Havdalah

Daylight Savings Time disappeared, taking with it our sunlit suppers. We eat dinner by the light of the overhead fixture now, with the Venetian blinds closed, not so much from a sense of privacy as of desgouter. At that dark hour, the window glass reveals nothing but a pale reflection of ourselves masticating.

When we lived in Alaska, during the dark months of the year, the sun would set all mid-afternoon long, skimming so low to the horizon that the alpenglow alone would last an hour. We were more observant in our Jewish rituals then, including the timing of Havdalah, the brief ceremony that separates Shabbat (Sabbath) from the coming week. One should not perform Havdalah until there are three stars visible in the sky, or an approximation of that time if the sky is overcast. In Alaska in December, this meant just after 5PM, which, oddly enough, is the almost exactly the same time it begins in Vermont.

Of all the Jewish rituals we have ever performed as a family, Havdalah is my children’s favorite. It is a short ceremony for which one needs a braided candle, a glass of wine or juice (we use grape or apple juice), and a spice box.  The candle is lit, a few songs are sung, a few prayers are said, the spice box is passed around so that everyone can smell it, the kiddush cup is pompously lofted throughout but not drunk from until the end. Then the candle is extinguished, often by dipping it in the wine or juice, though we prefer to pour the juice over the burning wicks into a paper-towel-lined bowl, because it is easier to clean. The entire ritual requires no more than ten minutes. It is elegant in its simplicity.

On Shabbat, our children take the good with the bad. It is the one day of the week when the family is guaranteed to be together. Yes, there are restrictions, but Mama and Papa are available all day to play games and read stories and take walks. It is the one day of the week when our children get desserts and sweets. We often walk to the library on Shabbat, which they love, because it is the only time during the week when the building is open, and I am not working. 

On the other hand, there are the few restrictions we still enforce – no electronic toys, no telephone, no music in the CD player. And they are still too young to sit still for prayers – even the Friday night rituals at home, especially at that itchy, rebellious hour of the evening. Rose is particular unabashed when it comes to expressing her boredom – resting her head on the table, loud dramatic sighs, low-level whining. Were it not for the promise of grape juice and fresh challah she would probably be completely uncontrollable. As she gets older, her impatience seems to be waning while Samuel’s is waxing.

And yet they both like Havdalah. They ask for it and remind us to do it. When Spring comes and they can’t do Havdalah because it begins after their bedtime, they are a little disappointed. Perhaps they like Havdalah because it means Shabbat is over and they can play music and flick the light switches on and off – but somehow I don’t think so. I think it is something else. I think they are still young enough to appreciate its mysteries. It is like the closing ceremony of a secret society, with fire and chanting and incense and social bonding. For a few minutes, our family becomes an Esoteric Society to which no one else belongs, not even the other Jews in our town, few of whom observe Havdalah.

They like the songs. They get a little crazy. I think there is something exciting and dangerous about the blazing, braided candle dripping hot wax on Mama’s fingers, and the teasing promise of that last sip of grape juice after the candle has been extinguished. When we pass the spice box around, Rose routinely takes a sniff, makes a face, and says something obnoxious like, “Ooo! Gingko stinko!” which set Samuel cackling. I must admit, I don’t care for this behavior, but I don’t want to be a heavy disciplinarian right then either, so I usually let it go. Though it has occurred to me more than once that I ought to replace the cloves and cinnamon with smelling salts. Dawn liked the idea, but we decided it wasn’t good parental modeling.

Billy Jonas Is The Devil

All relationships can teach us something….When we teach a group of children, we’re not teaching the children, we are expressing the true self in a way appropriate to the classroom. Now this may sound idealistic and remote; yet every five minutes we get a chance to work with it.

-Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen

The email arrived Thursday afternoon from the Family Center. Dad’s Playgroup canceled tonight due to illness. The coordinator was sick. His wife was sick. His daughter was sick. The only one in his family not sick was his one-year-old, foreign-born, adopted child. Personally, if I was sick and given the choice between running a playgroup and staying at home with an active one-year-old who doesn’t speak my language and needs lots of attention, I might not have made the same choice. He is a better man than I. Or much sicker than I realized.

At the same time, we heard that the parent meeting at the Montessori school had been canceled because of a snow advisory. Woo hoo! Snow in November! And all our evening plans canceled.

