Halloween has meant many different things to me depending upon the year. Have your Halloweens followed a similar trajectory?

Halloween is one of the few holidays that has changed completely depending on how old I am.

As a child, I donned a Halloween costume and went trick-or-treating, hoping to accumulate as much candy as possible in the allotted time. I learned to despise homeowners who gave us trail mix or Rice Crispie squares and adore those who were generous enough to offer full sized candy bars to children.

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As a teenager, I became more enamored with the tricks and not the treats. Egging the homes and toilet papering the front lawns of deserving teachers and loathsome trail mix dispensers became the order of the day.

As much as I loved trick-or-treating as a child, this was better. More exciting. More dangerous. My favorite of all my Halloween experiences.

My car was once toilet papered by friends so completely that I walked right past it, wondering what poor sucker would be cleaning all that off his car before driving to work.

As a late teenager and twenty-something, Halloween shifted again. It became an excuse to throw a party. The importance of costumes returned, but instead of using them for trick-or-treating, they were an excuse to gather, flirt, and drink excessively. Bobbling for apples became quasi wet tee shirt contests. Princesses became sexy nurses. Plastic, super hero masks became costumes designed to demonstrate your cleverness and creativity to the opposite sex.

As I got older, the costume party scene began to evaporate. Sexy nurses got married. Excessive drinking lost its luster. Until I had children of my own, Halloween became an awkward time when a handful of colleagues dressed up in Halloween costumes during the  work day, and I spent my Halloweens at home, watching horror movies, handing out candy, and feeling lame.

Eventually, I became a teacher, and this filled my Halloween days with classroom parties, costume parades, and the childhood excitement of Halloween that I had long since forgotten.

In an attempt to embrace the excitement, I created short films for school assemblies that terrified children and upset kindergarten teachers. I devised stories to tell my students that (in the words of Mo Willems) scared the tuna salad out of them.

Then my own children came along, so once again I find myself walking the streets of my neighborhood, trick-or-treating. Nowadays, there is responsibility associated with Halloween. I have a peanut-allergic daughter, so I must remain vigilant when inspecting candy. I must be watchful for cars and creeps. I am required to shoot photographs in low light and carry tired children in my arms.

There is a sense of childhood joy in Halloween again, but there is also responsibility and obligation. Wariness and even a tiny bit of worry.

I love it, but it’s not the same as when I was a child. Not even close.

I probably have about a dozen years of this version of Halloween before my children are asking to trick-or-treat on their own. Perhaps the tricks will become more important than the treats for them, too.

I hope so.

I’m not sure what happens to Halloween after that. I would imagine that for many older adults, Halloween becomes an evening of answering doorbells and handing out candy. Little more.

I’ll have to find something better. Something joyous or thrilling or both. I see the excitement in my students’ eyes and my children’s eyes and want to hold onto that. Never let it go.

Maybe I’ll volunteer at a haunted house. Or attend a Rocky Horror Picture Show performance. Or take grandchildren trick-or-treating.

Or maybe I’ll just egg just a few more houses.  

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People will still try to destroy you.

In my experience, this may be true, but it doesn’t mean that you are safe.

Fools and extremists may attempt to destroy you anyway.

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Who is watching these political ads?

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that nearly $4 billion will be spent on television advertising for the 2014 midterm elections, up from $3.6 billion in 2010. 

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My question:

Who is watching these ads?

We’re about two weeks from Election Day, and I have yet to see a single political ad on television. I suspect the same goes for my wife. Granted, we don’t watch much television, but even if you’re among the zombie class of average Americans who watch 6-8 hours of television a day, who isn’t time-shifting their television viewing in order to avoid commercials? More than 70% of American households own a DVR.

People don’t actually watch live television anymore. Do they?

Even if Elysha and I plan to watch a television show on the night that it actually airs, we wait 20 minutes before turning it on so we can bypass the commercials. And if it’s a show on HBO or Netflix or OnDemand, there are no commercials.

Where are people encountering these commercials?

While I’m sure that the viewing habits of every American does not match my own, I can’t imagine that enough people watch television live to warrant spending $4 billion dollars on television ads.

And if I’m wrong, what the hell is wrong with you people? Why are you wasting time watching commercial television? 

