Reprinted by popular demand (popular in my apartment, anyway) comes this piece of mine about Halloween. Just as I believe that all sorts of new educational products, courses and mandates migrate from the world of special needs (what is Gymboree but early intervention?), new fears migrate from Halloween to the rest of the year: Fears of predators, poisoners, kids as pedestrians — and all the awfulness that can occur if a child eats a sugary snack.
IS TOO SCARY
If you want to see something really scary on Halloween, come to my home about 9 p.m. I’m letting my kids eat unwrapped candy.
They can eat any homemade goodies they get, too, and that unholy of unholies: candy that has a slightly torn wrapper. And on the very off chance they get an apple, they can gnaw it to the core, as long as there’s not a sticky, razor-sized gash on the side.
Which always seemed as if it would be kind of a giveaway that something was amiss.
It’s not that I’m cavalier about safety. I’m just a sucker — so to speak — for the facts. And the fact is: No child has been poisoned by a stranger’s goodies on Halloween, ever , as far as we can determine. Joel Best, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware, studied November newspapers from 1958 to the present, scouring them for any accounts of kids felled by felonious candy. And … he didn’t find any. He did find one account of a boy poisoned by Pixy Stix his father gave him. Dad did it for the insurance money, and, Best says, he probably figured that so many kids are poisoned on Halloween that no one would notice one more.
Well, they did, and Dad was executed. Another boy died after he got into his uncle’s heroin stash, and relatives tried to make it look as if he’d been killed by candy. And that’s it.
Now look at how the fear that our nice, normal-seeming neighbors might actually be child-killing psychopaths has turned the one kiddie independence day of the year into yet another excuse to micromanage childhood.
It’s not just the fact that churches and community centers are throwing parties so that kids don’t go out on their own. It’s not just the fact that a town in Pennsylvania has gone so far as to “cancel” Halloween altogether — for the sake of the children. (The authorities there were surprised to find this decision unpopular.) It’s not even that those of us who’d like to hand out homemade cookies know they’d be instantly tossed. (Tossed cookies: Bad.)
The truly spooky thing is that Halloween has become a riot of warnings that are way scarier than the holiday itself.
The Web site Halloween-Safety.com recommends that if your child is carrying a fake butcher knife, you should make sure the tip is “smooth and flexible enough to not cause injury if fallen upon.”
Excuse me? Has anyone ever seen a knife land blade-side up? And then fallen on it? Meantime, schools across the country are sending this note home to parents: “Please, no scary costumes.” In England last year, a man was ordered by his landlord to take down his lawn decorations because the zombies were too “realistic.”
In other words: They looked too much like … real zombies?
Our fears are so overblown they’d be laughable if they didn’t sound so much like the fears that are haunting us the rest of the year. Fears that have led parents to wait with their kids at the school bus stop and forbid them from skipping down the street to their friends’ houses. It’s the everyday version of Halloween fear — the fear that we cannot trust our children among our neighbors for one single second because, who knows, they might be psychopathic pedophiles just waiting to pounce.
If you want to see what childhood is becoming, look at what Halloween has evolved into: a parent-planned, climate-controlled, child-coddled, corporate-sponsored event where kids are considered too delicate to survive seeing a scary costume.
You know. Like if someone came dressed as a slightly torn Snickers. – L