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TODAY

Monday, June 17

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When I was kid I trick or treated on leaf-lined, well-lit streets, with hordes of children collecting an unbelievable amount of candy, so much that we had to make a few stops at home to unload our stash before setting out again. The porch lights were all on, the people were friendly, and there was no shortage of candy, from Smarties to Sixlets. I swear I am not remembering this through rose colored hindsight vision goggles. It really happened that way; you can ask my brother, he was there. As we all know, we're not raising kids in a small northeastern city circa 1975. It's big city, new millennium, culture of fear and all of that. Let's face it, though. Kids don't care about any of that. They just want to put on a ninja suit and run from house to house until their plastic pumpkins are too heavy to carry and eat 800 skittles. The grown-ups are the ones with the issues, so, really, the big change as far as I can see is that trick or treating is no longer for kids only; it's a family activity. Having grown up this way, my kids think nothing of having a few adults walking behind them blabbing their heads off and eating all of the Almond Joys, so it's not a problem for them. I guess they don't miss what they never had, right? It bothers me, though, that things shifted to the point that no one feels safe enough, anywhere, to let the kids go as wild as we did on Halloween, and to trust that they will be okay.

One thing I definitely remember was that trick or treating didn't really begin until it was dark out, unless you were under six and went with your mother in the daylight. The after school hours were spent perfecting your costume and gulping down dinner so you could get out there as soon as possible. Now, the action starts as early as 3:00, and many kids are being driven to neighborhoods other than their own, either to join friends, or because their own neighborhoods are not conducive to neighborly interaction. As kids, we would never have considered getting into a car and driving somewhere to trick or treat, but that's what happens here, and I'm glad people do it. If you live in a neighborhood where trick or treating is difficult or dangerous, you have a choice between not doing it or driving your kids to a neighborhood where there is good, friendly action, and I say by all means get out there. Halloween is the best holiday of the year, if only because it gives kids a chance to see that a lot of people are friendly and happy to give them something, just because they are kids, and there is no reason for any kid to miss out on that.

We traditionally trick or treat in Galewood because my kids have good pals that live there. The neighborhood is consistently great, and the people go all out with decorations and friendliness, putting the experience on par with my childhood trick or treating. There is also the Mars factory factor. If you've never seen the Mars Factory, it's worth a trip even if it's not Halloween. The lawn is perfectly manicured, entirely without a stray grass, weed or leaf to mar the expanse, with perfectly spaced identical flower beds, tulips in spring, canna lilies in summer and mums in the fall. No one ever goes in, and no one ever comes out. Well, not exactly. The health department was there shutting the place down earlier this year (it's now reopened), and on Halloween a giant M&M comes out and hands out full-sized candy bars to every man, woman and child. If you've got a baby in a sling or stroller, you'll get an extra shoved into your bag.

After the Mars factory, the next stop is one of those houses that just goes over the top for Halloween. Apparently the man of the house has a Halloween birthday so he feels it is his civic duty to promote the holiday by constructing a Halloween-themed display every year. This year the theme seems to be shaping up into "haunted castle." Last year it was "haunted pirate ship," setting the tone for all the Jack Sparrows sure to be reeling around neighborhoods all over town this year. They even set up a photo-op, complete with hay bales and seasonal decor. So we go to Galewood for the 3-6 shift, then come home, eat some dinner and head back out for the neighborhood rounds.

Despite my enthusiasm for both Galewood and full sized Milky Ways, I struggle with this decision every year, because as much as I love taking my kids trick or treating, I love handing out candy just as much. If I'm in Galewood I can't be home to hand out our treats to the neighborhood kids. As the neighborhood oddity, I feel it is my duty to represent all that is good about Halloween for the kids on my street who face dark houses, cheap candy and too many kids wearing only a hooded sweatshirt for their costume. I leave insistent notes for my husband to make sure that he lights the pumpkins, turns on the porch lights and otherwise plays the role of psychotically cheerful candy distributor, but he doesn't get home until 5:30! What about the hours from 3:00 on? There are children, on my street, not getting candy from us. You can see how this is a problem.

