Is it November yet?
I used to love Halloween. I really did.
When my two daughters were young, they would start planning their costumes roughly 364 days before the big night (though, of course, they changed their minds at least half a dozen times before finally settling on a cowgirl, butterfly, or soccer player). We would either throw together the outfit from whatever wigs and clothing we had at home, or, more likely, buy one for a few bucks on eBay.
Trick-or-treating was a treat back then, too. A group of parents would organize a party. The kids would chow down half a slice of pizza before running off together to ring doorbells and fill their plastic pumpkins with candy; the adults filled wine glasses with chardonnay and took way too many photos. My girls would then come home, spill all their candy out on the floor, sort it into piles for trading, and then fall asleep in a delirious M&M’s coma by 9 p.m., dreaming of their costume for next year.
But now that my kids are teenagers, Halloween has become the social equivalent of New Year’s Eve, with all the same stress and drama involved in trying to scrounge up a date on December 31. Halloween is now about mood swings, peer pressure, and social drama. It hits every raw, exposed emotional nerve for a kid struggling to navigate the world of adolescence, a world made even more complicated when every costume, every party, and every date is posted on Instagram. There’s insta-judgment and insta-comparisons.
It all starts with the costumes. No longer a matter of paying homage to a favorite cartoon character or cutesy animal, choosing a costume now has more to do with body confidence and how you want to present yourself to the world. If you are an alpha girl who feels comfortable in crop tops and bootie shorts, this is a holiday meant for you. (I’m frankly astounded and a bit horrified by the various versions of “sexy cat,” “sexy zombie” and “sexy cowgirl” being marketed to my kids at our local costume shop.)
But if you’re a quieter, more modest sort of kid—like mine—it’s tough. My younger daughter, on that precarious cusp between feeling like a little kid but wanting to look more like a teenager, has torn apart her closet and scoured the Internet trying to decide what to wear. With Halloween only hours away, there is still no final decision. I’ve heard murmurings about Pippi Longstocking (too childish?), Wonder Woman (too ubiquitous?), and some sort of vague steampunk character. There’s also the chance she’ll decide costumes are for toddlers and skip the whole thing.
But the drama builds up to a fever pitch when deciding how to actually spend the night of Halloween. Is it still okay to trick-or-treat when you’re taller than many of the parents handing out candy? If your tastes run more to pumpkin spice lattes than Tootsie Pops, what is the point of collecting all that sugary junk anyway? Is it cool or nerdy to do the same activity as the kindergartners in their Spider-Man and Elsa costumes?
And as we all know, Halloween falls on a Tuesday night this year—possibly the worst night of the week to have a social event. My kids don’t get home from school until close to 5 p.m., and then they have homework and tests to study for before waking up early the next morning to do it all again. As everyone realizes the logistical complications of getting together on a school night, plans to hang out with friends have been made, changed, and cancelled. There have been tears. My older daughter has confided to me that many of the kids she knows plan to use the holiday as an excuse to get drunk—one activity she (thankfully) has no interest in. It’s a long way from when those same kids would get excited over a special Batman-themed peanut butter cup.
So this is what Halloween has become for us—teenage drama ratcheted up about a million notches. I have tried to be the calming influence, saying “It’s a holiday for little kids! It’s no big deal!” But then I hear, “Mom, you just don’t get it, it is a very big deal!” Sigh. Where’s that glass of chardonnay?
In the end, I suspect they’ll play it very chill this year. One or two friends will come over, they’ll eat some treats, and maybe watch a scary movie. I hope it will be fun, but I also know that no matter how fun it is, someone else on Instagram is going to post about something more fun and more cool. I hope they laugh and eat candy and just let it go—but then again, they are teenagers.
*Name has been changed.