So I’m serious. Is anyone actually seeing these political commercials?

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Our little yoga clocks

One of our routines at the dinner table is to talk about the best part of each one of our days. Charlie is only two years-old and doesn’t quite get it, but whenever we ask, his answer is almost always the same:

“Yoga!”

He says this even if it’s been a week since he has been to yoga.

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Last night my wife led Charlie and Clara in Charlie’s yoga class routine in the kitchen. I don’t often see the boy so focused.

 

 

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11 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 20

Author Shelli Johnson posted a list entitled 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 20. 

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As such, I was inspired to write my own list.

Unlike Johnson, who was 25 when she wrote her list, I am more than two decades away from 20 and perhaps have greater perspective on the issue.

I may have also forgotten what it’s like to be 20, but I don’t think so. It seems like just yesterday.

I also tried to write my list with enough clarity and specificity so as to not require any additional explanation. Please let me know if you’d like me to be more specific. 

My list is also 11 items long because round numbered lists like a list of 10 can’t be trusted. Either something was added to the list that isn’t worthy to bring it to the round number or a relevant item was removed from the list for the sake of the round number.  

Never trust round numbers.

11 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 20

  1. Time and money are obstacles easily overcome with long days, hard work, and a clear vision.
  2. People will die before you ever expect them to. Stay connected.
  3. Every problem has a lifespan shorter than your own.
  4. Find your voice. Don’t wait to stumble upon it.
  5. Have sex more often.
  6. Move fast and without fear. Seize opportunities and experiment often.
  7. Never allow yourself to be interrogated by police officers without an attorney present.
  8. The way that you win an argument is more important than actually winning the argument.
  9. Being known for your kindness is more important than being known for your cleverness.
  10. Write everyday without exception.
  11. It’s better to look stupid than to not ask a question.
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Today will be one of the hardest days of parenting so far. I know I’m lucky in this respect, but there is still a hole in my heart.

My daughter is sick. Her kindergarten class has a field trip to the pumpkin patch today.

She’s going to miss the trip.

Last month she was also sick. She missed her class’s field trip to the apple orchard.

Thanks to a couple of poorly timed fevers, Clara is missing the first two field trips of her educational journey.

I cannot describe how much this hurts my heart. I am beside myself. 

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I have a lot of things about parenting figured out. I know that may sound arrogant and nearsighted, but it’s true. Parenting isn’t easy, but it isn’t very hard, either.

And it’s joyous. Joyous on a daily basis. At least for me.

I suspect that a number of factors have allowed this to be the case:

  • A childhood spent as the oldest of five children (oftentimes serving as a substitute parent)
  • Sixteen years spent teaching elementary school
  • My previous experience raising a stepdaughter
  • The clear and rationale perspective that a life of incredibly difficult challenges has brought me
  • Most important: A wife who was also the oldest child in her family (don’t discount this asset) with more than a decade of teaching experience as well

Choose your spouse carefully. As my friend, Kim, says, it is the most important decision that you will ever make.

Elysha and I are also a couple of fairly relaxed, easy-going people who understand and live by the principles of divide and conquer, delegation, and strategic prioritization. Neither of us are control freaks. 

We are also nonconformists. It may surprise you to hear that about Elysha, but it’s true. She’s an undercover nonconformist, meaning she isn’t as blunt and stupid about it as me, but her nonconformity exists in abundance.

This is important, too.

Sometimes I think we hear parents whine about their kids or complain about the restrictions associated with parenting and start to believe it for ourselves. Get a group of parents together, and before long, they’ll start moaning about sleepless nights and the cost of diapers and the price of babysitting.

It’s easy to fall into this trap if you’re not careful. If you don’t assume that the world is a little crazy. If you lack perspective. If your self confidence is low. If you didn’t know what you were getting into when you decided to have kids. 

If you’re not a nonconformist.

These factors, I believe, have combined to provide me with the knowledge, wisdom, and fortitude to make good parenting decisions and raise my children without too many missteps or uncertainty.

Yes, it’s arrogant. But it’s true.

If you feel like I sound too arrogant, please refer to my 2014 list of flaws and shortcomings. It’s a long list. At least I’m balancing arrogance with humility.

