The sound of little voices in the night on Oct. 31 won't be music to my ears as it once was. Halloween is to recent empty nesters what Christmas is to Jews.
Didn't see this coming. Another bump on the unpaved road that leads us from raising children to watching others do it.
It's been years since we took ours trick or treating. Somehow the reality that those times are gone forever didn't settle in until the youngest left last year, and I'm surprised to feel the same way I did when my own mother told me I was too old to go trick or treating. She was right, of course. I can only imagine what homeowners thought of the 17-year-old standing on their front step in a Batman suit.
Then, as now, it's the transition that sucks. Doing a thing or not doing a thing is less trouble than living in-between, haunted and hindered by a halfway state of mind. Finicky October weather only amplifies these unfixed emotions: mild enough for the screen door one day, too cold for it the next.
Autumn! You bitch! You slam the door to summer behind you and prance into the room wearing your wild colors. Those colors are a misdirect. They divert our eyes while you do your dirty work: graying the skies and frosting the lawn. And for all the praise we give you for them, your colors are gone in the blink of an eye! You're a phony. You're the midlife crisis of seasons. I'd like to carve you up like a pumpkin.
Some day I'll really tell fall what I think of her. For now, Halloween's not "boo" so much as "boo-hoo." Poor old Andy handing out candy. Yes, I know. There are bigger things to grieve than the loss of a little hand in yours on Halloween. That doesn't make it any easier, though.
I can hear some of you say, "Damn, Andy, you need mental health services and stuff. Cheer up, dude. Join other families and do Halloween with them!"
I love nephews and nieces and neighbor kids. But they ain't mine. I want my trick or treaters. I want to help my own princess with her wand. To charcoal a black beard on my own robber's face. To shine my own sheriff's star.
Though these same characters will appear at our door next week, they're not cowboys or robbers or princesses. They're ghosts. Every one of them. Apparitions from Halloweens past. The phantoms of children grown up. Souls that have flown.
So, uh, yup. Halloween touches a nerve, all right. The question becomes what to do about it. I think of the contemporary Jewish tradition of going to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas.
I won't trade mini-Snickers for moo goo gai pan. My children grew up, and so should I. I remember the white-haired couples in the neighborhood of my youth. Fact is, these were the best houses of all for trick or treat. They were the most decorated. Spooky music blaring. The biggest candy bars.
That all took time. Time people simply don't have when they're helping their own pirate find his hat. The Halloween environment they created didn't come from out of the blue. It was built from the sights, sounds and smells absorbed from years of walking the sidewalks themselves.
This will be the second Halloween since our youngest flew the coop. I expect it'll be easier than last time, when I truly was, whether it showed or not, a zombie. We'll take the time to get the porch decorated. If the weather cooperates I'll screen spooky Scooby Doo episodes on the garage door. We'll get trinkets to plunk into bags in addition to candy. I may even dust off the Elvis suit.
Talking about it reminds me of why I've dug the holiday all along. And everyone can be a parent on Halloween, right? I'll be the one at the door, not on the sidewalk. The one with the lump in his throat, drinking in the voices and smiles and costumes. Biding this spooky, middling time until the Halloween night I dress up like a grandfather.