My Porch Light Is on for Everyone . . . Even Teenagers
You’re never too old to trick-or-treat
Twix bars. Peppermint Patties. Kit Kats. Three Musketeers. Skittles. Reeses cups. Snickers. (Those last two are a new addition to our trick-or-treat basket since my son with food allergies now lives in Florida). Pretzels shaped like bats and goldfish for the very littlest haunts. I even threw in a bag of dum dums, “just in case”.
And, at the very last minute, I added the Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids that I know are a hit with the older crew.
I pushed my Halloween candy laden cart to the checkout and groaned inwardly at the long line. Normally, I don’t wait until the last minute to pick up the goodies, but I was out of town last week. And although I left “Halloween candy” clearly written on the store list, my husband didn’t know what I “meant by that.”
Real Talk about Halloween
I picked the shortest line and fell in behind a mom with two toddlers playing patty-cake in her basket. She was chatting with an older woman, presumably her mom, or mother-in-law. I scrolled through my phone and tried not to listen to their conversation. The younger woman was talking about a Trunk-or-Treat and how ridiculous it was that it didn’t start until 6 p.m., which was “way too late for little kids”.
The older woman pointed out that many people don’t get off work until 5 or 6, and it was “only one night.”
For the first time I realized I was closer in age to the grandma than the mom. Whoa!
As I was trying to wrap my head around that, the younger mom turned her attention to me. She looked me up and down judgmentally. Had I been staring at them?
“That’s a lot of candy,” she observed.
I nodded, relieved. “Yes,” I said. “It’s hard to guess what the crowds will be like this year, but sometimes we get 1000 kids for trick-or-treat.” No lie.
Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Where do you live?”
I told her. And explained, “Before COVID carloads of kids would get dropped off to trick-or-treat. One year there was even a bus.” I laughed remembering the swarm of pirates and princesses and inflatable sumo wrestlers meandering through the neighborhood.
For some reason, I kept on talking. “Of course, last year was different and I didn’t even have to refill the candy bucket once. But still . . . better to be prepared.”
Trick-or-treat done right
The older woman chimed in. “You mean kids that don’t even live there come for your candy?” Her eyes were like dinner plates.
I nodded. Was that really so strange?
I live in the perfect neighborhood for trick-or-treat. There’s a decent number of houses and condos and you can just make it through the entire subdivision in the allotted two hours, if you hustle. Families often sit in their driveways to make it easier for kids to collect their treats.
For the most part, you are guaranteed to get good candy. No Mary Janes or Good and Plenty here. Some houses even give out the full-size candy bars.
But mostly, it’s safe. It’s a closed loop community with cul-de-sacs. There are swarms of people. Police cars and fire trucks patrol the streets. Adults are watching carefully from behind perfectly-painted skeleton faces. And no-one has to worry about, well . . . anything.
If I didn’t live here, it’s the kind of place I’d want my kids to trick-or-treat.
“Oh yeah,” I say. “It’s “It’s no big deal. We expect it now.”
The women shook their heads and exchanged a glance. “The nerve,” said the older one.
The younger mom narrowed her eyes. “And I bet you get a lot of teenagers, too. Ugh.”
“They probably don’t even wear costumes,” the other one chimed in.
I bit my lip. “Weeellllll . . .” I drew out the word, taking my time with a response. “I have three teenagers.”
“Oh,” said the older woman as she shot her eyes to the checkout clerk to see what was taking so long. At least she had the decency to look chagrined.
But the younger one was having none of it. She wrinkled her brow at me and said, “And you let them trick-or-treat?”
“I do,” I said. “If they want to.” A desire which, incidentally, changes by the minute.
She shook her head. “That’s what’s wrong with this country. All you parents who don’t know how to parent, letting your teenagers [she hissed it like it was a bad word] run wild through the streets on Halloween. Ruining things for the little kids. Carrying their pillowcases or a plastic Wal-mart bag. Wearing some dumb mask or black hoodie. Or nothing at all! [I presume she meant no costume and not that kids were actually naked. That might be something to get upset about.]. It’s ridiculous.”