“Dawn,” I offered. “Why don’t you go finish the grocery shopping tonight, and I will stay home with the children.”

“Are you sure?” she said, trying not to sound suspicious of my magnanimity. “What will you do?”

“I thought I might give the kids a treat and let them watch the Billy Jonas DVD that Jack gave us a year ago.”

Rose was in her bedroom, but her radar ears have a highly-tuned, highly-selective hearing. She came running into the kitchen, excited. We watch movies at home maybe four time a year. “Are we going to see a movie?”

“Yes, I thought we should finally sit down and watch the Billy Jonas DVD.”

“Who’s Billy Jonas?” she asked.

“A musician. He plays children’s music of some sort. It’ll be like watching a concert on TV.”

“Can’t we see the Pooh movie, instead?”

The last four movies we’ve watched have been the original Winnie the Pooh movie, thus proving the adage, “Too much is never enough.”

“No, sweet girl. We don’t have it. We own the Piglet Movie that Grandma got you.”

“Can we watch that, then?”

“Let’s watch at least five minutes of Billy Jonas, and then if you don’t like it, we can switch. How’s that?”

“ooookaaay.” Reluctant, but accepting.

The plan was made. The trap was set.

Dawn left to go shopping. The children cleaned up their toys, brushed their teeth, and got their pajamas on in record time. Which isn’t to say that it was particularly efficient or speedy, but relatively speaking, a measurable improvement over most nights.

I found the DVD and we trooped into our bedroom where the laptop computer (our only DVD player) was set up on the desk.

“Papa, can we watch the Piglet movie?”

“No, Rose. We are going to watch Billy Jonas for five minutes first. You might actually like it better than Piglet.”

“ooookaaaay.”

Rose bounced on the bed. Samuel, anticipating a loud musical experience, already had his hands covering his ears and so needed assistance getting on the bed. I started the DVD and sat on the bed next to Rose with Samuel in my lap.

The words “Billy Jonas” appear on the screen swooping and sliding into place, followed by the title, “Bangin’ and Sangin’,” sliding up from below. A young man with long, dark, curly hair and a nose almost a large as my own appeared on a stage holding a large, mostly empty, water cooler tub – the translucent, blue, plastic kind you see perched upside-down on water dispensers in cubicle farm offices. This young man started shaking and slapping his plastic tub with his hands while chanting an African call and response song to a room full of children. The children repeated each line as best they could – apparently not many of them spoke Ewe or Fon or Dengo or Swahili. Go figure.

“Samuel, it isn’t really loud. Do you want to take your hands off your ears?”

He turned and looked up at me, his face blank of expression. “N.. No, Papa.”

“OK.”

“Papa,” Rose asked. “What is he playing?”

“It’s a water cooler tub?”

“That’s silly!”

“Yes, it is.”

“Can we see Piglet now?”

“Let’s watch at least two songs. I thought you liked silly.”

The song ended. The audience applauded. The scene cut to Billy in a studio room surrounded by objects. He explained his shtick, which is making music with found objects. He told his audience-at-home (us) how to make music with old cans, cheese graters, wooden spoons, aluminum foil, etc. He was full of enthusiasm with a bit of humor and touch of the Old School philosophy of Entertaining Children: Louder is Better.

“I have a good idea, Papa. Let’s watch the Piglet movie.”

“Rose! We said we would watch five minutes, that’s two songs.”

“Ooookaaaay.”

Samuel is sitting in my lap watching intently, and I can’t see his face behind his elbows with his hands on his ears, so I ask, “Are you OK, little man?” and he says, “Yes.”

Next Billy Jonas performed Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, with four “instruments,” one on each of his body appendages. I had to admit, it was kind of cool and amazing and very musical in a percussion-heavy, one-man-band manner. It was like observing a street performer, but from a safe distance in case he wants a volunteer from the audience for his next act. He had a half dozen young children who, with the aide of digital video editing, did some funky dance steps that would have me on ibuprofen for a week if I had tried it.

When the song ended, Rose jumped up and said, “Hooray! Let’s go see the Piglet Movie.”

Admitting defeat, I lifted Samuel so I could get off the bed and turn off the DVD. I felt his entire body trembling. I turned him toward me and his face was screwed up tight like the bottom of a tomato. His eyes were wet, and his hands pressed his ears even harder.

