actually committed the sacrilege of not buying a pumpkin this year!!! We have never done that.
But perhaps his desire for celebration was satiated by the little “trunk or treat” our co-op did. We decorated our car and handed out candy to all the smaller kids, decked out in their finest. Both sons came shopping and helped pick out decorations.
My younger son had very decided opinions about what he wanted. He chose fabric and trinkets with care, sighing resignedly whenever his brother put something less spooky in the cart. He (the younger) did most of the decorating.
My older son, armed with the obligatory pumpkin bucket, stood in line and passed by the various decorated car trunks, to get candy for the ride home. I handed out treats. He was full of excitement all day, and that one event seemed to be just enough to satisfy his expectations.
Halloween is not Over
Not all the teens at co-op were so blasé about their Halloween experience.
I saw delightful costumes, intricately designed, excellent makeup, and an absolute indifference to the idea that anyone (even the adults, many of whom had great costumes) might be “too old” for Halloween. Thankfully the crotchety old gentlemen and ladies (such as myself!) are now learning to keep their mouths shut and let the kids, whatever age, have fun. My sons didn’t want to dress up, but who knows. Maybe next year they will. Maybe I will, too!
The version of the game of “dress up” you play seems to change as you get older. In the teen years, it’s more of a competition, a striving, for quality or for integrity in their vision of a certain character, mythological creature, or mood. They rarely look like they just picked up a store-bought costume and threw it on. This is an exercise in creativity, and the artistic and inventive types take it seriously, and really shine.
Too often, in our society, Halloween is more or less taken away from teens, as a thing for little kids, even though the masquerade balls and costume parties of adulthood are not quite yet upon them. Is it any wonder, then, that many kids gravitate toward anime conventions and other fandom-related excuses for dressing up? Not only do these events expose the kids to artistic expression of different types, and encourage their own individual expression, but they motivate and support interests that are not necessarily academic in nature. Drawing. Collecting. Writing. Sewing. Building. Music. Socializing.
Also, they don’t just happen in October.
Much as I hate to admit it, we have turned a corner in our homeschool. The days of parading the children around the neighborhood for their annual inspection is over. A pumpkin- and costume-free Halloween is definitely new to us, and strange.
I cannot help but think of Halloweens of old, and sigh.
But think of all that lies ahead. New surprises, around every corner, waiting to be sprung upon us.
What do your teens do for Halloween?
To see what my son with autism’s first Halloween was like, read my blogpost: