Very Halloweeny, or Three Weekends in October

Halloween is a big deal at our house, nearly as big as Christmas, so early in October I made up a tentative schedule for the three weekends before Halloween, just so we wouldn’t forget anything we’d planned to do.

Weekend 1

The first event was supposed to be a ride on the Halloween train at Cabin John Regional Park. We’d never been on this train and I had a feeling June would be too old for it soon because it’s designed for kids eight and under. Two years ago we took Noah to the scarier train at Wheaton Regional Park, but I didn’t think June was quite ready for that one.  If you read this you’ll see why (“If You Dare,” 10/24/11). I was looking forward to a more gently spooky trip, but fate intervened in the forms of cold and rainy weather and the train closed due to wet tracks.  We were all little disappointed, but we promised June to try to work it in later.

As an alternative activity, we went to a thrift store to get June some shoes for her vampire costume. Beth and I thought vampires would wear black, or maybe red shoes, but June picked a pair of white patent leather shoes with heart cutouts along the opening and a small heel. Vampires always wear heels, she informed us.

Weekend 2

The next Thursday when I picked June up from her after-school reading-cooking-art class, she said it was going to be “a very Halloweeny weekend” and it was. It was also a three-day weekend because the kids had Friday off because of a teacher convention and Beth took the day off, too. June’s lacy-sleeved Goth Vampire costume arrived in the mail Thursday and June wore it (including the fake fingertips with blood-red nails she ordered separately) all evening.

The kids had dentist appointments Friday morning and then we went out for lunch at Maggiano’s Little Italy. The D.C. location is a downright cavernous space, with soaring ceilings and huge velvet curtains.  June was suitably impressed. In the bathroom when she noticed the paper towels had the restaurant’s name printed on them, she whispered, “This really is a fancy restaurant.”

After lunch we drove out to the Virginia farm stand where we always buy our pumpkins. We got three jack-o-lantern pumpkins (only three because one of our homegrown pumpkins was big enough to use for this purpose), a soup pumpkin, a spaghetti squash, some decorative gourds, and cider. Driving home we listened to the Pandora Halloween station and sang along, which was fun. June liked “Witch Doctor,” Beth was horrified to learn there’s an Alvin and the Chipmunks remake of “Time Warp” and Noah seemed half amused and half embarrassed that the rest of his family was howling during “Werewolves of London,” even though there was no one around to hear us.

That night we carved our jack-o-lanterns. Beth printed out a stack of stencils and chose a Frankenstein head for herself.  June did a spooky tree and Noah did Medusa.  I was intending to do a zombie hand rising from the grave, but when I started to cut into my pumpkin (I had the homegrown one) I found it exceptionally hard to cut. There was green ring in between the skin and the flesh of the pumpkin—I’m guessing I picked it a tad unripe. I realized I’d need to simplify.  I decided a freehand Cyclops would be easy—just one eye and the mouth. Even so I was lucky not to break any of our knives.

Saturday the kids and I decorated the yard while Beth went for her weekly bike ride. Do you live on a street where people decorate for Halloween? Maybe some cobwebs strung over the bushes and a few ghosts dangling from the trees? And is there that one house that looks like a Halloween store truck just pulled up and dumped all its merchandise? That’s our house. We’ve got ghosts big and small, we’ve got skulls and skeletons (some hanging from the porch and one emerging from the ground), we’ve got a giant spider on a web, we’ve got mummies, we’ve got cartoon-like cardboard pumpkins stuck in the ground on pegs, and that’s not counting the things that don’t come out until Halloween proper.

Saturday Noah and I made penne with pumpkin sauce for dinner and Sunday Beth and June baked a tombstone-shaped pumpkin cake, using the second biggest of our homegrown pumpkins. The frosting was cream cheese with crushed gingersnaps and we adorned it with a small plastic skull. It was delicious.

