Why Ugly Pumpkins Matter

Halloween is a funny little day.

The pumpkins, the kids playing dress up, the parents decorating and the country buying gobs of candy for kids they don’t even know.  I like it.  It’s actually one of my favorite days of the year.  For me, it heralds in the holiday season, a small glimpse into the wonder that is in store before the year comes to an end.  I actually like it a lot.  I have secretly wondered if I like it more than the kids but the jury is still out on that one.  We are neck in neck in our enthusiasm.

So I was a bit surprised as I showed up to church on Sunday two weeks ago to hear the preacher talk about my favorite holiday as he did.  I like our preacher.  A very down to earth practical man whose words are often nail-on-the-headish and more than once I have looked around a little nervously and wondered if anyone else in the congregation knew that he was talking directly to me.  That Sunday, two weeks before Halloween, was not like that at all.  Before his call to worship, he made a call for candy to the congregation.  They apparently needed a LOT of candy.  Their non-Halloween celebration,  “Harvest Celebration”, needed loads of candy to lure the kids in and save these poor children from having to, I kid you not because these were his exact words… “beg candy from strangers”.

I was good until the “beg candy from strangers” part popped out.

He and I had to part ways on that one but, even so, I actually thought about bringing the kids up to the church and spending a family night with the church family, investing in the church family.  I understand why the church feels like they do and I understand for some families that’s a good option  but, here’s the thing…I believe in neighborhoods.  I think there is a whole lot to be said for investing in your neighborhood. So, being the rebel I am, I opted my kids out of the church celebration with a little guilt and we decided to have a traditional night of Halloween.

I don’t believe in the gory or scary Halloween.  I believe Halloween is for the little guys and I won’t do anything to make them uncomfortable or scared.  No blood, no guts, no masks, no spiders, no mummies, no skeletons.  I am all for cute pumpkins, orange lights, and some sweet scarecrows.  Cute spiders are sometimes passable.

My daughter, who last year at fourteen decided she was too old for trick or treating, was overruled this year at fifteen by her 4.4 GPA sophomore girlfriends who decided it might just be fun to dress up. One of the girl’s family invited the girls over for the pre-trick/treat pizza party and then they set out together, in our neighborhood, to giggle and be girls.  Not one of them wore a skimpy or revealing costume or high heels…we had a wizard, a candy corn princess, a pilot in a full flight suit and Alice in Wonderland (dress down to her KNEES) and they giggled the night away with calls to parents in between for location checks.

My boys and I started our Halloween with some pumpkin carving.  Boys and knives make me nervous but we survived with no real blood being shed.  The boys and I carved the old fashioned face pumpkins…triangle eyes and crooked mouths with no-pin-hole fancy-pants-designer pumpkins.  They were as ugly as the day is long but they were originals and each of my boy had to scoop out the mucky goop himself…despite the autistic complaints of how gross it really was and couldn’t he just go back inside and play a video game.

We cleaned up the mess, turned on our Halloween lights, lit the pumpkins and then we did this new thing we have never done before.  We put our bowl of candy on a bar stool outside by the front door with a note taped to the door.  We crossed our fingers that the trick or treaters would be kind and leave some candy for those that came after them.  We then got our costumes, mom too, and we headed out.  Being the autistic boy in the neighborhood does not win us any popularity contests so we did not receive invitations to join anyone.  But, despite the fact that I am a single momma, we are a solid family unit, we don’t spend our week scattered to the wind and doing things ourselves is not unusual.

We set off to trick or treat by ourselves but, just four houses in, this crazy funny thing happened.  We stopped a street over and we came upon the classmate who lived there with another boy from our school.  They are not friends with my boys but they are not enemies either and my youngest played ball with one of the boys a few years ago.  No one was impressed with one another early on but we were synced into the same trick or treat pace so we kind of just quietly fell in together.  When it came time for us to leave their street in the neighborhood and venture to another house we’d heard of that was having a kid-built haunted house, the two boys with us were not allowed to go.  They were trick or treating without parents and had to stay on their street.  I told the boys if they called and got their parents permission, they could go with us.  They boys did and so we ventured off farther to find the scary house.

And somewhere in our imperfect-ugly-pumpkin night, the four unconnected and mismatched boys became a foursome and my autistic son became part of the group.  Not forced but rather assimilated, even osmosis-ed you might say.  In the walking and the running and the candy eating, the boys became a pack of kids in a neighborhood just being boys on Halloween. These moments don’t come often so I watched silently and appreciated the imperfect-ugly-pumpkin goodness we’d stumbled upon.

Eventually, as the night wore on, my son on the spectrum grew hot and tired and the autistic, imperfect-ugly-pumpkin social skills began to soak through.  At the next house, instead of announcing ‘trick or treat’, he asked, “Is there any water in that candy bowl?  I’d rather have some water.”  Those neighbors had no water to offer but the very next house was his old boy scout leader and his wife is a friend.  Their boys are the same ages as my three kids so we run into one another a lot.  At this door, the boy scout leader brought my boy a chilled bottle of water to get him through the walk back  home.  We walked the other boys home and when we arrived back to our house we were surprised to find our candy bowl, still half-full, still sitting where we had left it on top of our bar stool.

We all smiled because Halloween is good and the candy bowl proved people are good too and our night proved that imperfect-ugly-pumpkin nights can turn out to be the very best ones of all.  Halloween is obviously a good night for candy but it’s really good for kids too and it’s good for neighborhoods to have a chance to come together and see one another because, anymore, it seems like people mostly live behind locked doors.  It’s good for the grown ups to see the kids who live around them.  It’s good for kids to go to front doors just to say hello and please and thank you and it’s good for autism to weave its sparkle a little deeper into the hearts of the village in which it lives.

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