Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Child's October, Part 2

[Another belated post!]

Before I had a child, I had never been trick-or-treating. My parents believed that Halloween was in conflict with their Christian beliefs, so we went to parties at our church instead. We wore wonderfully creative costumes that my mom made and we got plenty of candy at those church parties, so when I was a child I didn't feel deprived of anything. But now I absolutely love Halloween and I think there is nothing like trooping door to door. I love the festive feeling of the night as our neighborhood teems with costumed kids and adults. We live in an especially good neighborhood for trick-or-treating because the streets are on a grid and lined with sidewalks; people come over from the surrounding neighborhoods and this year Tim (who stays home to dispense candy while N. and I make the rounds) counted over 150 trick-or-treaters at our door (excluding accompanying parents). The scene is always enlivened by the students from the nearby local public arts high school/college who dress to the nines and sometimes sing for their candy.

This year N. trick-or-treated with one of his best friends and they had so much fun together. I loved seeing their glee at the spookily decorated houses. One neighbor is apparently a lighting designer at the school of the arts, and her house featured fog, lights, spider webs, a costumed man leaping out of a coffin, etc. It was so well done! Last year, N. wouldn't have enjoyed it, but this year he and his friend thought it was just scary enough to be really fun.

N. and his pirate friend. N. (at his insistence, of course) has been a black cat 4 years in a row.

We were proud of our simple ghost haunting our yard.

I like the traditional trick-or-treating, neighborhood Halloween more than any other substitute because we are out celebrating the season with our neighbors, both those who are our friends and those we don't know well. Halloween is a kind of antidote to our era's social fragmentation.

I love that it is a holiday of generosity and excess; when I was a kid I used to marvel at the very idea of trick-or-treating because it seemed it would violate all my social conditioning to ring a stranger's doorbell and ask for candy. How totally bizarre it must be to do that!! At the same time, our era's sanitized version of Halloween (parents and cars all over the place) is nothing like what Tim experienced as a child, when "Trick or treat, soap or eat" was a genuine threat. As much as it seems to violate social norms to ask strangers for candy, social rituals are strongly emphasized in today's Halloween as children are reminded to say "Trick-or-treat" when the door opens and then to be sure to say "Thank you!" (I was annoyed at myself for falling into this as I walked with my friends, the parents of N.s friend. We were repeatedly reminding the boys to say "thank you" and I really don't think that should matter much at Halloween!).

We haven't talked much yet with N. about the complex origins of Halloween, though these were exactly what disturbed my parents when I was young. But as the streets of our neighborhood are thronged with ghosts and witches and cackles and howls ring in the air, I like to think we are connected to an ancient way of marking the season as it turns, wondering what it will hold for us, and thinking of those no longer with us.

Tim hoped to ward off swine flu with this sick jack-o-lantern.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Child's October, Part 1

[This isn't timely, but I didn't have time to write it when it was timely...]

In August, N. and I were talking about events we were anticipating in October, a momentous month: his sister Anne’s baby was due mid-month, and of course there would be Halloween.

“There’s something else, Mommy,” N. reminded me.

“What? I can’t think of anything else.”

You know!”

“No, really, I don’t think there’s anything…”

“THE FAIR!!!!”

How could I have forgotten? N. loves the Dixie Classic Fair, the major agricultural fair for the western region of North Carolina, with a deep passion. This year we spent two whole days there, and I mean arriving at 9:30 a.m. and leaving at 5 on our first day, and that day only included 2 rides (we saved rest of the rides for another day when you could buy a pass for unlimited kiddie rides). N. attacks the fair with his usual thorough meticulousness. Our first day we wandered through Yesteryear Village, a permanent assemblage of historic farmsteading buildings from around the county that have been moved to the Fairgrounds as suburban development displaces them. We watched the blacksmiths working for an hour; we watched woodturning and eventually N. tried it for himself.

Checking out an old barn in Yesteryear Village
He examined the glass cases holding prize-winning collections of antiques: eyeglasses, medicine jars, postcards, tobacco ephemera. He insists on inspecting every one of the large dioramas constructed by various Boy and Girl Scout troops illustrating the fair’s theme (this year: “Taste the Thrill”), then the Lego entries, paintings, quilts, jars of preserves, etc. We looked at the animals – pigs, goats, and chickens on the day we were there. We watched farm kids in different age groups herd pigs in a ring in a showmanship event. We walked through the midway to marvel at the rides some crazy adults love. We sat on the grass and listened to a wonderful bluegrass band. We marveled at the state-record-setting pumpkin (1,258 lbs!)… and more!

Prize-winning chickens...
...and pumpkins!

I know many sophisticates and intellectuals who scoff at the fair. Though I didn’t notice any reference to organic farming methods at the fair, I might expect that my locavore friends would take an interest in the agricultural displays. But the agricultural aspects of the fair are geared toward farmers and 4-Hers, not urban dilettantes. All other elements of the fair seem appealing to the intelligentsia only as camp or with a thorough sense of irony. Thus I saw plenty of Facebook photos mocking Fair kitsch and the vast array of signs advertising fried foods; the most notorious are fried pickles and fried butter.

How much more pleasant it was to be able to see the fair through the eyes of my five-year-old instead! I felt lucky to be there with him. Not only does he unabashedly enjoy the fair, but unlike my sophisticated friends, it seems, N. really marvels at the labor that the fair celebrates, from Lego creations to farming to blacksmithing to music-making. Added to this, it is so much fun to see his sheer enjoyment of the rides, an enjoyment that has blossomed from very tentative to wholehearted over three years of fair attendance. It's great to be a kid at the fair.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sitting Still -- or Not

I started reading Little House in the Big Woods to N. a few nights ago. Tonight, we read Pa's story about his father's difficulty being still as a child on Sundays, and the time he and his brothers snuck outside to try their new sled. N. had a hard time understanding the extreme version of the Sabbath practiced by Laura's Grandpa's family. They can't cook, hitch the horses to the wagon, or do anything else resembling work. The children have to sit quietly and study their catechism. I tried to explain that they dedicate Sunday to reflection and prayer, to thinking and studying. N. cried out, "No! You have to fidget to learn! You have to move all around and play to learn!"

Amen, baby.