Late Sunday afternoon, we drove out to Cabin John to ride the train.  We only had one ticket because when Beth went to purchase tickets online she snagged the very last one for the 5:00 train. It was unclear if there would be additional tickets available to buy in person so we knew it was possible that June would be riding the train alone.  In the car, she said she hoped we wouldn’t get on, because she wanted to ride alone. I was coming down with a cold, and feeling in low spirits already for other reasons, so it was easy to slide into not quite rational thoughts of how soon she wouldn’t need me for anything any more, which made me sad.  As it turned out, the train was completely sold out for the rest of the day so June did ride alone.

Beth asked if I was upset, as we watched June board the train; I allowed I was. She seemed surprised, and told me when it comes to June’s pulling away, I should “get used to it.” I should, she’s the more independent of the kids. It’s her nature.

Beth, Noah, and I were standing by the fence waiting to watch the train leave the station.  We could see the first few wooden cutouts by the sides of the tracks. Some Halloween themed—a ghost and a black cat, but there was also, inexplicably, a duck.  The whole train ride was a game of I-Spy. All the kids had sheets of images to check off as they saw them.  There were a lot of licensed characters among the Halloween images, Clifford, Elmo, Thomas, etc.

“It was really for younger kids,” June said, somewhat scornfully when she got off twenty minutes later. She had completed her card, however. Every image was xed out in crayon.

As we walked back to the car, Beth took my hand and commented on what a lovely fall afternoon it was. She was right. It was warm—I wore a wool shirt with no jacket—and the light filtering through multi-colored leaves of the tall trees all around us was golden.

Meanwhile, over the course of the weekend, I boiled and roasted pan after pan of pumpkin seeds and Noah was hard at work on his costume.  He’s going as a SmarTrip, (an electronic fare card that works on several D.C. area public transit systems).  He printed out an image of a SmarTrip and drew a grid on it. Then he drew a grid on a big piece of poster board, in preparation to sketch and then paint the card design on it.

Weekend 3

Friday afternoon, June and I took a walk to Maggie’s house to deliver some extra finger-extenders (there were seventy-two in the package and Beth had put the surplus on offer on Facebook). Maggie’s going as a zombie princess and her mom thought she might like blood-red fingernails with her gray and black face paint and tattered gown.  Maggie’s dad invited June to stay for an impromptu play date, so she did.

Saturday morning Noah and Beth made pumpkin waffles for breakfast, with a maple-cream topping, which Beth described as being like a melted maple milkshake. By this point, Noah had sketched the design of his SmarTrip in pencil and painted part of it, but there was a lot of painting left to do, and the Halloween parade was that afternoon at five.

He settled in to spend most of Saturday on the living room floor with his paints and brushes and I settled in to spend it sitting on the floor with him, keeping him company and reading to him.  We started with assigned reading—a chapter of Steinbeck’s The Moon Is Down and three chapters of a Holocaust memoir—so he wouldn’t have to try to cram all his homework into Sunday.  And then we read a little of Grip of the Shadow Plague (from the Fablehaven series) just for fun. I took breaks to clean the bathroom and go on an outing with Beth and June.  Dolci Gelati was giving away free crepe samples (they are really more like filled waffle sticks) and the children of our friends Amy and Amy were having a stand in front of their house selling homegrown decorative gourds, bookmarks, and origami. Given how often June does things like this and how grateful we are when anyone shows up, we felt it was our duty.

Around four, Beth told Noah he needed to stop painting so the paint could dry enough for them to cut a hole in the posterboard for his head. He wasn’t finished and he kept wanting just a little more time, but just before four-thirty, he called it quits and they cut the hole and fashioned grips out of duct tape to stick to the back of the board.  The design was not completely painted, but it was close and from a distance I didn’t think anyone would notice.

We drove to the start of the parade route, which was in a different place this year, the food Co-op parking lot.  Beth and Noah went to wait there while I walked June a few blocks to her friend Claire’s house.  June had elected to skip the parade this year and attend Claire’s family’s Halloween party. It had been a hard decision for her but she was excited to be going.  She was in her vampire costume and chanting, “I want to suck your blood” over and over in a keyed up way.

