Halloween is for Kids, Right?

By Gregory Keer

A dozen years ago, when my sons were younger, I had a lesson to learn about All Hallow’s Eve. Up till then, I really thought I could construct the perfect trick-or-treat night. On that October 31st, I stepped into the night, ready to lead my brood through one of childhood’s greatest experiences – an evening of stockpiling candy and pretending to be a favorite character. For me, it was a chance to have as much fun as they did.

I even dressed up as Luke Skywalker, wearing a robe and carrying a toy lightsaber, though I didn’t look as adorable as my kids. Jacob (then 4 years old) dressed as Harry Potter. Benjamin (then 7) went for the medieval ‘dark warrior’ look. Ari (then 11 months) was stuffed in a puffy lion’s costume for his Halloween premiere.

As I watched my older sons ring doorbells and say thank you in voices as sweet as the treats they received, it was perfectly enchanting – for all of 15 minutes.

A car blaring bass-driven music slowed in front of us. A teenager in a Scream mask yelled out, “Happy Halloween!” then chucked an egg that smacked my pant leg.

My children thought it was hysterical.

“Daddy got hit with an egg! Can we go get some eggs, too?”

“No,” I shouted, before realizing I was cracking myself. “It’s only funny once.”

As we moved along, my wife commented, “The real Luke would’ve dodged that egg.”

I glared at her, then spied Jacob returning from a house, his mouth bulging with chocolate, ready to open a king-size Snickers.

“Only five candies while we walk,” I warned him.

That’s when my little Harry Potter quick-changed from British schoolboy to spoiled brat: “I don’t LIKE you!” he cried, dropping to the sidewalk.

I controlled my temper, firmly telling Jacob, “I can take you home right now.”

Apparently this worked because he hugged me, saying, “I’ll share some of the SweeTarts with you later, Daddy. I know you love them.”

With order restored, I pushed Ari along in the stroller, smiling as he pointed at the festive decorations of flying witches, fluttering ghosts – bloody body parts strewn over someone’s lawn.

Then, Benjamin whined, “I’m bored.”

I tried to ignore him, thinking, what could be better than going house-to-house with your family, collecting treats Charlie Brown only dreamed about?

“This is really boring,” Benjamin repeated.

“Look, guys, this house has a hundred cool pumpkins!” I said like a cheerleader. “This one is mean, this one is silly, and this one looks like Mommy without her makeup.”

Neither my wife nor my eldest son appreciated that one.

“Not funny, Daddy. I’m still bored,” Benjamin grumbled. “Can I go to Jeff’s haunted house to help scare people?”

I looked at my wife, dejectedly. “This is supposed to be a family night.”

“Let him go play,” my wife said.

Benjamin ran off and we visited more houses, but I kept feeling let down without him. Then I realized Jacob had slipped away, too. I ran up and down the block before spotting him hiding behind a bush, about to eat an unwrapped popcorn ball.

“Don’t — eat — that!” I shouted as I swatted away the sticky clump like it was some kind of grenade.

Jacob wailed in shock while I explained, “Didn’t we tell you not to eat anything that isn’t in a package?”

I leaned down to hug away his tears just as Ari, no longer content to be a live-action Simba the Lion King, pulled off his cloth mane for the seventh time and howled crankily.

“I’ll take him home,” Wendy said.

Seeing my perfect Halloween unravel, I sulked like one of my children, “But I want to trick-or-treat TOGETHER!”

My wife placed her hand on my cheek: “You need to grow up.”

Later, my family reconvened at home, munching on more candies and answering the door for other trick-or-treaters. My childish desire to be one of the kids slowly faded, especially in light of seeing Jacob handing out sweets to the visitors.

“Here’s one for you Cinderella, one for you Spider-Man,” he said before a much larger person came up, clearly an adult in a grotesque mask. Without a beat, Jacob said, “And here’s three candies for you, Scary-Face Man.”

Imagine, a grown-up trying to steal some of the fun on a kids’ night. Well, there’s always next year.