But this situation with my daughter missing her first two kindergarten field trips due to illness… I find myself at a loss. My heart aches. I’m saddened beyond description. I have no solution.

Parenting has suddenly become impossible.

Actually, if it were up to me, I’d try to send her to school for the field trip, but my wife would never allow it, and rightfully so. We have already promised her a makeup trip to the pumpkin patch this weekend, but it won’t be the same, and I will always know it.

So will she.

And so I have a hole in my heart. I know that in the grand scheme of things, a field trip to an apple orchard and a pumpkin patch won’t make or break Clara’s life, but in this year, on this day, in this moment, these are enormous events for her.

Enormous opportunities that she is missing.

I experienced so many missed opportunities as a child. So much that I wanted to do but could not. As a result, I want something different for my children. Not a path free of struggle or strife, but a path wider than mine ever was. A path with a multitude of forks.

Forks to apple orchards and pumpkin patches, damn it.

As trite as it may seem, this is a problem for me. I can allow my children to cry it out in their cribs and sit in timeout and save for months for the toys  they want and get no dessert if they haven’t eaten their dinners, and I suffer no heartache whatsoever. No pain. I know that what I am doing is right.

But this… I’m going to think about her friends, riding the bus to a pumpkin patch, running around a field of round, orange orbs, and I’m going to be sad. Heartbroken, really. All day long. And probably longer. Probably a lot longer.

I suspect that Elysha will handle this better than me. I’ll lean on her today. Try to draw from her wisdom and her perspective.

Choose your spouse wisely.

But even the great Elysha Dicks will not be able to fill this hole in my heart.

This is when parenting is the hardest for me. Today will be a hard day for me. Joyous, still. But hard.

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Don’t say goodbye to the bride and groom. Just leave. Let it be your final gift to them.

Slate’s Seth Stevenson argues in favor of not saying goodbye.

Ghosting—aka the Irish goodbye, the French exit, and any number of other vaguely ethnophobic terms—refers to leaving a social gathering without saying your farewells. One moment you’re at the bar, or the house party, or the Sunday morning wedding brunch. The next moment you’re gone. In the manner of a ghost. “Where’d he go?” your friends might wonder. But—and this is key—they probably won’t even notice that you’ve left.

I am an enormous fan of ghosting. My wife, however, would never allow it. My wife’s goodbye ritual takes at least 20 minutes and includes the scheduling of at least one future social engagement and engaging in at least one conversation on an entirely new topic before the farewell is complete.

For me, ghosting will never be a reality. Nor will it be for most people. Social conventions are incredibly difficult to change, and they are even more difficult to ignore for the vast majority of people.

It takes a special kind of arrogant rule breaker to ghost on a consistent basis.

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But there is one social engagement where ghosting shouldn’t even be an option. It should be standard practice:

A wedding.

As a wedding DJ with almost two decades of experience, I believe that ghosting at a wedding is not only acceptable but represents an act of kindness and generosity toward the bride and groom.

Every weekend, I watch as brides and grooms are pulled off the dance floor during one of their favorite songs by friends or family members who feel the need to exchange idle, meaningless, and soon-to-be-forgotten pleasantries before saying goodbye.

Don’t do it. Just leave.

Consider the numbers:

If there are 150 people attending the wedding (an average number of guests for the weddings that I do), that means that the bride and groom will need to say goodbye to approximately 75 couples.

In the course of a five hour reception (also the average), that amounts to a goodbye every four minutes.

Since most guests don’t start leaving four minutes into the reception, what it really means is a constant stream of goodbyes during the last two hours of the reception, when the bride and groom are supposed to be dancing with friends and family and having the most fun.

Years ago, I would make an announcement with about 15 minutes left in the wedding imploring guests to join the bride and groom on the dance floor and stay for the last few songs so the bride and groom could enjoy them in peace.

“Don’t make the bride and groom spend the last few precious moments of their wedding saying goodbye to you.”

The announcement rarely had any impact on the selfish jackasses who thought that leaving 15 minutes early was more important than the happiness and enjoyment of a bride and groom on their wedding day, so I stopped making it.