I shrugged. I have a firm policy not to engage in social media debates. And in that moment I decided to extend my rule to grocery store checkout lines as well. I knew there was nothing I could say in the next two minutes that would convince her she was wrong. Her babies were little. She wasn’t ready to hear what I had to say. She wasn’t even willing to imagine them half-grown up one day.
Teens are always welcome
But here’s what I wanted to say . . .
Being a teen is tough enough. Changing bodies. Social pressures. The struggle to fit in. Never-ending pressure to get good grades and hold down a job and volunteer. Endless questions about your plans after high school.
Most days, teens are hovering a line between childhood and adulthood. A line their brains aren’t biologically ready to cross yet.
Because teenagers are still kids. Kids in bigger, smellier bodies no doubt. But kids nonetheless.
And it’s worth noting that kids grow at different speeds. My son, who is 13, has a friend who is 11 who is 5’10” tall and 140 pounds. Anyone looking at him, especially in a costume, would assume he were a teenager. Should this 11-year old boy be deprived of the fun of trick-or-treating just because he’s tall for his age?
And teenagers also have different cognitive abilities. Some 15-year-olds still feel, and act, like 12-year-olds. Ask any high school teacher.
Some have special needs. The 17-year-old standing in front of you might have the cognitive ability of a five-year-old. Halloween might be her very favorite night of the year.
Giving kids the benefit of the doubt
You have no idea what is going on behind the costume.
We are so quick to judge others in this country. Even teens. Especially teens.
“She’s too old to trick -or-treat.”
“That’s not a real costume.”
“Don’t they have anything better to do?”
Why do we do this? What exactly are we hoping to accomplish by shaming teens who just want to be kids for a little while longer?
When it comes to December holidays, we encourage everyone to act like a child. If it’s okay for Christmas morning, why not for Halloween?
If teenagers want to celebrate Halloween traipsing through neighborhoods collecting candy, and saying, “Trick-or-treat,” and “Happy Halloween!” more power to them.
A harmless pursuit
I mean, what is so terrible about a teenager asking for a piece of free candy?
It is infinitely better than egging houses or smashing pumpkins. Or vaping or drinking. Or having sex.
Trick or training is a pretty innocuous way to spend the evening.
As the parent of teenagers I always focused on the things they were doing. Baseball, tennis, chemistry club, guitar lessons, band practice, football. Trick-or-treating. I’d gladly drive across town and back five times a night if it meant I knew my kids were safely engaged in healthy activities.
When it comes to Halloween, I’d much rather have teenagers collecting candy than hanging out at a pop-up haunted house. Those things are death traps that scare the daylights out of me.
Halloween is one day a year. If you want to participate in the fun, whether you are six or sixteen or even, sixty, you will always be welcome at my house.
Costume not required
And costumes are strictly optional.
There are a million reasons that a teenager might show up at your door without a costume. Here are a few:
- Their parent did not buy them a costume (for a variety of reasons)
- They had no money to buy their own costume
- They’re saving their hard-earned money for snacks after trick-or-treat
- Spending money on a costume they’ll wear for two hours seems like a waste
- All their money is going into a college fund
- They decided to go trick-or-treating at the last minute
- Their friend group could not agree on what to be
- They felt self-conscious in the costume they had
- They gave their costume to a younger sibling
- There was a mishap on the way and their costume got destroyed
I could go on.
The point is, the costume is supposed to be part of the fun. But it is not be a prerequisite for candy. Think of all the little kids donning pajamas or who have removed their costumes by the second house because they were too itchy or uncomfortable or otherwise objectionable. Are you going to withhold candy from them too?
My porch light is always on
My house is a safe place for teens on Halloween. And every other day of the year.
If you want some candy or chips or a cup of coffee, my porch light is always on. If you want an open-minded ear to listen, some kindly-offered advice, or you just need a warm hug, my porch light is always on.
If it’s past 9 p.m. you’ll probably have to wake me up. But that’s okay. I don’t sleep well anyway.
I’ve got teenagers.
And, unfortunately, not every day is Halloween.