Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween At The Mall? Sounds Lame, But It Didn't Suck

Last year a neighbor of mine told me she was taking her toddlers to trick-or-treat at the local mall, rather than traipsing around our neighborhood in the dark.

I was skeptical of the whole idea. The mall is already a place we visit too much. And why skip the festively decorated houses on the blocks south of our condo building? (Condos, it must be noted, are rotten places to trick or treat -- they rarely have a critical mass of kids and enough apartment dwellers willing to open their doors and give out treats).

But then I realized, hey, my kids are afraid to go out in the dark, especially on a street filled with costumed people, most of whom are bigger than they are. They also tire quickly, and I'd be forced to carry them home or schlep around strollers, making it hard to hold their hands when crossing the street or just to keep a close watch on them. They're ready to trick or treat as early as four o'clock, yet in most neighborhoods, the fun isn't even getting started by then, as not enough people are home.

I wasn't sure what happened at a mall trick-or-treat, but I was willing to give it a shot.

Sadly, however, when Halloween rolled around last year, both kids were suffering from bad colds, and they'd barely made it through their preschool day. They'd heard about trick-or-treating from classmates, and were determined to do it, despite being tired, cranky, and probably breaking out in low-grade fevers. Only one was willing to don a costume -- Batman pajamas. Yet they wanted to know what all the Halloween fuss was about, and refused to go home until they got their dose of it. Since it was the first year they were actually cognizant of something called Halloween, and some vague notion of what it is, I felt I'd be a lousy mom if I didn't oblige them and satisfy their curiosity, at least a little.

So for about twenty-five minutes, I schlepped them to a mall where most stores had already run out of candy, having been over-run with costumed kids in the first hour the place began its Halloween festivities. I wound up having to go to a candy store in the mall and letting the kids pick their own candy. They were exhausted but at least they felt they hadn't totally missed out.

This year, I vowed it would be different.

I adjusted my work schedule so I could pick them up early from school. I got them to a bigger mall, about half an hour after the proceedings began, so there was still plenty of free candy to be had. And I managed to convince both kids to don costumes, with the explanation that if they wanted candy in their plastic Jack-O-Lantern buckets, they had to wear them. (They picked the costumes, though -- Lightning McQueen Pit Crew Member for Thing 1, Butterfly for Thing 2.) We met my neighbor and her kids, and we were off and running.

I gotta say, it was much more fun than I imagined, if frenetic. There's something very sweet about a three-level mall packed with roaming bands of costumed cuties, mostly under four feet in height. Whole families were dressed up, adults and kids included (I even spotted two grown-ups in Dr. Seuss Thing 1 and Thing 2 outfits, toting a kid wearing the hat from the Cat In The Hat). There were plentiful costumed babies -- a pea in a pod, a lion, a tiger, Superman (or should I say "Superbaby?"). My kids were admired and cooed at by twenty-something sales associates at various stores, all in costume and giving out candy from baskets and buckets. One, in a witch's hat and striped red and black tights, just couldn't get over my son's adorableness: his sweet, plaintive face looking up at her from under his red Pit Crew hat/headset combo, his wee little voice politely and softly intoning, "Twick or tweat?"

We took a couple of candy-eating breaks, and managed to cover all three levels of the mall in an hour. Thing 2 then decided there were too many "scary kids" with "white eyes" (ghost masks), and it was time to go. We drove back to our neighborhood, where quite a few houses had done it up for the season, and clutches of trick-or-treaters, led by parents, were wending their way through the area. But Thing 2, when invited to get out of the car and continue the candy acquisition, declared it was all too scary. So after a brief drive-by of a house with an inflatable witch tending an inflatable cauldron (the kids called her "Witchy-Poo because dad had dubbed her that in honor of Thing 2's witch hat worn on Thing 2's very first Halloween), it was home to dinner, a showing of IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN from our DVD collection, and one more piece of candy before tooth-brushing.

All in all, it was a much more satisfying treat-or-treat experience than last year, and I didn't mind the mall so much. We didn't buy a thing while we were there -- which has got to be a first for us -- and for a couple of preschoolers who clearly aren't ready for the in-the-dark, house-to-house trolling for goodies, it proved a safe and relatively non-scary Halloween haven.

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