“Papa!” he screamed. “I … don’t … yike … that … music!” And he burst into tears and screamed so loudly that my ears rang. I could not soothe him fast enough.

“Samuel, honey, it’s ok! I’m going to turn it off right now. We’re not going to watch it anymore. We’re going to put on the Piglet Movie, right Rose?”

“Yeah! Yeah! The Piglet Movie!” Rose yelled.

But Samuel was not consolable. He would not let me put his down, taking his hands off his ears to clutch at my shirt when I tried to get off the bed to turn off the DVD. But once his hands were off his ears, he could hear the DVD, and he put them back on his ears, then on my shirt, then on his ears. I picked him up in one arm, turned off the DVD, and headed to the living room. Samuel cried the entire time.

“Samuel, please wait here with Rose. I need to bring in the TV from the closet. Can you do that?”

“uh … uh… O-K.” he sniffled.

“Rose, can you wait here with Samuel so he doesn’t get scared?”

“OK, Papa.”

I walked back to my bedroom, and went to the closet to pick up the 40 pound, 13inch TV/video player. As I turned around in the cramped space, Rose and Samuel were both standing there, blocking my way out. Samuel still had his hands on his ears. I had a tenuous grasp around the heavy box and had to keep readjusting it so it did not slip out of my fingers and onto their heads.

“Papa, can we watch the Piglet Movie now?”

“Papa! I didn’t yike that music!”

“Can you both let me out? Now! Move! Please!”

Soon we were sitting as cosily on the floor as we had been sitting on the bed. Only now I could see Samuel’s face if I peered around his antenna elbows. Rose started giggling even before the intro titles had stopped rolling. Then Pooh, Rabbit, Eeyore, and Tigger were executing a plan to trick a hive of bees out of their honey, while Piglet tagged along, unwanted. The bees however were not tricked. They were angry. Madcap slapstick ensued.  A. A.
Milne rolled in his grave.

Rose giggled and Samuel, not really understanding, laughed just as loud. He turned his head, almost bopping me in the nose with his elbow, checking our faces to make sure he is doing the right thing. He is smiling.  Then the bees reappeared, angry, chasing everyone away. A switch turned on in Samuel and he freaked out again.

“Papa! Papa! Papa!” He began to cry. Loudly. Right in my ear.

I rushed him off to his bedroom, and we sat in the gliding rocking chair, me soothing and he sobbing. Rose followed us, leaving the door open. We can hear the movie playing down the hall.

“Rose, you can still watch the movie. I need to get Samuel calmed down in here.”

“But Papa. I don’t want to be alone. What if there is a scary part?”

I could not imagine what a scary part in “The Piglet Movie” would look like, but I didn’t trust Disney enough to tell her this.

“I don’t yike that movie!”

“I know, sweet boy. You don’t have to watch it.” He was trembling again, but at least he wasn’t screaming anymore. “Rose, I need you to make up your mind. Do you want to watch the movie alone, or do you want to hang out here with us?”

“I want Papa to watch it with me.” Very pouty.

“OK, I think we are going to have to turn off the movie, and …” but before I could make her another offer, Rose burst into tears.

“Papa, that’s not fair! You said I could see the movie! Why does Samuel get to not watch it!”

She went on like this, but either she was making less and less sense, or I just couldn’t hear her over Samuel’s renewed crying. Instead I stood up, holding Samuel who was clutching my shirt and getting mucus and tears all over it, and I walked to the living room and turned off the video. Then I came back to Samuel’s room and sat heavily in the chair. Rose did not stop kvetching the whole time, only she added foot stomping to her routine.

“Rose,” I said, but she did not stop. “Rose. Rose! Haaanaaah! HAAAAANNAAAHH! Have you got your listening ears on?”

She didn’t answer me, but she did stop talking.

“It is twenty minutes before 8:00. What I was going to say is that after Samuel goes to bed, I will let you watch another twenty minutes of the movie.”

“Will you watch it with me?”

“Yes.”

“OK, Papa.”

“In the meantime, would you like to read a book with us?”

“Yes! I want to read a Winnie the Pooh book.” And before I could say anything, she ran out of the room and returned with The House At Pooh Corner, which was a little too old for Samuel. But he was in my lap, sniffling and calm. Rose climbed in too. The three of us scrunched in the rocker, and I began to read a chapter, continually moving my head to see the pages around the bodies of my children who kept leaning back and forth to see the illustrations or point out words.