It felt a little odd to be dropping June off alone at a party that wasn’t just for kids.  I let Claire’s mom know she was a vegetarian (no problem, she was too and wasn’t serving any meat) and checked to make sure there wouldn’t be any scary movies (there wouldn’t) and I left. June had no qualms at all, had already compared costumes with Claire (they were both vampires), and had disappeared into her room.

Back at the parking lot I learned that even though multiple publicity emails said the costume contest would start at five, as soon as Beth and Noah arrived there was an announcement that it would be at five-thirty.  That might have been the last announcement we heard because though there was a man with a bullhorn who often seemed to be talking into it, we could never make out what he was saying.

Five-thirty passed and then 5:45.  The sun had gone down and while I’d been plenty warm in my turtleneck at the beginning of the event I soon realized I’d made a tactical error in not wearing a jacket. We socialized with various people we knew.  A third-grader from June’s bus stop was dressed as a picnic table with cheese, bread, grapes and sparkling juice laid out on it.  The table was balanced on the girl’s shoulders and her head emerged from a basket in the center.  June’s friend the zombie princess was there, along with her family and we chatted with her folks and with the mother of Noah’s best friend from preschool  (we saw the boys talking to each other, too, although I don’t think they recognize or even remember each other).

Because it was crowded, with a lot of people milling around, we didn’t realize the different age groups were marching for the judges until they’d gotten all the way up to the eight to ten group, though there was no danger or Noah missing his cue. He was staying very near the Rec center employee holding the eleven-to-twelve sign.

After the judges had seen all the groups, the parade started moving. Along the route people kept stopping Noah to take his picture. It happened at least four times and many other people yelled compliments or pointed him out to friends. Noah was clearly pleased. Beth said she was glad for his moment of celebrity, and I was too. He rarely seeks the limelight, but he always puts a lot of work into his costumes and he takes pride in them. He wanted to win a prize in the contest for years and when he finally did the year he was ten (and dressed as a newspaper—“The Curse of the Mummy’s Hand” 11/1/11), it was a great victory.

When we passed Claire’s house, there were party-goers watching the parade from the yard and the porch and the balcony, but we didn’t see June.  She told us later she watched part of the parade as it passed but went inside before it was over and didn’t see us.

We were marching to downtown Takoma, where there would be refreshments, a band, activity tables, and the contest winners would be announced.  We weren’t too interested in anything other than finding out who won the contest, though, because it was cold. The parade used to end inside a local elementary school and I thought with longing of its hot, crowded gym.  Beth bought hot chocolate and coffee at Takoma Bistro and we sipped it while we waited.

Finally, the band stopped playing and they started announcing winners.  I missed the two and unders while I’d gone to use the bathroom, again at Takoma Bistro (and perhaps to linger longer than strictly necessary with my hands under the hot air of the dryer).  It was harder to see the winners as they approached the stage than it was at the old location, which was disappointing. I always like to admire the winning costumes.  I heard from the zombie’s mother later that she won scariest in the five-to-seven category but I missed hearing that and she wasn’t there because she’d gotten too cold and gone home.  We were glad that the picnic table won in eight-to-ten because it was a fabulous costume and she deserved it.  In the eleven-to-twelve category there were three winners: the boy holding his own severed head, the girl who walked the parade route on stilts, and… the SmarTrip!

Noah got a certificate and a bag of candy and trinkets and then we left to collect June from Claire’s house, where the kids were engaged in whacking a skull piñata out in the yard. We waited until it was broken and June had her hands full of candy to tell her it was time to go home.  “Did Noah win?” she asked.  We said he had. She didn’t seem surprised or jealous. I’m sure she’ll want march in the parade again some year, but right then she was clutching her piñata booty, full of stories about the party, and happy with her evening. We all were. Even with the main event still a few days away, it had been a very satisfying Halloween season.