The other issue is that my well-turned out children are not representing in their neighborhood. The more fortunate Galewood residents will be the recipients of my kids freshly costumed energy. My daughter's death-like pall, and seaweed strewn thrift store gown will look dragged straight from the bottom of the deep blue sea in Galewood, but may look tired and bedraggled when it plays in Belmont Cragin. The little karate champion will most likely pass out after Galewood, and will not even drag his tired self down our side of the street, let alone the whole neighborhood. The skeleton will be sprightly and boney looking in both places, though his demeanor may well have gone south by then, and no one cares for a cranky skeleton.

The other thing we did not have as kids, at least not that I was aware of, were people who thought that Halloween was evil, which is absolutely the case these days, and I'm sure that if I am aware of that particular brand of fundamental wackiness here in Chicago, those in rural areas are probably getting it in much larger doses. When my daughter was in kindergarten I hung out every morning with all of the kids before they went into their classroom. On Halloween all of the kids were wearing their costumes, which ranged from homemade kitten princess (guess who) to the boy dressed in the cheap costume version of Munch's Scream, including squirting blood, but one girl was just wearing her regulation navy and whites. I asked her why she wasn't wearing her costume and she said in all seriousness that it was the devil's birthday. This was obviously wildly inappropriate of me, but before I could stop myself, I said, "No it's not, sweetie." Imagine being five and never before being confronted with so many hell-bound, birthday celebrating revelers, and then having an otherwise sensible seeming adult join in the smashing of all that you held true. Sorry, little girl, but it's most definitely not the devil's birthday. It's the day when the vale between the spirit world and our world is thin! Spirits walk the earth looking for good little girls to bewitch with pink Power Ranger costumes at the Jewel! (Insert witch cackle.) That kindergarten day for her may well have been similar to the scene in Rosemary's Baby when poor, pregnant Mia Farrow discovers her kindly old neighbors are, in fact, crazy Satanists, who have brainwashed her husband and impregnated her with the devil's spawn. Well, maybe not quite that bad.

Amusingly, we have some neighbors who hold these very beliefs! The kids don't trick or treat, and they put a sign in their window saying something along the lines of "We're Christians, We Don't Celebrate Halloween." Whatever. They may as well hang a sign that says "Throw Eggs At Our House." I doubt the kids are suffering in the free candy department. I give them giant Ziplock bags full of sympathy candy, which I'm certain they add to the pile they collect from the other neighbors, and they go to some church sponsored event which is probably rolling in candy that was washed in the blood of the lamb. The weird thing is that these are not mean people who hate us all the time. They are very nice to my kids, and often take my son to Chuck E. Cheese and the zoo, but I guess they think we're going to hell because we like to carve jack o'lanterns and give out fun-sized candy bars. I'd rather go to hell than Chuck E. Cheese any day of the week, though, so there's that.

I'd prefer that my neighbors not give any thought as to where we may or may not be spending eternity, based upon our holiday celebrating choices, but since many people probably believe I'm going to hell for lots of reasons that don't include the celebration of Halloween, I'm not going to worry about it. I'll just continue to live in my own personal little fantasyland where all kids are shrieking with joy as they trick or treat on a beautiful autumn night, where everyone gives out Reese's peanut butter cups, and no one turns off their porch light and pretends they aren't home when the kids ring the bell.

~*~

Don't miss the Midnight Circus, running through Halloween in Daley Plaza. Showings are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: 11:30, 12:30 and 2:00. Thursday through Sunday: 11:30, 12:30, 2:00, 5:30 and 7:00. On Halloween there will be two shows at 5:30 and 7:00. Stick around for two shows and slide on the Picasso while you are waiting!

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About the Author(s)

Lori Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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