“Are you guys comfortable?”

“No,” they both said.

“Let’s go read this in the living room.”

We switched to the couch in the living room. Samuel sat on my lap and Rose sat next to me on the other side. I managed to read one sentence when Rose said, “Papa, when I see the TV sitting on the table over there, and I can’t watch the movie…” her lips began to quiver, “… I … get … sad … all over again.” And she burst into tears.

Samuel looked up, saw Rose crying, saw the TV, slapped his hands over his ears, and began to cry too.

“I don’t yike the movie! I don’t yike the movie!”

Sigh.

I tossed the book on the coffee table, picked up Samuel, and walked him to his room.

“Samuel? Are you ready for bed?”

“Y…Y…Yes.”

“Let’s go to bed.”

“Papa!” says Rose trailing behind me, “I don’t want to go to bed!That’s not fair! That’s…”

“I didn’t say you were going to bed, Rose. Remember I promised you twenty minutes of movie after Samuel was asleep, right?”

“Oh.”

“So I’ll get Samuel to sleep if you will wait in the … living room.” I thought it, but I did not say it.

“OK, Papa.”

Rose disappeared, whether to the living room, the bathroom, her bedroom, or Timbuktu, I did not know or particularly care at the moment. I put Samuel in bed, and lay down on the floor next to him, exhausted. I started singing lullabies to him, my voice rough from holding back all the things I did not say that night.

“Papa,” he interrupted.

“Shh, Samuel, it’s sleepy time.”

“Papa?”

“Yes, Samuel.”

“I didn’t yike the movie.”

“I know, sweet boy. Go to sleep.”

Two minutes later I heard the automatic garage door opening. I heard the car enter and the door close. I heard Rose racing to the basement stairs and opening the door to the basement where the garage is.

“Hey, Rose!” Dawn yelled from below. “Did you have fun with Papa?”

The long review of the evening’s events from the top of the steps was mostly unintelligible from Samuel’s room, but two minutes later, Dawn walked in with Rose trailing not far behind. Samuel lifted his head from the bed and looked at Dawn.

“Mama. I didn’t yike the movie.”

“I heard. Papa? How did it go?” There was concern in her voice, and a smile that she was valiantly trying to hide.

I raised my head from the floor where I had fallen asleep.

“Billy Jonas is the Devil.”

Contradicting

Samuel, at 2.5 years old, is learning the incredible power of negativity.

“No! I don’t want to!”

He has never watched television. He has never been to the movies. He has never heard any profanity. None. Really. Emet. We are not the type of people prone to swearing, and we are very careful around the children. So in the great storehouse of Samuel’s vocabulary, there is not (yet) a single item of profanity. Of course, I don’t count the time he and Rose, in total and complete innocence, were playing rhyming games with the word “truck”.

Despite all this, he can still be obnoxiously rude. Once when he woke from a nap, I opened his door and chirped “Good afternoon, sweet boy. Did you have a good nap?” His sat hunched over in his bed, clutching his cowboy blanket in one hand and rubbing his half-open eyelid with the other. His body swayed back and forth, trying to maintain some semblance of balance, but when he saw and heard me, he reached out with one hand as if to push me away and yelled:

“Go away, Papa. I don’t want to talk to you! I want you to leave my room now!”

Ouch.

He can also be very creative in telling you why you are, in fact, wrong.

“That’s not right, Papa! Those are my shoes, not Rose’s!”

This in reference to the high-heeled, silver-sequined, dress-up shoes that Rose got for her Halloween costume.

—–

I found him playing with his Thomas the Train set (minus the recalled lead paint pieces), when I smelled the unmistakable odor of his diaper. “No, I’m dry,” he answered when I asked about it. I was firm and insisted he come with me to his changing table and then his fuse went off. He began to tell me off. But at two and a half years old, his vocabulary cannot always keep up with the concept he’s trying to convey, even when he borrows phrases from his older sister.

“That’s not … fair. You never let me … I never get to … do that … thing … that I want to do.”

When arguments don’t work, he moves on to distraction. It’s a technique we’ve used on him for years, and occasionally he tries it back on us.

“I want my whale!”

Samuel wanted the rocking whale. In fact, he wanted “my whale” even though it is Rose’s. And he wanted it “now!”

