Trick or Treat

“Well, this wasn’t how we expected today to go,” I said as Beth turned out the light Saturday night and we lay in bed, considering the day.

We had big plans for the weekend before Halloween. On Saturday morning, we’d drive out to Potomac Vegetable Farms (, our traditional source for pumpkins. It’s an organic farm operated by the family of a friend of ours from college. We’ve been going there since before Noah was born. We have pumpkin patch pictures of him there from every fall since he was five months old.

In the afternoon, we’d decorate the dogwood tree with the plastic ghosts that have graced it every year since we moved to Takoma and we’d set up our new decorations, too. Noah was of the strongly held opinion this year that the ghost tree and the jack o’ lanterns we nice, but not enough, so we bought a string of ghost lights for the porch, a skeleton whose arms, legs and head seem to emerge from the ground and a ceramic Frankenstein’s monster head candy bowl. The candy goes in his mouth. (I picked that last one. I taught the Shelley novel, the 1930s films and Young Frankenstein for six years in a horror class and I have a soft spot for the monster in all his incarnations.)

Next, Beth would put the finishing touches on Noah’s costume. He’s going as seaweed this year. He has a fish on his head, which causes most people who see the costume to perceive it as a fish costume with seaweed, but he insists he’s seaweed with a fish. Beth needed to attach the seaweed boa and the green strips of fabric to the shirt and pajama bottoms he’s wearing underneath and to cover his crocs with gray fabric meant to suggest rocks on the sea floor.

At five, we’d all march in the Takoma Park Halloween parade, one of the biggest community events of the year. I love this parade. It’s a fun, festive, just barely organized march from downtown Takoma to a local elementary school gym, where snacks are served, music played and prizes for costumes awarded. We’ve been every year since 2003. (In 2002, our first fall in Takoma Park, the parade was cancelled because of the snipers terrorizing suburban Maryland and Virginia (

Sunday we’d invited a friend of Beth’s and her son over to carve pumpkins and eat pumpkin soup. I have a special recipe I like to make every year when we get pumpkins. The soup cooks in a hollowed out pumpkin shell. ( It’s about as showy as my cooking gets these days.

Somewhere in between all these activities, Noah would complete eight pages of math homework and finish his 3D model of the habitat and life stages of the butterfly, Beth would grocery shop and she and I would both clean house. June would be co-operative enough to let us complete all these tasks.

Ambitious plans, but fate, in the form of a stomach bug and weather, intervened. June woke up vomiting on Friday morning. She stayed home from school and I spent most of the day holding her, reading book after book, cuddling on the couch while we watched the same Sesame St. dvd over and over, and taking the occasional break to change her clothes yet again and do the mounds of laundry her illness entailed. The low point of the day came when I was carrying her out the bus stop to wait for Noah’s bus and she threw up all over both of us just as I stepped out onto the front porch. I took her back into the house and left her in the bathroom while I ran outside to ask a waiting dad to get Noah off the bus for me, then I ran back inside to change us both into clean clothes.

We were hoping for a quick recovery and in the morning June did seem marginally better, but by then I’d come down with the bug so we quickly re-arranged our plans. We’d go to the pumpkin patch on Sunday morning before our guests arrived. The rest of Saturday’s plans could go on without June and me. If we were well enough by late afternoon, she could change into her ladybug costume and ride the parade route in her stroller. Otherwise, Beth and Noah would go and I’d stay home with her.

So I spent another day cuddling with a lethargic toddler while Beth and Noah passed a busy day shopping, and working on his homework and his costume. The costume was ready by parade time. June, however, was not ready, having woken up from her afternoon nap vomiting again, and as it turned out, the parade wasn’t ready either. Rain moved it inside the school in a much-abbreviated form. Beth and Noah made the best of it. Noah’s seaweed costume was admired, if misperceived, by other marchers, though as he mentioned when he got home, he didn’t win a prize or get his picture in the paper as he did last year. I told him that probably wouldn’t happen every year and he said he and Beth had talked about that. He added in a charitable tone that other people needed to have their turns, too.

Saturday night June spent much of the night waking, dry heaving and then screaming in rage. (She’s not a docile patient.) In the morning Beth and Noah weren’t feeling too hot either, so we decided, with some regret, to call off the trip to the pumpkin patch and to warn our guests away from our house of contagion. Beth picked up pumpkins and some more groceries at the Co-op, the farmers’ market and the supermarket. By late afternoon Noah’s homework was finished, and everyone had perked up enough to think about finishing decorating the yard. Beth had strung up the ghost lights the night before and she and Noah had arranged the skeleton that morning. While Beth rummaged around in the basement, looking for the tree ghosts, June suggested we take a little walk to the holly tree at the end of the block and back. Beth had said the day before that June was like a “slow-motion version” of herself and this was evident during our walk. She didn’t run ahead of me and displayed no interest whatsoever in dashing into the street. She even held my hand without objection. Halfway, there, though, she stopped and said, “Carry me.”

I picked her up and said we’d better go back home. She protested, but without force. I took her back to the porch and settled her into the sky chair. She asked for some pretzels and ate them in the chair while she watched Beth and Noah decorate the tree, commenting occasionally but never making a move to join the action. I stayed with her on the porch, happy to watch, too. It was good to be outside after being cooped up inside all weekend. It was a beautiful late October afternoon. Cool, but not cold, and suffused with golden light.

Next we moved inside to carve our jack o’ lanterns, or in Beth’s and my case, our Barack o’ lanterns ( Noah used a stencil of a spider (with a good deal of assistance from Beth) and I carved a happy face for June’s pumpkin. It was almost the kids’ bedtime when we finished so we fed them a quick dinner (Beth and were both queasy again and skipped dinner—it was just as well we’d abandoned the idea the rather time-intensive pumpkin soup earlier in the day when Beth was unable to find a baking pumpkin) and we sent them off to bed. By now Noah was complaining of a stomachache again.

It took an hour to get June settled, but once she was finally asleep, and once I’d showered and boiled the pumpkins seeds and gotten them about half roasted before deciding to turn off the oven and finish the next day, Beth and I dropped back into bed. “It’s amazing how much we got done this weekend,” she said. I’d just been thinking silently about the cleaning we hadn’t done. The living room, dining room and kitchen were all a mess, but she was right. It was a lot: Noah’s costume, his butterfly project, the parade, and the decorating and carving, not to mention all the extra laundry. Beth had also done the grocery shopping and I’d cleaned the bathroom. All while sick and tending sick kids.

Fate played us some mean tricks this weekend, but there were treats as well, the sight of our son dressed as kelp, our spooky yard, and the smell of roasted pumpkin seeds wafting into the bedroom as we drifted, exhausted, off to sleep.