When I was a kid, I loved Halloween. I loved the idea of going door to door to get free treats. My mother mostly made my costumes or sometimes I got a hand-me-down from a friend who had outgrown a store bought costume from years past. It didn’t matter what I was; it was just the idea of getting dressed up and getting free things.
Halloween has really evolved since I was a wee one. When I was a kid, I wore my costume to go trick-or-treating and described it to everyone the next day. Now, kids not only wear their costumes to school but march in a literal parade for oohing and aaahing parents. The costumes–and the parade–have nothing to do with academics or creating a better learning environment and they must create havoc for teachers trying to get children to pay attention during the day of school.
This was Nate’s first year at his new school. Last year, in pre-K, Nate dressed up as a tater tot (see above) and he and his classmates were allowed to watch, but not march in, the school’s Halloween parade. At his new school, however, Kindergartners get to parade, too. It turns out that Chad and I did a stinky job preparing Nate for this year’s Halloween festivities but, to be honest, we had no idea what was coming.
First, the costume. Chad bought Nate a wee policeman uniform. The fabric was cheap and Nate couldn’t stand the texture. He was willing to wear the pants and the hat and not much else, which made him more of a Chippendale than a cop. So we went with a simpler idea: blue long-sleeved polo shirt, blue pants, a sticker that said “Hello, My Name is Christopher Robin,” and a Pooh Bear to tote.
Nate’s school parade was at 9:30 in the morning. So I hung out at his school after drop off to photograph him in the parade. I figured a few of us would show up and we’d call it a day. I had no idea what a big deal it was. More than 200 parents showed up to cheer their kids on. (I counted.) To boot, the parade was outside (since parents can no longer freely go inside school buildings) and it was 44 degrees with a strong wind.
Nate walked in the parade with his assigned neurotypical kindergarten class. Ms. Lauren took Nate to the classroom to line up. When he saw his friends piling out of the room in costume, Ms. Lauren reported that Nate froze. There were colors and sounds and makeup and nobody looked like themselves. It wasn’t right. Then it went downhill from there. Nate removed his Christopher Robin name badge between here and there.By the time they made it outside, Ms. Lauren was wrestling Nate’s Pooh Bear, iPad, and two bags of pretzels while gently pushing Nate forward in the line. Nate? He was hugging a bag of Goldfish crackers, eating them really fast, and looked terrified.
And then Nate saw me. It was all over.
Nate quit the parade and stood by me. Lauren joined us and kept saying she was “pretty sure” it was okay that Nate quit the parade. At this point, I could have cared less if Nate quit school. We cheered on Nate’s pal S as she marched with Ms. Linda and other second grade students. When the parade was over, I told Nate it was time to for me to go home.
Here’s how things went down in Nate’s mind: Mom drops me off at school. The next time I see Mom, she takes him home. This was the next time we saw each other SO IT WAS TIME TO GO HOME. Nate wouldn’t go in the side door with his classmates so Lauren and I took Nate back to the main door of the school to re-create the morning drop-off, wondering if location was part of the issue. It wasn’t. There was kicking, dragging, sobbing, tears. It was so awful. I dug a lollipop out of the bottom of my pocketbook and handed it to Lauren to bribe him back to the classroom. When I picked Nate up, both Ms. Linda and Ms. Lauren greeted me. They shared that it took Nate quite some time to calm down as he was certain he should have gone home with me.
Determined to turn Nate’s day around, after school we went to Friendly’s to get an ice cream treat. I wanted to get Nate the works – so we ordered two scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, and whipped cream (and I helped Nate enter that long sentence into his iPad). We explained to our server that Nate was having a stinky Halloween and this was his special treat. She made Nate a perfect sundae with extra everything, handed it to us, and said it was on the house because no kid should have a stinky Halloween. Talk about a random act of kindness at exactly the right time!
We took Nate’s sundae home and, as he ate his treat, I unpacked his backpack and found this gem in there from his teachers. Turns out Christopher Robin lived, if only for a brief moment, at school!
One school here in Connecticut cancelled their Halloween parade. It made the State news. Repeatedly. It was done out of respect for families who do not participate in Halloween due to religious reasons. The way people reacted, you would have thought the world was ending. So I asked friends on Facebook what their kids’ schools do. Apparently, getting rid of the event is a trend! Some schools have replaced it with “dress as your favorite book character day” or “career day,” where kids don the outfits of vocations they are interested in. Those events are meaningful. They are educational and connected to curricula. Battling kids with inflatable costumes is not. Most of the kids — neurotypical or not — didn’t look to be having fun in the Halloween parade. It was cold. People were starring and parents that they didn’t know were running near them to snap a pic of their classmate.
Chad and I are genuinely considering pulling Nate out of school next year if the Halloween parade continues. It was such a bad experience for Nate. It fell in the “mandatory fun” column except there was no fun. And it reminded me of just how hard these types of unexpected and unusual events are for Nate and for some of his peers on the autism spectrum. It’s a little bah humbug (I know…I crossed my holidays…but still) but we might shelve Halloween for a while. Sweet treats, though — we’ll partake in all year long.