But if there was ever a social event to ghost, it’s a wedding. The bride and groom will never remember who did and didn’t say goodbye to, nor will it matter to them.

I promise you: There has never been a bride or groom in the history of the universe who were concerned with saying goodbye to their guests in the midst of their reception.

If saying goodbye is important to you, stay until the end. Wait for the music to stop and the lights to come up. Then say goodbye.

Otherwise, just leave, damn it. Let the happy couple be happy.

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I began the day as a depressed and angry idiot. I ended the day with laughter and rainbows and sunshine. Literally. The lesson: Don’t give up hope.

Bad start to the day.

Arrived at my friend’s house, 40 minutes from my home, having forgotten without my ticket to the Patriots’ game. It requires an incredible amount of stupidity to do such a thing, and I felt like an idiot.

This meant that I would need to drive back home, pick up my ticket, and then drive to the game on my own, battling the traffic that would be building my the time I arrived in Foxboro.

It meant that I would not be driving with my friend, which is frankly one of the best parts of game day. The two hours that we spend in the car together is one of the best parts of my week.

It also meant that I would be paying $40 for parking instead of $10, because I would no longer be sharing the expense with my friend and the two others who we planned to pick up near the stadium.

It also meant that I wouldn’t be parking alongside my friends for our tailgate and would likely be hiking back and forth to their parking spot.

It also meant that I would be parking near the rear of the parking lot, slowing my departure by as much as an hour.

I didn’t think it possible that I could feel any worse. 

Then on the way back home, a police officer pulled me over for speeding.

I had reached the lowest moment of my day.

The police officer asked if I knew how fast I was driving. I did not. I explained that I was angry and hadn’t been paying attention.

He asked why.

I explained that my son had been in the emergency room late last night with a head wound. I showed him a photo on my phone.

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I told him that my dog was making my wife crazy at home by barking and scratching, and that she was texting me continuously about it. I showed him the series of angry text messages. 

I told him that I had forgotten my ticket to the Patriots game and had cost myself a drive to Foxboro with my friend and at least two hours of additional driving on my own. 

The officer felt my pain. We talked for ten minutes. He let me go.

From that point on, my day turned around completely.

I arrived home and was able to kiss my daughter, who was asleep when I had left. I told her that I had come home just for her.

She’s five years-old, so she bought it. 

My drive to Foxboro only took 90 minutes. Record time. Surprisingly, there was absolutely no traffic at all. 

On the way to the stadium, alone in my car, I came up with two new ideas for novels. I also prepared and rehearsed a story for an upcoming Moth event and listened to three podcasts. Not as good as driving with my friend, but not bad.

Miraculously, I arrived at the stadium just 15 minutes behind my friends. As I pulled into the lot, the people parked beside my friends decided to move their car, which no one ever does. One of my friends ran up to the parking lot attendant and asked if I could have the spot, and shockingly, he said yes.

The odds that the people parked beside my friends would move their car just as I pulled into the lot are astronomical.

The meal, which consisted of donuts, sausage and peppers, burgers, and dogs, was free (and my friend had planned on it being free all along), saving me the normal $20 food fee and offsetting most of my additional parking fee.

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Even though the Patriots were playing a 1:00 game, we had a game to watch on our television while tailgating because Detroit and Atlanta were playing in London. Atlanta was winning 21-0 at halftime, but I told my friends that Detroit would make a game of it in the second half. They scoffed.

Detroit won 22-21.

The weather, which was overcast and cold while we were tailgating, turned sunny and warm as we entered the stadium.

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The Patriots routed the Bears. 51-23, and it wasn’t even that close. We laughed and cheered and had a great time. 

Our parking spot in the lot turned out so good that we were on the road by 4:05, and I walked into the house before 6:3o. Record time.

I saw a rainbow on the way home.

I was incredibly sad and angry when I discovered that I had left my ticket at home. The flashing red and blue lights of the police cruiser brought me to the depths of despair.

Then my day turned around completely. The universe smiled on me for a day. For me, this is unusual to say the least.

But it’s a good lesson. Sometimes things can turn around on their own through no effort on your own. Despair can transform into joy when you least expect it.

