I can hear them from the kitchen. Their laughter–giddy, riotous–bounces and floats, and every so often I catch a “yea, and–“, just the edge of a phrase, the words pointed and stretched for diving in. They have left this solid, dusty, hungry place for another realm, for a place where garden fairies dressed in glittery leaves co-exist with white queens wrapped in gauzy dresses; where miniature super heroes prance about; where girl versions of Harry Potter just happen to thrive. They will need grease-pencil scars before the night is over; the recycled container that used to be for dishwasher pods sits ready on the table, packed full of magic.
It would be easy to treat this like any other day. In fact, we have spent our most recent Halloweens bouncing up from the dinner table mid-sentence, mid-bite, to dole out candy–one piece each, please–thunk, thunk, thunk, and Happy Halloweeeen to you too! I love costumes, and when the kids were small, I thought-up all kinds of detailed family get-ups. One year, we were Adam’s Family (translation: The Addams Family), and I walked around in a full-length black evening gown, complete with spider-web jewelry and long black fingernails. Kevin took pictures of me cutting the buds off of our roses, with disdain. Zoe played a white-faced, grim Wednesday, long black braids and all. And then there was the year I capitalized on Adam’s love for numbers and outfitted him as The Matrix, covering a black sweatsuit in neon green glow-in-the-dark digits. Kevin and I walked around the neighborhood dressed as Neo and Trinity, and for the first and only time I can remember, families we didn’t know stopped to talk to us and asked to take our picture. But our kids grew up and developed their own costume ideas, and over time, I gave in to the mad rush and stopped really giving the holiday a whole lot of thought. Oh, we decorate every year with sparkly spiders and twinkle lights shaped like glowing ghosts and skeletons—fun things my mom garnered for us one year at an after sale, but otherwise the day typically passes in a flurry of leftovers and mostly uninvited chaos.
I thought this year would whirl away in much the same fashion. A few of Zoe’s close friends had invited her to go trick-or-treating, and she waffled back and forth over the idea for days, having adopted our lackluster approach. She showed me Pinterest posts of girl Harry Potter costumes and said, “If I go, I want to wear this,” but that was all.
And then on Sunday night, Kevin mentioned creating some kind of game–using things we already have, he stipulated–for the kids to play outside. “You know, we could set our lawn chairs out there, maybe hang some extra lights?”
I admit, I was surprised. He’s as introverted as me and generally just as ready to close the curtains at the end of the day and retreat. But the fact that Jesus loves people, the fact that he sacrificed everything, is still changing both of us.
“Okay. I’ll poke around for some ideas,” I said, wondering what enthusiasm (and supplies) I could stir up at the last minute.
Just this morning, I sent Kevin pictures of pumpkin bowling (pumpkins–check, toilet paper–check!) and of a ring-toss game using glow sticks. We discussed having dessert after the festivities. It felt fun, and also impossible. I had a full day with all the usual responsibilities, and very little creativity–or fairy dust–left.
And now, I stand in the kitchen heating plates of leftover spaghetti, my Halloween t-shirt pushed up around my elbows, dishsoap bubbles making mountains in my sink. The last of the afternoon sunlight winks through the windows. That laughter—it calls me back to childhood, to those days when my brothers and I became warriors and haunts and scar-faced monstrosities at twilight, when we tromped around the neighborhood with my dad drifting quietly, watchfully behind as we filled our jack-o-lantern buckets full of candy. I know that there are all kinds of opinions about Halloween, and I respect them, but for us, the holiday has only ever been about imagination and sweetness.
I fold napkins and place forks, and Kevin shapes our four working glowsticks into rings. He scoops up two of the pumpkins we’d gathered on an earlier field trip, the ones with the long stems, and heads outside, a string of lights dangling from one arm.
There’s time enough for the kids to eat, time enough for me to rinse their plates and load clinking silverware into the washer, before Zoe and her friends leave with their pillow cases and buckets and laughter and Kevin leans inside and calls, “You ready?”
And I’m still not sure I am, not with the countertops dull and dotted with food, not with the sigh knotting up my neck.
But I turn my back on the kitchen and go outside, moved by my husband’s enthusiam, his relentless determination to give. In addition to the pumpkin glow-stick twinkle-lit ring toss, Kevin has pulled empty milk jugs from the recycle bin and set them up like pins on our driveway. He found a flat ball in the garage, and he stands beside our lawn chairs, tossing it from hand to hand. “Recycled items bowling,” he says.
When Kevin was a boy, his grandfather delighted him for hours with a basement bowling game comprised of similar items, trashed and deflated things turned into fun. “We went to the bowling alley from time to time,” Kevin had told me once, “but playing in the basement with those jugs was always more fun.” I can only smile now, walking toward him, because I’m a recycled thing myself, flat and breathless, bounce-less, like that ball, somehow remade with the potential to bless. I realize now that the magic lives in the hands holding the thing, in the power propelling it up and out, in the ability to reimagine a dead thing as living. And no matter how I feel on any given day, God’s hands are the hands holding me.
The children come in shiny groups, masked, clacking, with swords and staffs and scythes smacking the street, with their candy pails bouncing against their thighs. Some of them burst across the grass, sprinting, their cheeks puffed and chilly-pink. They stop, abruptly, in front of us, taking in the lights, the pumpkins, the glow sticks.
“Do you want to play our ring toss game?” Riley asks, and each time, the children nod quickly, setting down their candy in bags and ghastly containers at their feet. The rings thwack against the ground, against the pumpkins, sometimes. The kids try again and again, with their parents standing behind them, some surprised and interested, others glancing impatiently down the street. Almost every time, especially when they can’t manage to loop a ring around a pumpkin stem, Kevin follows up with, “Hey, how about some recycled items bowling?” And then the kids shriek and whoop, flinging that dead ball at those milk jugs, delighted by the rumbling sound when the ball crashes in. We cheer and clap and carry-on madly, and I drop candy in their buckets, more, for their effort.
Eventually they trickle on, reluctantly, making room for the next hoard.
I hear them say things as they leave us, things like, “Wow, that was fun,” and “I almost got it!” and “Did you see?” And their parents lift their hands and wave, turning to supervise the journey on.
I sit in a chair holding a candy bowl in my lap, gathering the smiles on their faces–broad, toothy, baby-sweet. “You know, you made this really fun,” I say to Kevin, smiling at his “costume”—BOO on a white t-shirt, written in black letters, dashed where the Sharpie in his hand slipped against the fabric. Suddenly I’m incredibly grateful for his ability to make magic out of simplicity, better, out of disgarded and forgotten things. He reminds me that making the most of every opportunity doesn’t have to be complicated. All that’s needed is whatever we have, imagination, and the determination to give.