© 2017 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Adulthood, Columns by Family Man, Halloween, Holidays | 1 Comment

Adolescent Fears Strike Out

HalloweenSpiderBy Gregory Keer

During my tenure as a dad, I’ve weathered enough horrors to rival anything the architects of Halloween could imagine. The middle-of-the night variety of nightmares has been enough to keep my heart racing just recalling it. Nothing rattles you like being startled by a wife who says, “Go check on the baby, I don’t think he’s breathing” or having a five-year-old exhaling on your sleeping face like an ax-murderer before announcing, “Can I cuddle with you guys?” Then, there have been the screeching cats I’ve stepped on while stumbling for 3am baby bottles and the Exorcist-style upchuck projecting from otherwise angelic children at the stroke of midnight.

As I’ve grown as a parent, my boys’ travails have given me frights that chilled me to the bone. The first time I couldn’t get a return phone call or text from my eldest when he drove to a friends’ house sent images of mayhem and destruction I wouldn’t wish on anyone’s imagination. When my middle son’s face was mauled by a dog, I thought I was somehow the monster for not having been there to prevent it.

For all my horrors, they pale in comparison to the ones my children have endured themselves, especially because they lack the life experience to know how they will get through challenges that range from social pressure to emotional catastrophe. While they know they have my wife and me to support them, their quest for independence has often pushed us away. In most cases, it is best to let them suffer scares alone, since they have to develop inner resources, but heaven knows it pains me to see them in pain.

Recently, my youngest child started middle school. As our third, he has been “the baby,” the one we’ve trusted to stay young and carefree. However, sixth grade has changed that forever. He’s forsaken the hairstyles that kept his cotton-ball hair wild in favor of a close-cropped, edgier look so no one will tease him for appearing too young. Although that makes me sad since those curls had been part of his identity since he was born, Ari’s leap into the shark-infested waters of adolescent fashion has gone further.

One weekend, he and I weeded out shirts he no longer would wear. With conviction, he stuffed a bag full of too-small clothes and anything with superheroes or seemingly playful graphics.

“Wait, you won’t wear Spider-Man anymore?” I asked, thinking the Marvel hero had to be cool enough for sixth grade.

“No, Dad. I don’t like Spider-Man, anymore.”

I nodded and continued packing with him, yet stopped again when he tossed a tee with a Minecraft parody on it that I bought him just a few months ago. Had he changed his taste that quickly?

“This shirt is funny,” I insisted. “And Minecraft is for grown-ups, too.”

Ari grimaced, suddenly looking older than I am. “There are these bullies in the bathrooms who make fun of you if you wear childish clothes.”

Hearing this, my blood boiled.

“What? Do they threaten you?”

“No, Dad – don’t worry about it.”

“I do worry. Has anyone hurt you? Or your friends?”

“No. I just don’t go in the bathroom during nutrition or lunch.”

Visions of Mark Wahlberg taking revenge on teen punks flashed in my mind.

“That’s not right. I think I should let the school know.”

At this point, Ari looked at me with a mix of wisdom and steely resolve that he must have acquired overnight.

“It’s OK. I know how to handle this. I just can’t wear these kind of t-shirts.”

Something on my face clearly affected Ari as he held the shirt in his fist. He softened, and put it back in his drawer.

“I’ll wear it on weekends.”

It’s been a couple of weeks since that talk, but not a day has gone by without my thinking about what might be going on in the school bathroom or halls. What would I do if my child did get beaten up or merely intimidated into running away to hide? How does he really feel inside? Does he feel inferior to these jerks? What can I do to boost his pride and bravery?

The truth is that these are my fears, my visions of what middle-school horror is. On Ari’s part, he seems more interested in talking on the phone with his new “squad” (the word he uses) of friends and making sure his teachers see him working hard. I’ve asked him a couple of times about the bullies and he tells me to stop asking him about it.  So I’ve stopped inquiring, even though I still fret over might happen.

What seems to matter is that my youngest boy, much as my older two who seemed to have more influence than I do, has taken ownership of at least some of his fears. I have to let him conquer the demons on his own, barring a raising of the stakes, of course. In this way, he gets to be the hero who defeats the villains and monsters that might plague him.

