Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. From the cheap thrills of decked out houses, corn mazes, and boy-meets-ghoul kinda parties, to the fistfuls of candy consumed, it’s a boo-tiful thing.
And while I loved the holiday as a kid, having my own sent it way up and over the Harvest moon to make it the best holiday of all. From baby pumpkins and toddler kitty cats to tween fairies and scaries, Halloween became an unending parade of happy memories. In fact, when we moved to LA, we made an offer on our house in two seconds flat once we were told it had the most kick ass Halloween ever — freaky June Cleaver would pick the block we live on, especially around October 31st when she’s wielding a meat cleaver. (Watch your neck, Beaver!)
Considering I trick-or-treated until my senior year in high school(!), it never occurred to me that my kids might actually be getting too old for All Hallow’s Eve shenanigans. But a couple of weeks ago when I asked my son what he was going to be for Halloween, he gave me a noncommittal shrug, and my daughter announced she was planning on hightailing it out of our spooky street to go with her friends to case some fancy-pants hyper-Hollywood haunts.
So when my BBF offered us tickets to join a group heading to “The Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns” (Descanso Gardens in LA, Old Westbury Gardens in Long Island if you’re on the East Coast), I jumped at the chance for some good old fashioned Halloween fun, plus 5,000 arty carved pumpkins to boot.
That’s when shit got really scary.
It started just like any good horror movie. The lot of us laughing, having a nice dinner ahead of time, with no inkling about what was coming. We arrived at “The Rise” feeling excited that it was starting to feel like fall — there was a nip in the air (a “chilly” 70-degrees in LA) and the perfect setting for a fun Saturday night with the fam.
The dark maze that loomed ahead seemed sweet and not at all threatening. (I have a long-standing fear of puppets, evil clowns, and twisted carnies, so I do a scan for such things pretty much daily, and especially around Halloween time.) We all started the trail together, with my kids and their friends slightly ahead of me. I’m well-accustomed to the “mom, get away from me,” stance, although I do enjoy watching from a distance like a stalker, voyeur, or garden variety GenX mom — all sort of the same thing.
Normally, that is.
Within five minutes on the pumpkin-studded trail, the kids disappeared into the crowd. The combo platter of low-lit jack-o’-lanterns and blinding iPhone flashes made it nearly impossible to see. I rubbed my eyes, and when my I finally regained my focus, I suddenly realized that not only did I no longer see the young’uns, I’d also lost track of my husband and the other BBFs as well.
Alone and somewhat disoriented, I tried to enjoy the art and artistry of the evening, but as soon as I rolled by the video games themed pumpkins (Pokémon, Grand Theft Auto, etc.), I knew I was doomed. My impulse was to grab my son and point out his faves, but he was nowhere to be found. Ditto on the Kardashians — I hadn’t kept up with my daughter, so there was nobody there for me to pick favorites with. (I enjoy Rob, who looked surprisingly thin and handsome etched on a pumpkin, and without discussing with her, I knew my daughter would be happy that Kourtney was smiling… we both worry about her, the most tortured of the torturous bunch.)
As I lingered in the pop culture area, I heard someone say, “Mom? Where are you?” I breathed a sigh of relief and was pushing my way forward through the crowd when the voice piped up again. Much to my horror, I realized that it was about 50 tones higher than either one of my teens… and was coming from a pint-sized little girl. Just as I leaned in to help what I thought was a lost kid, her dad scooped her up and reassured the frightened child: “Mommy’s looking at Elsa from Frozen — your favorite! Let’s go see her.”
And then, like a chorus of mocking ghosts, I started to hear all sorts of little voices cropping up, excitedly pointing out their favorite characters and going especially nuts over the stunning garden of jack-o’-lantern dinosaurs.
It’s moments like this when the startling realization that the end is nigh creeps into my heart and freezes my blood. With no little hands to press in mine, not to mention nobody to give some major props with me to whomever carved Breaking Bad’s Walter White, this perfect family event became a bit of an emotional nightmare. The longer I walked on what now seemed like an endless trail, the more I felt the heavy weight of nostalgia bearing down.
Is this the last official time my kids will agree without a fuss to spend a Saturday night as a family?
Now that my alter-ego has taken over whoever I was before and permanently mutated me in a creature called MOM, what will my daily adventures look like when they don’t include any of the day-to-day stuff that MOM — both evil villain and superhero – normally does?
Will I spend the rest of my days haunted by memories as I live out my gnarled and decrepit existence an old hag stewing over a toxic brew of lost youth and longing for days gone by?
(OK, that last one was a little over the top, but let’s just say I was totally freaking out.)
The leering jack-o’-lanterns seemed to be having a good laugh at my midlife crisis. It was hellish trying to look normal while my goal was a Scooby Doo exit as fast as humanly possible. Finally, I reached the end of the trail, and like magic, another little voice rose above the din:
“Grandma, that was AWESOME! Can we do it again?”
Without a second longer of staring into that next, great abyss, I hightailed it out of the pumpkin patch. As the dark path opened into the cheery courtyard illuminated by a glowing gift shop, I finally took a second to slow down. Floating above the noise of the blood pounding in my ears, another voice piped up, this time more familiar:
“Where were you mom? You scared us.”
So if you see me dressed up this Halloween as the Mummy, just know I’m celebrating the mystery of that which both thrills and scares us. Because after all, Halloween is a holiday of dualities — it’s at once spooky and sweet — and although ghosts of past and future lurk, there’s always the sanctuary of staying present.
Can I get a boo…. hoo!?