Halloween was slightly muted for our family this year. Thanks to the kindness of our neighbors and Elysha’s pre-Halloween reconnaissance, the kids still went trick-or-treating, but we limited the event to our street and only to the neighbors who planned for socially distant candy distribution.
In the end, the kids dressed up. They walked around with some neighbor kids. They collected massive amounts of candy from our generous neighbors. It was pretty successful given we are in the midst of a pandemic that is setting record infection rates nationwide day after day.
But there was a chance that my kids would’ve missed out on Halloween altogether. For a while, it looked like Halloween would be cancelled.
Years ago, Halloween was cancelled after an October snowstorm knocked down power lines throughout Connecticut, leaving people without power for more than a week in many cases. With leaves still on the trees, enormous branches snapped like twigs, taking down lines everywhere.
Happily, we never lost power, but I didn’t know anyone other than the people living on our street who didn’t. School was cancelled for more than a week as the cleanup from the mess was immense.
Clara was three years old at the time, but in an odd twist of fate, she had already decided before the storm to boycott Halloween. She thought it was stupid. She didn’t want to go. It wasn’t that she was nervous or afraid. She simply decided that knocking on doors and giving people ultimatums in an effort to acquire candy wasn’t good.
I can’t imagine where this nonconformist streak might originate.
But here’s the thing about that Halloween and what could’ve happened this year, too:
Clara missed out on Halloween that year, but so did her parents. Elysha and I were denied the opportunity to take our little girl trick or treating, which is a joy that only lasts for a decade or so. Trick or treating has a definite endpoint in the life of a child, so missing one year is missing a lot.
As this pandemic upends so much of our lives and children are denied opportunities and rights of passage, I think it’s okay for parents to mourn the loss for themselves, too.
We’re all suffering.
Charlie missed his second baseball season last spring, which means I missed out on watching him play baseball. I feel awful for his loss, but I also feel awful about my own loss, too. I wanted to watch him hit the ball and run the bases. Sit on the bench beside teammates. Catch a fly ball.
Clara missed her dance recital last spring, which means Elysha and I missed out on the joy and hilarity of a dance recital that has become a yearly tradition.
Clara and Charlie missed out on summer camp, which means I missed out on the joy of watching them skip across a road into a crowd of joyous children. I missed the ride home from camp each day, filled with stories of their adventures.
As a teacher, the feelings are similar. For the first time in 22 years of teaching, I am not bringing students to a YMCA camp for four days and three nights of outdoor education. I am devastated for my students, for whom this trip is often one of the high points of their elementary school career. But I am sad, too. I adore taking children into the woods. I love watching them make enormous, unimaginable strides. I love telling ghost stories and hiking around the lake and spending time with colleagues in ways otherwise impossible.
I have so many memories from that camp. I can’t walk ten feet without having a story to tell about a past adventure. So many defining moments of my life have taken place at that camp. So many moments of hilarity and heart.
My first real conversation with Elysha took place during on a hike around that lake. As a wedding DJ, our first conversation was spent talking about her upcoming wedding, which she would ultimately call off. The rock opera that I wrote and produced with my friend, Andy, first began on the porch of the girl’s bunkhouse. I made lifelong friendships with some of the camp counselors. Faced down my first skunk. Sunk my first kayak. Injected my first EpiPen into the thigh of a student. Piled up enough stories to truly last a lifetime.
As we support our children during this pandemic and mourn these unthinkable losses, take some time to acknowledge and mourn them for yourself, too. Parents are often so hyper-focused on the happiness, success, and overall wellbeing of their children that they often forget their own needs, too. This pandemic – made worse by criminally neglectful and utterly incompetent management – has taken so much for all of us.
As you wrap your arm around your child’s shoulders and whisper the promise and joy that the future holds into their ear, be sure to do the same for yourself or find someone who will. Don’t plow through your own pain. Don’t ignore your own suffering. Don’t pretend that the losses suffered by your child are no less tragic for yourself.
Every loss suffered by your child is a loss for you, too. It’s okay to treat yourself well, too.