From the Editor


The perfect Halloween

By Susy Schultz

When the kids were little, I loved making sure Halloween was perfect.

I loved creating spooky magic.

There is something wonderful about the crisp fall air filled with the sounds of excited children and the faint hint of being scared wafting above it all.

I loved it when I was little. My sisters and my friends loved planning our trick-or-treat route through the normally off-limits dark alley. And we loved daring each other to run through the Cat Lady's yard. We told each other we would be out gathering candy until midnight. In reality, we would last an hour, tops. Then, we returned home, safe. That's the key about kids being scared-it's OK if they come from a place where they feel safe.

Halloween can actually be an important time for kids, according to Fran Stott, a psychologist and multi-titled vice president at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school of child development.

"It really helps young children experience scary things in a safe way," says Stott. "It helps them understand and deal with scary feelings."

Stott says just because something is scary, it doesn't mean children should avoid it. In fact, this is a good time for parents to help children work through fears.

But Halloween is also a time to create wonderful traditions for children. My parents did. And I continued. I loved the planning and the talking, the luscious conspiracy of it all. Of course, once you plan it, you, as the parent, have to deliver. Another one of those pesky parenting rules: Always follow through.

I, of course, spent way too many years when the children where little working for the practically-perfect-in-everyway-parenting award-a contest that is really won only by losing.

Deep in the throws of my perfect-equals-love phase, I pulled an all-nighter just to make sure my son's mummy costume looked authentic. I soaked two sheets in tea, ripped them into strips and sewed them onto a sweatsuit, so he could wear it again. It is sewn together so tightly, my children's children's children will be wearing it for Halloween 2075.

[This dark, compulsive side has actually limited my life. It's why I don't knit. I find no relaxation in this wonderful art. I start a project and morph into a maniacal Madame Defarge. I managed two sweaters and a baby blanket before my husband said, "Put the needles down and back away from the basket."]

So, when my younger son was in second grade and wanted to be a vampire, it had to be perfect. We shopped for the cape, a nice cotton one. I sewed red satin into the lining. We found black pants, a white shirt and I bought thick red ribbon for the medallion that every well-dressed vampires must wear as Transylvania royalty.

Then, I loaded up on the face paints.

Halloween arrived. The drill was kids came home for lunch and then returned to school in costume.

After eating, we started dressing. My son was so excited. Every new piece of the costume sent him back to the full-length closet mirror to check the look.

I started the make-up-something I actually paid attention to when I was in a junior high drama group and a few high school plays.

So, on went the deathly white face. Then, the darkening black for hollowed eyes and gaunt cheeks, followed by a bit of green to give that ghoulish glow, a little more white for blending and just a dash of red dripping from his mouth. To finish the slick sophisticated look, hair gel.

It was a long 10 minutes for him, because I would not let him run to the mirror until it was finished. I smiled at my handsome little blood sucker. He ran to the mirror and I waited for the moment we all live for, the sweet, albeit brief, "Thanks, Mommy."

After all, he did look perfect.

But my son looked in the mirror and backed away slowly. He shook his head, screamed, "No, no, take it off!" And then, burst into tears.

I grabbed him and held tight. He kept turning toward the mirror and screaming. He was petrified. I ran for the tissue box and started smearing the colors. This, of course, made him look even more hideous and wail louder.

Another eternally long 10 minutes and I finally got it all off. We just sat holding each other and he calmed down. "You know you weren't really a vampire," I said. "And you know Mommy wouldn't let anything happen to you. You are safe."

I also made an executive parenting decision. This is not the time to say, "Besides darling, if you were a real vampire, you wouldn't have even had a reflection." Instead, I hugged him tighter.

"I know," he said, snuffling, and he actually seemed calmer. "But it really looked so real."

The room didn't rock, but there was a shift in my once rock-solid parenting paradigm-a private "Ah-ha" moment.

Halloween is only wonderful because the scary stuff is made up, imperfect and safe.

The scariest stuff is the real stuff, like the need to be a perfect parents. [Or the need to spend $87 billion for a war against terrorism when our education system is in shambles-but that's a different issue.]

Says Stott, "If you are helping them master their fears, sometimes it's better if the make up is not so good. That can be wonderful too."

That day, I took out the face paints and we made the most-imperfect little vampire. And once, I had finished, my son said, "Now, do it again Mommy and this time make it perfect."

Kids Eat Chicago

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