Halloween 2010: Where Have You Gone, Norman Rockwell?

There was a time when Halloween was a holiday that occurred somewhere in a vast span of time that ticked slowly away between summer and Christmas (the two official seasons of the year). It was time to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” yet again, devise a homemade costume or don a store-bought princess costume with a mask that completely, unsafely covered my face, and go with friends, unescorted by parents, door to door for as long as we could physically endure the weight of our candy-filled orange plastic jack-o-lanterns.

Sure, he's cute now. But in a few days he'll be a stinking, moldy fruit fly factory. This year we learned that in Florida, it's best to carve at the last minute.

In those days, it was perfectly normal and acceptable for people to send their children out to wander around in the dark, blinded by masks, with no adult supervision, until every last neighbor’s porch light went out. My generation was already past Norman Rockwell times, when we might have expected homemade cookies, popcorn balls and apples. We had to go through all of our candy at the end of the night to make sure everything was professionally packaged and wrapped up tight. This was, of course, not the primary mission of sorting, as far as I was concerned. The real purpose was to weed out all those sticky, cheap orange- and black-wrapped peanut butter taffy candies and to find things that might tempt my brother to trade for chocolate bars or caramels.

These days, as a mom, Halloween comes immediately after a 10-minute summer and signals the official beginning of a high-speed downhill roller-coaster ride through the holidays.  One day you get an e-mail wanting snacks for the class Halloween party and the next thing you know you’re trying to find the aspirin on New Year’s Day. Time goes by a lot quicker when you’re in charge of creating the holiday experiences instead of having them just happen for you.

My son’s Halloween memories won’t resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, either, but we’re doing what we can. Instead of cutting holes in a sheet, we went to Target and bought a Wolverine costume. These costumes are actually not a bad investment because he keeps them for years and wears them on random occasions, mixing and matching according to his bad-guy-battling needs that day. His cost-per-wear ratio is much better in the superhero section of his wardrobe than others, especially formal wear.

Wolverine is the latest addition to my son's superhero wardrobe. We should all have a suit that gives us instant six-pack abs.

This year, for the first time, somebody in our family decided we would have a real jack-o-lantern on the porch in addition to the electric ones. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. Pumpkins are messy and stinky, and you have to pull all the seeds out and roast them. But pumpkin-carving is a Norman Rockwell Halloween kind of thing to do. Fortunately, the pumpkin surgery was conducted by Trevor’s dad and grandparents while I was out of town. I participated via text message, which is much less messy. They left the seeds for me to roast when I got home.

Pumpkin seeds are a healthy snack, high in LDL cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, so I was on board with roasting them and hoped my son would like them, though this would have been totally out of character. True to form, he made a face when he tried one, but my husband and I enjoyed them.

Meanwhile, note to self: In Florida, wait until just before Halloween to carve a pumpkin. Trevor’s little jack-o-lantern may have been authentic and cute, but it quickly turned into a rotting, moldy fruit fly factory on our front porch.

Devil's food mini-cupcakes were topped with white buttercream before being decorated with piped-on buttercream spiders and jack-o-lanterns, then being devoured or destroyed by first-graders.

We’ll probably continue my childhood tradition of watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” at least once, though as an adult it is much more obvious to me that they were desperately trying to fill airtime with that whole Snoopy-in-World-War-II part.

A tradition in its early stages is Trevor’s mom getting a little obsessive and overboard in creating Halloween mini-cupcakes for his class party. When baking for Trevor’s kindergarten party I ran out of time and ended up sticking black spider rings on half of the orange-frosted cupcakes. I was worried that they’d be too scary for the kids, but the spiders were a hit. This year, after taking cake decorating classes, I decided on devil’s food (of course) mini cupcakes with piped buttercream spiders and jack-o-lanterns. I spent a good part of two afternoons baking and decorating two dozen cupcakes, piping tiny black webs for the black widow spiders, which had yellow sprinkle eyes and tiny piped-on red hourglass shapes on their abdomens. (I think those were supposed to be on the bottom side of the spider, but I thought they needed a little color.) Then I piped a dozen little jack-o-lanterns sitting on green grass, with black fondant eyes, tiny piped grins and little green stems and leaves.

The thing about cake decorating is that, even with adults, there comes the moment when the knife hits the cake and your precious creation is destroyed. That’s what cake is for, and I have learned to let go. However, first-graders will bring any cake decorator down to a new level of humility. I saw one of my adorable spider cupcakes tossed heartlessly into the trash without having been tasted. Another ended up on the floor, smashed to oblivion by tiny sneakers. A smarter woman would smear canned frosting and dump sprinkles on the cupcakes and call it a day. But you’ll probably find me bent over dozens of cupcakes again this time next year, creating even more elaborate Halloween themes that are designed to wow the second grade but will probably be apathetically devoured, destroyed or tossed into the trash. I console myself with the thought that sugar in the trash is sugar that’s not in the children.

There’s certainly no shortage of sugar this time of year. My son has been to a trunk-or-treat, a city-sponsored event, his school party and a church party, all of which supplied candy — and that’s before he’s even been trick-or-treating. I would love it if he came home from trick-or-treating with his plastic Spider-Man head filled with nuts, seeds and fruit, but that’s not realistic. I would even be happy if he’d come home with popcorn balls, caramel apples and homemade cookies, but those days are long gone. Instead, we choose corporately packaged sugar and chemicals we know instead of possibly poisoned homemade treats. Where have you gone, Norman Rockwell?

Oh, well. Norman Rockwell or not, Halloween happens. Hopefully, years from now, my son will remember running around our church parish hall, sword-fighting with his costumed friends and plotting and planning a costume that will win the contest next year. Hopefully he’ll remember running from house to house with his friends (forgetting the grown-up security escort), greedily seeking treats from the neighbors. Hopefully he’ll remember helping his dad string orange lights and spider webs in the front yard and carving a jack-o-lantern with his grandma and grandpa. Hopefully I can keep a lid on my nutrition and safety worries long enough to let that happen. We can get back to that on Monday.

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One thought on “Halloween 2010: Where Have You Gone, Norman Rockwell?

  1. Pingback: The Leftover-Fondant Eggless Halloween Cake « Not Another Food Blog

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