Granddaddy built a rocking whale for Rose when she was born, and a rocking horse for Samuel when he was born. He spent months on them, selecting the wood, drawing the patterns, cutting cross-section pieces, gluing and clamping them together, smoothing and shaping and carving and painting and sealing. These rocking animals are beautiful, one-of-a-kind heirlooms, each large enough to support a tired parent waiting for a child to finish putting away their toys before bedtime. Each sits on a frame with four-foot-long, curved, wooden rockers at the bottom, and I have told Dawn that the next time we see her father, I intend to thank him by rapping his ankles multiple times with a blunt 2 by 4 for all the times I have tripped over these rockers in the dark at night. Fair is fair.

“Well, Samuel,” I explain, “it’s in Rose’s room. And you may not go in there by yourself. That’s the rule.”

It’s a good rule, because whenever he is alone in Rose’s room, no matter what toy he starts playing with, he always gravitates to the night light in the electrical outlet. We have found it on the floor of Rose’s room with the metal outlet prongs bent. Not safe. Thus the rule.

In an appeal to logic and reason, he screams “NNNo!”

“We aren’t available right now to go in with you.”

“I WANT MY WHALE!”

“Sweet boy, Granddaddy made the rocking whale for Rose. He made the rocking horse for you.”

“Nnnno! … Grandma … made the whale for me and … Grandpa made the horse for Rose.”

Dawn and I were both there. We both took a deep breath and counted to ten, not because we were losing our tempers, but because we didn’t want to laugh in his face.

Remember, his Granddaddy, Dawn’s Dad, made the whale and the horse. His Grandpa is my father – a smart man, a wise father, a pillar of  the Jewish community in Atlanta. I would trust him any day to change a light bulb or put gas in the car. But fashioning a wooden rocking whale from scratch? Nope, no way, ain’t gonna happen (sorry, Dad!). And his Grandma, my mother? An extremely capable woman who raised four – count ’em – four boys in the days when fathers went off to work and left the wife and kids at home. Nevertheless, she isn’t tall enough to reach the table saw much less know what to do with it (sorry, Mom!).

I picked up my fussing and feuding son, the proper way, with the flailing arms and legs pointing away from me. He stopped arguing and began to cry, the words melding into a wail. It was the sound that Charles Schultz had in mind when one of his Peanuts characters tilted their head back so that you can only see their uvula hanging in the back of their throat and half the cartoon frame is taken up with the letters “AUGH!”

But I’m already half deaf so this didn’t bother me.

“Samuel?” I said, and I admit there was an affected tone of surprise in my voice. “Did you forget to use your polite words.”

That was it. The crying stopped. He buried his hands and face in my chest and in a contrite, almost imperceptible murmur said “Please, Papa, can I play with my trucks first?”

Halloween

Four Days Before Halloween

The farm stand on Route 2 sat on a long verdant strand of land wedged between the river and the interstate. Hundreds of pumpkins sat arranged on disintegrating carts or burlap sacks on the ground between mud puddles. We parked in the dirt parking lot, Samuel was fast asleep, head askew in his seat, so Rose and I were selected for pumpkin duty.

“Papa, I want the biggest pumpkin they have!”

“Harry,” Dawn called before we left, “please get me one that shorter and wider. I don’t care what size.”

Rose went skipping ahead, commenting on each one. We found her a monster pumpkin, about two feet across, the largest one I could possibly carry, and brought it inside to the counter where the owner, a friendly clean-shaven Vermont farmer started to ring me up. “No, no,” I explained, ” I need one more.” Rose and I went looking again.

“Ewww! Papa, look at this squishy one. It looks like a flat tire.”

“How about this one Rose? It’s not as big as yours, but it’s wide and short like Mama wants.”

“OK! That one can be Mama and Samuel’s, and the other one can be yours and mine.”

Back inside the owner asked, “That’ll do ya?” as if unbelieving his good luck that he could unload two of his monsters.

“More than enough. My own father would never have a bought a pumpkin this large. I don’t think we ever had one growing up bigger than a basketball.”

“Well, I can probably cut you some slack. Let’s see.” He weighed and pushed buttons and then announced, “That comes to $28.34, so let’s just call it $25 even.”

Now I know why my Dad never bought pumpkins this big.

We hauled them to the car. I carried Laurel. The farmer carried Hardy. Rose kept up a running commentary, but managed to stay out of the way. We thanked him, and headed home, where the pumpkins stayed in the back of the minvan for the next two days.