So don’t give up hope.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Even if you are incapable of making a difference in your own life, the universe can smile upon you at any moment.

Wait for that moment.

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My son cracked his head open with a lamp. My wife’s reaction to his head wound was unusual but surprisingly typical.

Our boy pulled a lamp down onto his head last night, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

A little glue and some Steri-Strips, and he was fine. He’ll have a scar in almost the same place where his father got his first scar at about the same age.

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Of course, because it was a head wound, it bled like hell. And though Charlie was chill at the hospital (to the point that every nurse and doctor commented on how calm he was, even as the glue was being applied), we also weren’t sure if he had a concussion or any other injuries.

It was a big lamp.

Here’s the thing:

My wife is the best in an emergency. Truly. I was outside on the front lawn with the dog when it happened. She opened the door, poked her head out, and said, “Matt, I need you right now.”

Calm. Relaxed. As if she was calling me in for dinner. 

At the moment, blood had already soaked through one wash cloth and Charlie was screaming like the world was coming to an end.

Elysha didn’t panic. Didn’t even seem worried.

I walked in. Saw Charlie covered in blood. Before I could speak, she explained what happened and set me in motion. “Get my shoes. I’m calling the neighbor. Then the doctor. We probably need to go to the ER.”

She was even smart enough to reroute us to the emergency room slightly farther away that gave us the best chance for quick treatment and a timely exist.

She even remembered her knitting. Gave a nurse a knitting lesson while we waited.

She performed similarly a couple years ago when Clara was having what we thought was an allergic reaction to peanuts. Pulled the car over in a construction zone. Flagged down a police officer. Then flagged down a passing ambulance. Got herself, Clara, and my infant son at the time onboard. The whole time remaining calm.

The ability to remain calm in situations like this is a rare thing, and its value cannot be understated. I tend to be a fairly calm, extremely cerebral person in the face of emergency (a girlfriend once accused me of being emotionless because of my failure to panic in the face of danger), but I actually think that Elysha is calmer and even more cerebral than me.

And based upon his reaction to the thing, Charlie may be the same way.

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My new startup idea: Rate My Parents

You’ve probably heard of Rate My Professors and Rate My Teachers.

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I’m thinking of launching a new startup:

Rate My Parents

Go online and rate you parents in a number of pertinent categories. Rate My Professors and Rate My Teachers use the following three criteria:

  • Helpfulness
  • Clarity
  • Easiness

These are fine criteria, but I would be inclined to add the following:

  • Ability to mind their own business
  • Amount of meddling in personal affairs
  • Level of general disappoint in my life choices
  • Availability to babysit on a moment’s notice
  • Degree of passive-aggressiveness
  • Number of phone calls required per month

The weakness of this idea, I will admit, is its utility. Rate My Teachers and Rate My Professors offer value. If I’m trying to decide if I should take a specific class, information about the teacher or professor would be helpful, but it’s difficult to imagine many scenarios in which you would need information on someone else’s parents.

Maybe if you’re looking to date someone, you might want to know if his or her parents would make good in-laws.

Or if you’re an orphan about to be adopted by a couple who already has children, a parental rating might help you decide if you should act like a little monster during the first home visit.

But in the case of prospective in-laws, a savvy user would always rate his or her parents high in order to present the perception of positive future in-laws.

And the orphan market seems a little thin to support an actual business plan.

So why create a website like Rate My Parent?

Spite.

While Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor provide a useful service, they also exist to allow students to enact a small measure of revenge upon educators who have made their lives difficult.

I say that it’s time to do the same with parents.

  • Let the world know how your parents still don’t approve of our choice of spouse even after ten years of blissful marriage.
  • Describe their attempts to make you feel guilty for skipping a second cousin’s wedding or choosing to spend Thanksgiving with friends instead of them.
  • Post about their ludicrous and inane attempts to influence your choice of baby name.
  • Discuss their insistence that you marry within the faith or choose a pre-approved career path.
  • Discuss the pressure that they are applying in the realm of reproduction
  • Describe their closeted racism or homophobia in detail.

Your efforts are unlikely to assist anyone in better decision making or make my startup successful enough for me to retire, but sometimes mouthing off just feels good.

Sometimes spite is the best reason to do anything.  

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