Catholic Charities West Virginia

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Sweet Tolerance

By Wendy Miller, Director of WV Birth to Three RAU-1

Trick or treating in the 70s was an athletic event in plastic face masks that made sweat excessive and vision impossible. Hundreds of kids ran door to door, spewing “trick or treat, smell my feet” at the speed of light often in too much of a hurry to finish the rhyme, “give me something good to eat.” We seemed tireless. We gathered so much loot that at the halfway mark, we ran back home to dump out our pillowcases to make room for more. At the end of the night we counted, sorted and bartered. My brother Bobby, who later became an all-state basketball star gifted with speed and agility, almost always won the invisible notoriety prize for the most candy collected. My best friend Stella will tell you that trick or treating was ruined for her because of the competition. But I loved it, counting down the minutes like a racehorse at the gate until the clock struck six and we were let loose to gather our treasures.

Things are different now. Halloweeners have nearly become extinct. For those who pass out candy, a 200 piece bag of candy will last the entire hour. And sadly, the journey for some adults and children seems to be more of a task than an adventure.  Maybe it’s because I am now an adult and am sitting on the porch rather than racing up and down the streets, or perhaps my heart breaks a little for the good old days, but I do all I can to share a little of my fondness for the night. I can so easily close my eyes and go right back to the feel of the crisp cool air, the crunching of the leaves beneath my feet, and the joy of a miniature Snickers dropping in my bag. Sometimes, as I sit on the stoop, I hear comments from those walking by that are as discouraging as learning that I received a popcorn ball back in the day.   There are judgements that “he’s too old to trick or treat” or “she didn’t say thank you” as well as the disappointments of “that child wouldn’t even take something out of the bowl.”

Working with children and families for so many years has worn the edges off of my harsh thoughts. I know that many well-intentioned adults don’t have the privilege of seeing things from both sides of the fence and that perhaps their profession doesn’t immerse them in the multitudes of experiences with children and families I have witnessed. For example, I have learned that age is less of a factor than ability, that perhaps that child is big for his age or has a special need that we don’t know of as he stands excitedly at my bowl choosing a treat. Maybe money is scarce in another child’s house and candy might be her only meal for the next few days, which could explain why she’s grabbing more than one sweet. That apparent lack of appreciation may not be selfishness at all, and instead a circumstance where the child is nonverbal. Maybe the child who won’t journey up the steps is overwhelmed by crowds or has allergies that could be life threatening. And maybe the simple, unadorned costume provides comfort for a child with sensory issues.

Just opening my heart for the possibility of tolerance and the benefit of the doubt makes my trick or treating experience an enjoyable spectator sport since I am much too old and out of shape to run up and down the hundreds of steps in my neighborhood. Just the thought of it causes my sciatica to act up. These days I would much rather sit on the porch with my best friend by my side handing a little piece of joy to a child and filling her bucket with warm and delightful memories that she will enjoy long after the candy is gone – including the child who is on the tall side, the quiet side, and who is wearing his comfiest set of pajamas.