Halloween is an interesting time of year. It's the gateway into a season full of fun holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's Eve—that we all associate with childhood. Yet none of these occasions are really for babies. I'd be locked up if I tried to give an 8-month-old anything other than pureed turkey and very, very mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. At Christmastime, a baby generally doesn't care if you put a wrapped gift or a broken toaster in front of her, and New Year's is, well, pretty much a nonevent when you have an infant. In the year after we had our first child, my wife, Susan, and I were too tired to celebrate New Year's Eve, but we were both awake regardless, because Isabelle had this thing about not liking to sleep between 11 p.m. and, oh, 4 a.m. ("Honey, the ball dropped. It's a new year." "Yup. Pass me a diaper.")
But back to Halloween. It's an interesting time of year because whether you make the decision in a fleeting second or after several minutes of careful deliberation, you do have to determine whether you're going to embrace the holiday at full throttle and take your baby trick-or-treating, or meet the day with age-appropriate restraint. This is arguably the moment when you learn what type of mom or dad you're going to be: the grown-up parent, or the other kind.
I call the other kind "carefree." My wife uses different words, ranging from "childish" to "gluttonous," since she thinks that, for me, it's all about the candy. And it isn't. Not entirely. All I know is that even before Isabelle was born, I couldn't wait to start doing things with her that my parents had done with me. In my mind, trick-or-treating was just like going on a roller coaster or staying up late to watch a scary movie—i.e., stuff you can't or shouldn't do with an infant but have a serious yearning to do anyway. I really just wanted to show her how cool and fun life can be.
So a week or two before Halloween, I sketched out a map of our neighborhood, and then, just in case we had some extra time, a rough outline of a nearby neighborhood with nicer cars in the driveways and presumably better treats. But as I was showing 12-month-old Isabelle my map and plotting our neighborhood-domination/treat-getting strategy, she gleefully ripped my drawing to shreds, and the cruel reality of the situation dawned on me. Babies can't eat candy.
At first, that didn't bother me much. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had to face facts. Because Isabelle couldn't swallow candy—nor chew it or even suck on anything beyond, say, a graham cracker—no matter how cute she looked in her caterpillar costume, no matter how convincing I was when I explained to our neighbors that I was really just walking the streets in order to show off our baby, when I said "Trick or treat!" everyone would know the cold, hard truth: The Tootsie Rolls weren't for Isabelle, they were for me.
That's why, of course, if you're the grown-up parent, the practical and logical one, the kind who enjoys having his dignity fully intact, you're going to stay indoors, since there's no obvious reason you should be wandering the neighborhood collecting candy with your baby. But if you figure you never really recouped your dignity after that day in high school when you asked that cute girl out on a date and were shot down with a cruel giggle, not realizing that you had accidentally bumped the PA system button, broadcasting the humiliating exchange to the entire school, a few stares from your neighbors won't bother you.
So while I fully respect the grown-up parent—every marriage should have at least one—I encourage any moms or dads who want to trick-or-treat with their baby to do so with wild abandon. As long as your child isn't, say, 2 weeks old, why not show her off and collect a little candy for yourself in the process? Embrace Halloween. Heck, go whole hog and throw on a costume yourself. I know that it's a lot of time and effort to expend, especially for a new mom or new dad, but really, it isn't so bad if you share the work.
For instance, my wife sat on the porch, passing out watermelon Jolly Ranchers to the neighborhood kids, while I hoofed it around with Isabelle, exposing her to the wonders of Halloween. Beforehand, Susan bought the candy, purchased and put up the decorations, and searched through several consignment shops until she found the aforementioned (and much oohed-and-aahed-over) caterpillar costume for Isabelle. And what was I doing during that time? Nothing. But who do you think had to talk Susan into doing all that work? Believe me, it wasn't easy, but when you're a new dad who cares about starting your own family traditions, some things are worth the effort.
Geoff Williams is the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race.