by Regan McMahon
Every year before my kids made it to the sugarfest of Halloween night, they always had plenty of fun and treats during the day at their K-8 school, where there were class parties, a carnival and the all-important midday Halloween parade. That’s when each class poses as a group for the camera-clicking. video-shooting parents, and then lines up and parades around the schoolyard for more pictures. At the school they went to, the teachers pick a theme and dress up, too. One year they were all chefs, another year Disney characters, once they all wore togas. After the Halloween parade, the kids play carnival games, eat more treats, and the parents who can swing it stay and take more pictures.
Most years all this went on without me, while I was 40 minutes away across a bay in an office, tied to a computer. I envied those stay-at-home parents or parents who could take off work for an hour or more to watch their kids in a childhood rite of passage. It was a day my son and daughter lived for, plotting their costumes months in advance, changing their ideas 10 times before settling on one. Or in particularly creative – or indecisive -- years, they might choose one for school and a different one for a weekend party or Halloween night.
They would care deeply about getting the details right, pondering if a bathrobe could really pass as a boxer’s robe, if the hot pink leggings were convincing for a flamingo’s legs. And yet after all my help finding accessories in my drawers and closets or running to the Spirit store for a witch’s hat, a plastic sword or some hippie glasses, and all my efforts applying the perfect makeup between 7:30 and 7:50 a.m., more often than not I would miss the grand event.
My husband never missed it, first because his office was nearby, and later when he started working from home. He’d call me at my desk about 2 with the report, telling me what theme the teachers had picked, what kid had the funniest, craziest or most inventive costume, how our kids’ costumes measured up. In the early grades, he always shot video, so I’d get to watch a TV version of the event. When he just took 35mm photos, it might be a week or two before I’d see the developed prints.
Late in my kids’ grade school careers I got a family-friendly boss, who didn’t mind my taking a couple of hours off when I needed to attend school events. (I could always make up the time by working late.) Up until then, I had lived in fear of asking for family-related favors, always wanting to prove that being a mother wouldn’t affect my job performance. I thought I was scoring brownie points by missing Brownie meetings.
But I came to see it was a poor tradeoff. People miss hours of work all the time for car breakdowns, refrigerator deliveries, airport delays, hangovers. Once-a-year school events were more important than that. The newspaper would still come out if I slipped away for part of the afternoon to see my daughter as the Corpse Bride.
Once I started taking the time, I felt so much better – more whole, more connected to my kids’ lives, less like I was missing out. One time I traveled by commuter train for 45 minutes each way to see my son do a scene from “Macbeth” in a high school theater competition. It was a crazy, inconvenient thing to do in the middle of a work day, but I was so happy I did it. The fact that he and the girl playing Lady Macbeth won first place was just icing on the cake. The thrill for me was seeing the performance.
I won’t be seeing their daytime Halloween events this year, since they’re out of grade school. But I still had fun on the weekend trolling the vintage clothing stores with my 14-year-old daughter, helping her create her costume. And when my son came home from college for the weekend, I helped him stuff his Hawk Man costume in the car for the drive back. Halloween remains one of their favorite holidays. And mine, too.