The worst Halloween ever (or, the night a girl and her mom stole my candy)

When I was 5, my parents took me trick-or-treating. It was drizzling, and I had a nasty cold, but I didn’t want to miss Halloween.

Florida Memory/public domain

I don’t remember my costume, but I remember my bag. It was a paper, with paper-cord handles. This is important. It was a paper bag.

I got a lot of candy, but there were a few duds. One woman was giving out pieces of popcorn — loose, not bagged, just reaching in a bowl and dropping a few into the paper bag — and there was a doctor up the street who gave out pennies.

So, there I am, sick, sniffling, coughing, with a slight fever, walking down the street in a drizzling rain, and I say, “Mom, my bag feels lighter.”

She says, “Oh, you’re just getting used to the weight.”

I stop and look at my bag and say, “No, it broke!”

The bottom had dropped out of my damp paper sack, and all my candy had fallen out.

We looked up the sidewalk and there, maybe 20 feet behind us, a girl and her mother were scooping up my candy and putting it in the girl’s bag.

I looked at Mom. She looked at the girl and mother stealing my candy and sighed. “OK,” she said. “Let’s go to a few more houses, then.”

We did, but we’d already hit most of the houses on the street, and I didn’t get enough candy to make up for the candy the girl and her mother stole.

A few years ago, my parents and I were talking about the kids’ costumes and about Halloween when I was a kid — like the time our neighbor’s big black dog chased me down the street, or the many times teenagers blew up our pumpkins with M-80s — and I asked Mom why she hadn’t tried to stop the woman from taking the candy.

Mom said she knew the woman, or knew of her. I’m from a really small town in eastern Kentucky where everybody knows everybody else, including their family histories and their family’s criminal history. “That woman was mean,” my mom said.

I understood. It would be a waste of time to get into an argument with an idiot over a couple bucks worth of chocolate. I imagine she would have claimed it was hers under the widely held legal principle of “finders keepers.”

So, this Halloween I’ll carve a pumpkin (yuck) and take the kids out trick-or-treating and, because they asked, I’ll wear a costume — Indiana Jones, because I have a jacket and a hat that would work — and if I see a kid spill some candy on the sidewalk, you can bet Things 1 and 2 and I will help him pick it up.

Adventures in bad parenting: Giving a kid cash to stop whining

I didn’t see this happen, and neither did Sweetie, but it concerns our youngest, the 4-year-old, Thing 2.

He was with his grandparents, and they don’t really want to talk about it, but here’s the story we’ve managed to piece together from the scraps of information we’ve been given:

Thing 2 is nearly 5, but he’s just now going through his terrible 2’s.

When he’s not happy, when he doesn’t get his way, he cries. If that doesn’t work, he wails. If that doesn’t work, he has what folks in the South call a conniption.

When we cave — and we usually do cave, especially in public — the crying stops, instantly, like you’re turning off a tap. Suddenly, he’s fine, and we feel like suckers, and rightly so.

We’re trying to break him of this habit, and I thought we were beginning to make progress.

So, Sweetie’s parents are in town, and they took Thing 2 to Kroger. He wanted something — I don’t know what, exactly — but they said no, and he started crying, and when that didn’t work, he started wailing, and when that didn’t work, he had a conniption.

Thing 2’s conniptions aren’t really angry, but they’re loud, and he sobs like you’ve just told him you’re taking his dog to live on a farm in the country. “Pleeeeease,” he’ll say between sobs. It can be heartbreaking, and it’s hard to say no, especially if you haven’t seen it a million times before.

When we’re with him and he does that, we take him outside and talk to him, or else one of us takes him to the car, but the grandparents were caught off guard, so I’m not blaming them for what happened next.

Thing 2 was causing such a disturbance in the checkout aisle that the cashier reached into her pocket and gave him a dollar bill. She gave him cash to make him stop crying.

And it worked. The crying stopped, instantly.

He used the money to buy a Hot Wheel, which he proudly showed me when I got home.

When I finally pieced together the story, I was speechless. How did it come to this?

I turned to Thing 2 and, trying hard to channel my inner Mr. Rogers, I said, “This is bad. Do you understand?”

He either didn’t understand or couldn’t have cared less. I changed my approach.

“I can’t believe a big boy like you were crying so much that the check-out lady gave you a dollar to stop crying. You’re almost 5. This is really bad. You know that, right?”

He smiled and nodded his head, like I’d said, “The sky’s blue. You know that, right?”

He said, “Oh, yeah,” and went back to playing with his new Hot Wheel, like he didn’t have a care in the world.

Sweetie and I have gotten used to reprogramming the kids after the grandparents visit. (I don’t know why, but grandparents cannot say “No.”)

But this? This episode established a dangerous new precedent.

This is going to take some work.

What we think about when we’re shooting laser guns at people

I took Thing 1 (the 10-year-old) to play laser tag over the weekend.

If you’ve never played, you’re given a laser gun that’s tethered to a vest covered with sensors. You have 15 minutes to chase each other through a maze. When you’re hit, your pistol and sensors stop working for a few seconds, so both players can escape.

We played 2 rounds. The first was just us, but before the second game started, the attendant came in and told us we’d be playing with a cherubic little boy I’ll call Pugsley. I’m guessing he was maybe 10.

So, the game starts.

We all head off to find a hiding place from which to shoot each other. I see Thing 1 hiding behind a wall. I sneak up and shoot her in the back. She chases me and, and as soon as her laser gun is back online, she shoots me. (We really are a loving family. Seriously.)

Thing 1 and I are having a great time, zapping each other, and I realize I haven’t seen Pugley. I think, if that was my kid, I’d want him to feel included. I’d want him to have fun, too. So, I go looking for him.

I find him. He’s found a hiding place in the back of the maze, and when Thing 1 runs by, he jumps out, fires his laser gun and screams:


I thought, Whoa, did he just say….

He shoots me.


Now, I have a confession to make. Whenever I take Thing 1 to play laser tag, it’s like I’m a kid again playing “Star Wars” or something. On the drive home, I asked my daughter what she thinks about. She’s really competitive. With her, there’s no role playing. She just wants to win.

I can picture kids today playing soldier, but I was surprised and a little depressed to learn that any little boy would fantasize about fending off a home invasion.

I think, maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe I’m projecting my anxieties about crime and violence onto Pugsley. Maybe his little fantasy about defending his home against a home invasion is as innocent as that scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie dreams of being a cowboy and shooting burglars.

Thing 1, meanwhile, decides she’s had enough of Pugsley’s hide-and-shoot strategy. She ducks behind a wall and waits, and as soon as he peeks out, she shoots him. Over and over again.

Pugley’s pinned down. I feel sorry for him — partly because I still think his little home-invasion fantasy is kind of sad, but also because Thing 1 is showing him no mercy. I imagine how I’d feel if Thing 1 was playing with another family and kept getting shot by an older kid.

I ask Thing 1 to give him a break. She won’t, so  I start shooting her, just to disable her gun and give Pugsley a chance to run, but then Pugsley screams something else:


Now, I understand he’s a child and that he’s just echoing the attitudes he’s learned at home or at school, but when he disses Thing 1 for being a girl, I think, Well, Pugsley, I guess you’re on your own.

I let them play and don’t interfere.

When the game is over, we check our scores. Thing 1 had annihilated him (and me, too).

On our way out of the arena, Pugsley says, “That was fun!”

Glad to hear it.