 

The day before Halloween

I hauled the pumpkins up the stairs from the garage and laid them on newspaper on the kitchen floor. It was 7:00 at night. When the children saw them, they began a war dance around them in the kitchen without the aide of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or colors.

“The pumpkins! The pumpkins!”

“Rose, how shall we draw your pumpkin?”

“I want fangs!”

“Fangs?”

“Yes, Fangs! And scary eyebrows pointing down!”

So I drew a prototype on the newspaper with fangs, long triangular slits for nose and eyes all pointing down and in, and rectilinear eyebrows sloped down towards the nose. It was sharp, angular, cubist, and Rose loved it.

“It’s really spooky, Papa! But I’m not scared of it.”

For the other pumpkin, Dawn asked me to make something less scary, and then handed me an orange Halloween sippy cup in the shape of a jack o’ lantern and asked me to copy the face off it. It was a happy, smiling, clownish sort of pumpkin with missing teeth. Rose called them Fang and Sippy Cup respectively, but I’m afraid they still struck me as Laurel and Hardy even more.

While I did the knife work, Dawn managed to keep Samuel out of the kitchen, and Rose stood a safe distance away, making her usual endless array of comments. I cut off the tops, and then the children helped scoop out the insides. Samuel dug his hands in, oblivious to the mess at first. Then he meticulously fetched every wayward seed off the kitchen floor and picked bits of pumpkin guts off his hands. Rose, even more fastidious, used a metal spoon and measuring cup to scrape away the insides without getting any on her hands. I sent Samuel out again as I carved the faces. Fang was all straight lines and was finished in a trice, but Sippy Cup, with his multitudinous curves required a bit more calculus work, approximate the curves with increasingly smaller linear strokes of the knife. The children approved, continuing their pagan dance in the kitchen, and we set them out in the mudroom for the night.

 

Halloween Day

For some reason, our poorly-lit, dead-end street, hidden at the top of a steep hill, accessible only from a road that looks like steep drive way, fails to attract much traffic during Halloween. In the three years since we’ve moved here, we’ve not had a single trick-or-treater at our door. But there are really only two places to go trick or treating in Montpelier. The shops in downtown Montpelier give out candy and coupons and books and toys starting at 4:00 PM for the wee children. And College Avenue, with its grand old Victorians houses and wide boulevard, parties all night long.

Rose’s classmates were meeting at the Lost Nation Theatre in City Hall at 4:00 pm, but our plan to meet them nearly disintegrated. Getting on costumes took longer than expected. Rose was dressed in a beautiful princess dress over layers of petticoats and skirts and, underneath all, her fleece pajamas to keep warm. Samuel was an Adam West Batman, also with layers underneath. Before we could go, Dawn asked me to light the pumpkins and take pictures of the children next to them. Lighting the pumpkins made them look no different in the bright afternoon sunlight, but we took pictures anyway. I blew out the candles before we left for downtown, explaining to Dawn my paranoid nightmare on the way:

“The wind picks up to gale force. It knocks over our massive pumpkins without blowing out the candles. Candles roll onto the dry, unraked leaves spread all over the lawn. While we cavort from door to door downtown, frivolously collecting candy, conflagration ensues. We return home to an ash pile where our house formerly stood. Cold, weeping children in costume mourn their stuffed animals, reduced to cinders, while parents survey the wreckage. Snow falls. Miserable winter ensues. Curtain drops.”

Pulling out of the driveway, Her comment to the children was, “You Papa learned fire safety from Grandma.”

This is a joke of sorts. As a child, I remembered my vigilant Mom always putting the Shabbat candles in the sink on Friday night before we left the house for services. But once when they came to visit us in Vermont, Mom and Dad set fire to two, count ’em, not one, but TWO ovens.

We arrived downtown a half hour late. Fortunately we found all her classmates outside Ben and Jerry’s, munching on free ice cream cones. We got a cone each for Rose and Samuel, both too shy to say “Trick or Treat” but too well-trained not to say “Thank you.” Outside on the concrete landing in front of the shop, Rose ate hers standing still and poised despite the distraction of all her friends. Even though she cannot keep paint, chocolate, and syrup off her regular clothes, she did not leave a single spot of ice cream on her beloved princess dress. By comparison, Samuel was a bit more careless, but not much. He slathered vanilla ice cream all over his lips and fingers and his Papa’s sleeve but mostly left his costume unscathed.

