Many consider Halloween to be a fun-filled time of celebration that kicks off fall and ushers in the oncoming holiday season. Adults and children alike look forward to the day they can dress up as someone or something else, hide behind their masks, startle and scare their friends, enjoy a bonfire or hayride, and gather plenty of goodies and snacks in the name of fun.
I, however, have never been much of a fan. I do not enjoy scary movies, for the world is scary enough as it is. I always feel horrible after partaking in the candy that is everywhere and hard to resist. My allergies are not fond of either a hayride or a bonfire. And while I do get some entertainment from the costumes, it is more from seeing the creativity humans can produce and less from the idea of spending time and money planning for something you will wear only once or at most once a year.
Then there is the fact that I am an absolute chicken. Not sure if you have noticed, but I am not a fan of the dark. My entire mission is to stay in the light as much as possible. My creative and sensitive mind is a waiting sponge for emotions and images, and I will absorb what I put in front of me. So, if I put scary images and darkness in front of my eyes, my heart takes it on, which results in a long night with the lights on. Being someone who battles fear regularly makes the desire to run away from all things Halloween even greater.
That’s right, I am the Halloween scrooge. I will claim it.
So, I can just skip the holiday and hang out with old comedy reruns or an uplifting rom-com and a salad? Not so much. Kind of like Paul, I do the things I do not want to do.
Because I have kids that love Halloween.
When my boys were younger and in public school, they wanted more than anything to fit in with their peers. Between the medical issues and the Autism spectrum, this was not a minor task. Despite my assurances that it was okay to be different, this was not a message young children embraced easily. They wanted to take part in school activities like their friends did. So, we tried.
We tried to keep up with the same events and activities that every other child was participating in. We prepped costumes for school and trick-or-treating, bought pumpkins for carving, went to all the parties and trunk-or-treats, bought all the candy, passed out the candy, collected the candy, sorted the candy, and ate the candy. I even had some fun with the family costumes and discovered planning the non-scary themes for our family brought out my creative side. It was all going great.
Until it wasn’t.
Because trying to wear a mask that wasn’t made for you isn’t all that fun. No matter how hard you try, it just doesn’t fit. It started with blood sugar nightmares from my older son’s allowed candy indulgence. Because we all know that candy and type 1 diabetes mix well. Not so much. What followed were tantrums at the candy limitations. Then there were asthma attacks and rashes from my younger son from the same costume that would not stop getting caught in the wheels of his wheelchair. There were fits when we could not get that same wheelchair up to someone’s door for the beloved trick-or-treat announcement. There was hyperactivity resulting from the change of routine, the noise, or the constant shouts of “boo” from their friends. And so on and so on.
This participation thing was not all it was cracked up to be. It was like wearing someone else’s shoes in a marathon with no finish line.
Most that are parenting children with special needs learn over time that when your child can’t do the special thing that everyone else is doing, you create a special thing of your own. We did just that. We found a way to celebrate without having to wear masks and pretend we were all the same. We stopped trying to go and do and keep up with everyone else. We recognized the way of the world just didn’t work for us. And so the dipping parties were born.
The concept was simple. We each pick our favorite dinner snacks, cook it all in one night, and dip our treats in as many sauces as we can think of. From chicken strips to pizza rolls, from summer sausage to corn dogs, we make it all. We fill tons of tiny cups with sauces and make a dipping buffet. We enjoy that buffet in front of a movie (preferably not scary) that teaches a lesson about the battle of darkness and light. We stay up late, cuddle in our blankets, and enjoy the change in routine that has become routine over the last ten years.
This year, we set out on our same adventure. As my boys have gotten older, I have involved them with more of the cooking and preparing for our party, granting myself a few more minutes to finish up a few more tasks for work before the celebration begins. This is not a simple process, because calculating oven temperatures for seven kinds of foods to be cooked all at once has its challenges. But they have done well with it . . . most of the time. As we settled in with our trays of sauces and the opening credits began to flood the screen, I selected the honey mustard, dipped, and took a big bite of a dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget.
On the inside. The false presentation of that chicken nugget enhanced my shock, for the outside was toasty hot. The inside was bone-chilling cold. That shocking bite of chicken brought this chicken back to the thoughts about pretending to be something you are not.
The combination of our history with Halloween and that unexpected dinner presentation reminded me of how many times a day I am still wearing the mask. Of how many times a day I am still trying to chase someone else’s dreams that I know do not fit me. Of how many times a day I am doing something just because everyone else is doing it and I want to fit in, despite what I know to be true. As I sat there staring at my plate, I realized how often I still was being that chicken. Running the race, looking promising, toasty hot with presented progress, but on the inside . . . still cold.
The truth—I am not done cooking.
And I won’t ever be if I keep trying to masquerade as something I am not. I already learned with my children that kind of life is exhausting and not worth it. Why can I not learn the same lesson about my mind and my heart. I don’t want to look like I have it all together, only for all to discover the inside doesn’t match. I don’t want to wear myself out running a road that was not mine to travel. I don’t want to wear a mask that was not made for me. Instead, I want people to see me as I really am, scary or not. I want to be completely warm through and through—every day.
Despite what I want, I often miss the mark.
Sometimes I try to cook up too many things at once. Sometimes I miscalculate the time, getting in a hurry for the reward. This leaves me hiding behind warmth and smiles, putting that mask on the outside because I am scared people may not like what is underneath.
But I don’t have to live that way. And neither do you.
We can choose to do a special thing of our own. We can choose to do things differently, intentionally, and thoroughly. Even though it may not be the way everyone else is celebrating, it will still be a great party.
Lessons for the day. We don’t have to be a chicken. We don’t have to be a misleading chicken. We certainly don’t have to be someone else’s misleading chicken. It is time we stop trying to make someone else’s mask fit and be the original that God created us to be, inside and out.