Experiencing Joy on Halloween

This year, my 4-year-old daughter, Betsy, was really into going trick or treating. She was out of her mind excited about it. Me, not so much. I was just the parent taking her.

When she woke up on Halloween morning at 7:14 a.m. the first thing out of her mouth was “When is it going to be 4 o’clock?” That was the time we told her we were going to take her.

She was going as Elsa from the popular movie Frozen. I was going as a Christmas tree from the popular holiday.

Lauren and I had come up with my last-minute costume idea the night before. At the time it seemed cool.

One of my super powers is limiting anything that has the possibility of fun. And since I was already dreading taking her out, I said, “Betsy we are only going to go to ten houses. That is it.”

Betsy is a determined little kid and who doesn’t fully understand counting yet. So, me putting a cap on the number of houses had no effect on her joy.

Throughout the day she kept asking me and Lauren, “How much longer?” And as the responsible parents that we are, we had to keep her talking her out of putting on her Elsa costume on too early.

The weather on Halloween in Chicago is usually cold, windy and mixed with rain and snow, if you are lucky. This year was different. It was mild, sunny and in the 50s.

Still, right before we went out, Lauren and I had to give Betsy some bad news: “You have to put your coat on over your costume.”

But Betsy took it surprisingly well as we reassured her she could keep it coat open, and people would still see her Elsa dress. Not to mention she was wearing Elsa shoes, an Elsa mask and carrying an Elsa trick-or-treat bag, so if people did not get what she was, it wouldn’t be on her.

I turned into the Grinch, and really did not want to wear my Christmas tree costume. I was tired and didn’t make the effort. But Betsy was so insistent that I wear my Christmas tree costume, and I did not want to disappoint her, so I  let Lauren safety pin a large piece of green felt to my hoody.

So, at 4:03 p.m., an odd-shaped Christmas tree and Elsa and headed out and walked toward Judson Avenue, a tree-lined street with historic homes a couple blocks from our house. The weather was even warmer than the temperature on my phone, and I ended up carrying Betsy’s coat the whole time.

As we started out, I repeated “Only ten houses.”

Then we turned the corner onto Judson, and hit out first house. An elderly, South Evanston couple was sitting on their porch. They both seemed like retired Northwestern professors who had bought their house in the 1980s when you could still buy a house in this neighborhood on two teachers’ salaries. The woman was holding a very long, plastic PVC tube held together with too much neon orange duct tape that they used to shoot the candy down to us. I commented, “This is a good idea!” thinking, “How did they come up with such great idea?” She told me they got the pipe from Home Depot.

I was a little surprised that Grandma and Grandpa Evanston would shop at a corporate big box store.

I didn’t realize until a few houses later that they were not the only ones to come up with this PVC-candy-tubing-thing. Lauren told me later it was an idea that had become such an internet sensation that the City of Evanston as well as other places around the country made this one of the recommended ways to safely dispense candy this year.

Lauren had warned me that Judson can get packed with kids during Trick or Treating. Since I am one of the few people in the neighborhood who takes social distancing seriously, I made it my mission to avoid the other Trick or Treaters and their parents.

So, after Grandma and Grandpa Evanston shot three Fun Size Snickers Bars down their plastic tube, Betsy and I crossed the street the street to avoid a 6-year-old girl dressed as the Chuckie doll from those scary slasher movies. (Are kids that young into slasher movies?)

The next house was an old gray Victorian a with big porch where a short, bald man with no personality had just finished setting out 14 brown paper lunch bags filled with candy on two cardboard Amazon boxes. As he headed back into his house, he flatly said, “Take one.”

Betsy studied them all carefully and picked one and to put in her bag. I waited a couple of seconds until the short, bald man with no personality’s back was turned, and then shoved a brown paper lunch sack in my Halloween bag, like I was shoplifting.

When we were done, Chuckie and her parents were closing in, so I hustled Betsy to the next house, but instead she stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk  and squealed with excitement as she saw to two young brothers, dressed in these inflatable dinosaur costumes coming from the house we were about to go to up too.

“Look at the Dinosaur!” she screamed, as if she had just seen a Disney princess in person. My first thought: “Those costumes had to cost a fortune,” was followed by second one: “we got to kept moving.”

The thing is you can’t deny a child’s excitement. Even though sometimes you can’t get excited yourself, you can get excited watching them get excited. It’s like a contact high.

And then something hit me:  She is not going to be excited like this forever. One day she will outgrow Halloween. She will no longer care if I wear a costume or not. She will no longer make sure I take candy for my bag, too. She will no longer believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

Parents tell me this time is special and it will go fast. And it’s true. It’s not the big event in child’s life, it the small moments and if you don’t pay attention you will miss them. This was one of those moments.  So, at that point I stop counting houses.

I started appreciating the unseasonably warm weather.

The kindness of my neighbors during a pandemic.

The joy took over and we went to house after house after house, until Betsy’s bag was so filled with candy that it became too heavy for her to carry.

I didn’t want to stop, but her little arms and tiny legs where getting tired. She was done. We went home and sat on the rug in the living room and sorted our candy together. She had a mountain of candy, $40 worth. She kept repeating, “I did pretty well.” And then she would look at my sad little pile. “You did pretty well, too, Daddy.” “We both did pretty well.”

When I was a kid, joy was not something that could be trusted. It always ended badly. Whenever I got excited about something, it was always followed by, “What are you so happy about?”

So, I developed a great survival technique to preempt joy at all costs.

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to become a parent in the first place, so I could stop being such a buzz kill and instead have more joy in my life. And this Halloween, I did.

Are you a storyteller who wants to get more laughs? Sign up for Jimmy’s Finding the Funny in Your Story online storytelling workshop on Nov. 21! Only 3 spots left!