The other school children, having started earlier, moved on before Samuel was done. Rose was anxious to go with them, so Dawn took her with them while I waited for Samuel to finish his cone. The wind picked up, and he grew colder and blue around the edges, but he would not leave until he had finished the very last wafer tip of the cone. Then I rubbed him down with baby wipes and carried him on my chest to warm him up again.

By the time we caught up with them, the school group had begun to fragment. Rose wanted to be with her friends who were scattering to the winds, but Samuel could not keep up, and we had to hold her back with us. She visited almost every store in town, and she (and Samuel) had a grand time gathering loot. But she got sad when there were no friends around. By the time we finished, it was nearly 6:00 and no dinner yet. Samuel had napped only fifteen minutes that afternoon. The time bomb was ticking. So we piled in the mini-van, got some slices of pizza from the Positive Pie II, and then Dawn took Samuel home while
I walked down college street with Rose.

It was dark now. The street lamps and Halloween lights cast strange shadows under the hundred year old maples and elms. The sidewalks were busy with hundreds of witches, goblins, superheroes, bunnies, and even cereal boxes. We saw one older child dressed as a butterfly with six foot tall wings. Everyone wore lighted necklaces or carried flashlights. Rose stopped to eat a single small package of M&M to fortify her nerve and we started going door to door.

We stopped at six houses and a police car where an officer was handing out candy too. She was fine until we came to a house with a dog. It was a tiny little drop-kick dog, not much larger than a healthy rat, but Rose is afraid of dogs. The owner held the dog in one hand and a basket of nut-free chocolate bars in the other, but fear won out over greed.

“Papa, I think I have enough candy now. Can we head home?”

“OK, but we promised our neighbors that we would stop at their house, too.”

We walked up College Street past knots of costumed children and parents, past lawns dressed up as graveyards with strobe lights and dry ice machines and speakers playing K-Tel’s greatest spooky hits. It really was a bit too surreal for a five-year old girl. At the end of the block, we turned onto Main St. and rounded the curve before entering our own quiet neighborhood. The houses were dark. The sky was half-blanketed in clouds, half in stars. The only sound was the wind and complaining crow. Stopping at B and K’s house, we rang the door bell.

“Oh, you are the most beautiful princess!” they exclaimed. “Would you like some candy?” They brought out a full basket of pristine candy bars.

“We must be your first customers?” I said.

“No!” they announced, amused at the surprised look on my face. “You’re second. Samuel came by earlier.”

I laughed and Rose began to pick through the basket looking for a candy bar she wanted.

“Take one for your brother,” K urged.

“Take two for your parents,” B added.

“Are you sure you don’t want some as well, Dad?” K said.

“Take several,” said B.

We declined, repeatedly, thanked them and headed home. Fang and Sippy Cup glowed brightly in the dark – Dawn must have lit them again – and Rose stopped to admire and converse with them.

Indoors to the warmth and light of the house. In the mud room, even as she has begun to take off her clothes and shoes, Rose yelled across the house to Dawn about all that had happened that evening.

“The jack o’ lanterns look nice,” I told Dawn. “Thanks for lighting them.”

“Oh, that. Well, you’re welcome… Oh, you might as well know.”

“Know what?”

“Well, Samuel and I went outside to light the pumpkins. I put the tea lights on the stone wall right next to them and lit them….”

“And?”

“and … it was just like your nightmare. Before I could pick them up to put them into the pumpkins, a gust of wind blew them into the leaves.”

“Augh! You’re kidding!”

“I am not kidding. The leaves caught fire immediately and started a small brush fire, and I started stamping it out frantically with my shoes. The whole time Samuel would not stop asking, ‘Mama? What are you doing? What are you doing, Mama?'”

We laughed at my useless foresight, and when the moment had passed, we turned to the inglorious task of getting our sugar-crazed children ready for bed.

The last thing I did that evening, before turning out the lights and heading for bed, was to go outside where the jack o’ lanterns were burning. Stooping down to their faces,I performed pumpkin CPR, blowing a blast of breath through their nose holes to extinguish the tea lights.

In the dark, the evening smelled of dry leaves, bee’s wax smoke, and decomposing pumpkin all mixed together in an intoxicating brew.