And somehow, somehow Halloween managed to pretty much live up to the hype. The little guy was excited to show off his Captain America costume and equally excited to stay in it, mask and all, the whole evening long. I’m sure the fact that everyone from my fellow comics-geek pals to the thirteen-year-old BFFs of my buddy’s daughter heaped the compliments on him (“Awesome!” and “Sooooo cute!”, respectively) helped immensely. My wife stayed at home base, handing out candy with the other assembled moms, while four other dads and I walked eight children through a high-density neighborhood. The children’s ages ranged from my little girl at 18 months up to about 10 years old. The little guy was the second-youngest in the group which meant that between his shorter legs and his general unsteadiness due to limited visibility (mask plus darkness) he was forever bringing up the rear, but we managed to keep the group together and reasonably under control. The little guy sometimes got his script a little scrambled (more than once he would walk up last and just accept the candy already being doled out, and then as he walked away he would remember to shout “Thank you trick or treat happy Halloween!”) but didn’t seem to mind rarely having the opportunity to ring doorbells himself.
My wife had gotten each kid a felt pail for candy collecting, and the little guy managed to fill one to the point of overflowing into his sister’s. (I spent most of the trek carrying her, as I generally think if a child is too young to even form the words “trick or treat” they should not expect free candy.) The little girl liked holding her own pail, especially as it began to have the comfortable heft of several fun-sized chocolate bars rattling around in it, and by the end of the excursion there was really no getting the handle out of her tiny grip without a fight. She sang a song in time with my steps as I carried her back: “Mine, mine! Mine, mine! Mine, mine!” Did I mention she recently acquired the word “mine” and has taken to it like a wolf cub howling at the moon? Because she totally has. The little girl’s trick-or-treating participation came in stages. First she wanted to be carried because she had no idea what was going on. Then she started to figure out the pattern and insisted on being put down so she could toddle along after the other kids. She never made it to a single front door; she would trail even farther behind than the little guy, follow our mob up a driveway, and make it about halfway before the bigger kids started coming back down with their treats, at which point the little girl would decide, OK, time to go and about-face and follow the mob again. Eventually she refused to even hold my hand, but she was remarkably good at moving herself in the right direction. And then eventually it was time to head back to our basecamp and I carried her once again.
Most of my fellow dads were, I think, halfway jealous that my kids are still at that very young and cuddly stage, and halfway impressed at what troopers they both proved to be. There were no freakouts to speak of, and the neighborhood we were in is one with several houses that go all out with the yard décor and costumed homeowners giving out treats and so on. I kept the little girl out of the more intense and elaborate set-ups, obviously, but the little guy tromped right in with admirable fearlessness time and again. When something intended to startle jumped out or hissed at him, he would flinch reflexively but also laugh, liking the surprise rather than disliking the panic. He is his father’s son, at that.
The most over-the-top of those immersive experience houses turned the whole front yard into a dry-ice fog-shrouded cemetery, with an undead groundskeeper in fairly professional-looking makeup and a passel of gothy-zombie high school girls as restless denizens, I guess. The kids got candy there on our way up the street, and I we stopped by again on the way back just to take some pictures. And to try to make the gothy-zombie girls laugh, because they were obviously trying so hard to be serious and frightening and disturbing. Also me and my buddies are still punks who just like messing with people when the opportunity presents itself. It worked, of course (I mean we do have decades of experience), and really there is nothing more hilarious than a teenage girl dressed like a poorly resurrected tuberculosis victim, who is trying not to laugh but is laughing anyway and is growing increasingly petulant about the fact that she is breaking kayfabe but cannot help herself. I leaned down and told the little guy, who was kinda fascinated by the whole thing, to tell these girls with their deathly pallors and dark-circled eyes and bleeding lips “Feel better!” which he was ,as always, very happy to do. That incongruity got some chuckles from the peanut gallery, too.
So by the time we headed home, the little guy was declaring it officially the Best Night Ever and wishing it could be Halloween every day. If that’s not an unqualified kid outing success, I don’t rightly know what is.