This evening, along with countless Dads in countless malls all across the Halloween-celebrating world, I entered (and survived the initiation of) the time-honoured tradition (since the 90s) of the Mall Trick-Or-Treat. My very pregnant wife and I dressed as unabashed rednecks (read: full 34 week belly in bare open view), and took our two-year old daughter out in her fuzzy cat costume for her very first sampling of the free candy lifestyle. Our first draft of the costume idea included a bottle of Jack for my wife and some tire-treads on the cat costume for the whole roadkill effect, but cooler heads prevailed and we went G-rated instead. Or maybe we just got lazy…
I never once mentioned to my wife that I really wasn’t into it this year. We’ve been pretty busy lately, and on a six-week countdown for the arrival of #2 – so you know the “energy” is “delicate” around the house. Normally we’re all over the pumpkin carving and the cobwebs and spiders and gravestone door knockers and all that good, scary stuff…but not so much this year. Sure, we talked about it like we were excited back at the beginning of the month; we’ve just moved to a new area near a mall, maybe we’ll actually get some trick-or-treaters in this place, and Nyana’s now old enough to do things like walk, hold a bucket, and say “tchickacheet” all by herself. As the days neared, however, finding time to carve a pumpkin was a real challenge, no decorations made their way up, and I was the only one staying up past 10:30 to watch any scary movies.
And that’s how I found myself out on Wednesday morning, shopping for pretty much everything we needed for Halloween night – including a pumpkin bucket and some cheap face makeup for our little one (stuff I should have handled at least a week ago). I was throwing a holiday experience together at the last moment, completely ashamed at my lack of care and desire for a holiday I once proudly declared to be the best holiday of all the holidays. It wasn’t quite a Dad Fail, but I felt like I might be getting close. It was certainly a personal fail, but I kept quiet about it, as I was keeping quiet about my whole disinterest in the whole affair at the mall.
I knew what we were in for: hordes of jacked-up toddlers and kids swarming en masse – in disguise – to anyone with a candy bowl, largely uncontrolled and completely overstimulated, adrenaline and sugar jockeying for space in their little veins and pushing them into the ultimate rush that can only be achieved at Halloween. It was going to be mayhem, it might get ugly, but we had to do it. I had to do it. Hell, if my eight-month-pregnant wife was willing to bare belly in a charming trashy full-term Daisy Duke sendup, the least I could do is match her step for step. At least I got to wear overalls. But what I had forgotten about – what I had completely lost sight of – is why we were doing it. Yes, of course, it’s for the kids, but it didn’t really occur to me what it would do for my kid. Or what it would do for my ever-growing love and admiration for my kid. I barely realized it myself until after we had returned home and I found I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face.
There was our little fuzzy gray kitten with whiskers and nose that took forever for her to let us paint on her face, sitting wide-legged on the couch and digging through her haul of free candy that she went out and walked around for and asked strangers for – all by herself. Going through each piece with the scrutiny of a detective mixed with the excitement of a squirrel, she was happily thrusting packs into our hands, shouting our names and just wanting to share. The whole time, my mind is still reeling from the joyful chaos-ball that we left behind us at the mall, and all of the instant forever memories that we just carved out in our lives. From her looks of excitement as she pulled us down the galleria causeway from store to store, to her looks of confusion and fear as she had to be airlifted out of large insta-mobs of scary-looking action kids. Walking and gripping each of our hands alternately while she never (never!) let go of the precious candy cargo in her spare hand. All of this she did without a tantrum or freakout of any description – and all without her afternoon nap as well (which is almost the most impressive feat of the day). My wife and I could barely keep track of each other as we compared notes and (all three) dug into The Haul and went over each other’s phone photos and relived it all again. And then we ordered some pizza, yo.
The point that I found myself contemplating after it was all said and done was how valuable that short span of time became. It was just one hour. From the time I started getting ready until the time we got back home, it was just under two hours. Two hours of my time, to be there and to be present and participatory, dressing up a bit, throwing on a smile and holding her hand through the throngs and taking pictures and helping her hold her bucket up in the mass of bigger kids’ buckets and all that fun stuff. It reminded me of how easy it can be some times. She’s going to be growing up with this memory of today, and regardless of our neighbourhood or our mall or even the quality of our costumes – I know from her laugh that she had a total blast, and in the end it was a Dad Win, and that’s priceless.