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Faith in Vermont: When it Doesn't Feel Like the Holidays

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Posted on November 8, 2016 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



“It just doesn’t feel like Halloween this year,” my daughter said on the morning of October 31.

The ghosts that we’d made from an old sheet were hanging in the tree beside our driveway. We’d read Halloween books. We’d baked pumpkin bread. We’d carved five jack-‘o-lanterns on the mudroom floor the previous afternoon. This  same daughter had put together a Halloween party for her sisters, including bobbing for apples, a pumpkin toss, and a scavenger hunt.

Despite our best intentions, we’d missed the Middlebury Spooktacular – a chance to gather in costume on the Town Green and trick-or-treat at local businesses. Every year, we plan to attend the Spooktacular, and every year, for one reason or another, we end up skipping it, to the point that it’s not Halloween unless we miss the Spooktacular (which may be a good thing, since the one year we succeeded in attending the Spooktacular, my father fell from the birch tree he was cutting in our yard and fractured several ribs and vertebrae while we were out!)

But, apparently, it still didn’t feel like Halloween to my daughter.

It was still early, so I reassured her: “Well, I bet once you all get into costume and we meet up with your friends to go trick-or-treating, it’ll start to feel like Halloween.”

Immediately after school let out that afternoon, my four daughters and one friend gathered at my parents’ house to begin the festivities. My parents live in Chipman Park, along one of the two major trick-or-treating thoroughfares in Middlebury (by virtue of sidewalks and homes that are close together), so their house has become our Halloween staging area.

Costumes were donned (Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hobbes from “Calvin and Hobbes,” a unicorn, a horse, and the Statue of Liberty.) We drank apple cider and ate cider doughnuts, the last of the season from Happy Valley Orchard. Our trick-or-treating began at Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation (a tradition that started when we attended a weekly playgroup at Helen Porter, and one that I’d highly recommend to every local family.) After a brief dinner break, we were off again, trick-or-treating around Chipman Park and South Street. Whenever my daughters got cold, which was often, we would duck into my parents’ house and the girls would help distribute candy – something that they enjoy almost more than trick-or-treating.

It was a late, sugar-fueled night, as Halloween always is.

And yet, the very next day, my daughter repeated wistfully, “It just didn’t seem like Halloween this year.”

When I pressed her as to why a Halloween that hadn’t differed in any major way from almost every Halloween before it hadn’t felt like Halloween, she was vague. “I don’t know,” she said, staring out the car windows at the mix of brilliantly colored fall foliage and the bare branches jutting out from piles of earthbound leaves, “it just doesn’t really feel like fall this year, either.”

That same daughter, during that same week, began saying, “I don’t want to grow up, Mommy.” That was the most common wording; at other times it was: “I’m afraid to grow up,” or “I hate growing up. I’m not little anymore.”

“Oh, sweetie,” I kept saying, “that is acompletely normal feeling. I remember feeling exactly the same way when I was your age.”

And I do: Like it was yesterday, I remember staring at the wall opposite my childhood bed and feeling a rising panic at the thought that the easiest part of my life, the part where people took care of all of my needs and told me I was cute, was probably over. What lay ahead looked bleak: a long process of severing from my parents, of leaving home, of being by myself. Of growing up.

This daughter realized recently that the birthday she will celebrate later this month marks her final year in the single digits. Like it or not, she is growing up, and none of us can stop it.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that my daughter’s statements about Halloween and growing up are inextricably linked, two sides of the same angst-y coin.

It seems to me that Halloween -- and all of the other holidays, for that matter -- can only be enjoyed in its fullest sense by the very young. It’s only when you have no expectations and no nostalgia that you can take undiluted joy in a holiday, without comparing it to previous experiences. Once you have, like my daughter, celebrated eight Halloweens, there is almost no way that the reality of Halloween can live up to the idealized memory of Halloween in your head.

This is probably why so many grown-ups pour huge amounts of money and effort into our holiday celebrations: We’re all trying to get back to the ideal Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas. We’re sure it’s out there somewhere, that it’s possible to not feel vaguely depleted and disappointed the next day.

I tell my daughter that growing up can be a wonderful thing: She’ll get to uncover who she really is, she has life-changing relationships and experiences in her future. I know all of this to be true, but I also know that I’m skipping over all of the pain that almost certainly awaits her between here and there. And she knows that I’m skipping over it, too.

I see her listening now whenever my husband and I start to discuss difficult topics. I see her staring at the tabloid magazine in the checkout line, the one with the headline about a serial killer. I see how, behind her jokes about this year’s presidential candidates, she’s as scared and confused as any grownup about our country’s future.

When my husband and I sit in our house at night and talk while our daughters sleep upstairs, it can feel like we’re in a little boat under siege on a dark and stormy ocean. Like we’re trying to beat back the shadows that are coming for our daughters. And we know that it’s futile, like hitting out at the mist with oars, because this is what growing up is.

Do any of us want to grow up, really?

So I will also tell my daughter that growing up can be hard and scary, and maybe the holidays won’t seem quite so fun anymore. But still we celebrate, because even if it never quite lives up to our nostalgia, every holiday is like a little flare that we shoot up into the night sky. And when all of us, in all of our boats bobbing on that dark and stormy sea, shoot up our joyful little flares together, for a moment the darkness lights up as bright as day.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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