As for me, I’m sure to have plenty of other nightmares, mostly the result of my own over-heated imagination. And while I miss some of the frights associated with having to be the savior for little kids, I take a bit of pride that my children both want to and are capable of feeling their own way through the dark.

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Education, Halloween, Holidays | Leave a comment

Evil Dad

By Gregory Keer

Following is a Halloween column that scared up some laughs a few years back. It’s back to haunt you intrepid readers, once again. 

I don’t enjoy seeing car wrecks, reading about celebrity break-ups, or learning of the latest politician caught doing something illegal. But I do like witnessing other children behaving badly. I know it’s sinful, a little evil, even. That doesn’t stop the twisted inflation of my ego resulting from other parents having a similar or worse time than I usually have. Honestly, I do not wish misfortune on any parent — I just want to be there when it happens.

I didn’t always know I had this character flaw. For most of my fatherhood tenure, I’ve been too preoccupied to notice it while my own kids went through phases of throwing breakable items in grocery stores and telling friends that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. My youngest boy, Ari, may be my biggest troublemaker. At an amusement park, the other day, he thought it was hilarious to randomly swat other grown-ups while I carried him through the crowd. I’m pretty sure he would have laughed harder should I have been punched in the nose by one of his surprised victims.

Although I know that all children misbehave at times – and that pushing boundaries can be healthy, especially when the stakes are low at the younger ages — I worry about the judgments of others who might see me as an ineffective parent. I sometimes fantasize about turning into a Dickens character, pulling my kids by the collar, and growling at them in a cockney accent, “Mind your manners, my urchins. It’s not wise to make your father look poorly.” (Actually, I did that once and my kids laughed at me).

But a recent conversation has allowed me to embrace my vampire-like desire to feed off other parents’ misery. During a basketball game for my oldest son, I watched a father on the sidelines, trying to give advice to his eight-year-old kid, who responded with, “Why should I listen to you, Daddy? You stink at shooting!”

Then, my friend Adam, a master of the witty aside, leaned toward me and said, “There’s a column for you. Write about how much fun it is to see other parents suffer.” We spent the rest of the game recounting tales from the parenting dark side. When once, as younger men, we might have shot the breeze about girlfriends, pro sports, and bad job experiences, we were now reduced to cackling gossips.

I told the story of the panicked mom who scoured a zoo in search of her missing son. When she finally found him in the dimly lit reptile center, in which she had looked twice before, she screamed, “Why did you go in here alone?” The child responded with the classic, “I don’t know.” As Mom launched the rest of her tirade, I tried to conceal my grin as other people escaped the house of snakes and the nearby baboons screamed along with the poor mother.

We talked about the father who leaped out of the stands to accuse the opposing coach of letting his players hit baseballs at his son on the pitcher’s mound. The agitated dad was just trying to be protective, but the tantrum stood out during a tee-ball game among five-year-olds who could barely tap a stationary ball. We took glee in the pain of the dad who, after overhearing his child refuse to share any of his toys, announced, “We’re really nice people. Please don’t judge us by our son.” And, in one of the more ugly examples, I noted the wicked thrill of seeing another parent get chewed out because his son bit my son, and not the other way around.

I am not proud of my primal need to feel better about my own failures by recalling the difficulties of others, but it does remind me of how absurd it is to try living up to the expectations of calm and wisdom most of us place upon ourselves. As this Halloween approaches, I won’t need a costume or candy. I’ll be the Evil Dad, feasting on the treats supplied by parents trying in vain to keep their kids in line in the dark of the night.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Halloween, Humor, Parenting Stress | 1 Comment

Night of the Shrinking Bed

By Gregory Keer

It was a cold, eerie night, eight years ago, an evening that still sends chills up and down my spine. My wife and I had endured a fifth straight evening of multiple wake-ups from our newborn. After two feedings, three walks around the house, and four false-alarm cries, Wendy and I trembled with exhaustion. This was compounded by the stress of having just moved to a new home, my starting a teaching gig, and our older sons kicking off a new school year.

Finally, sleep came and, when it did, I went down hard.

That was until I felt a “presence” hovering over me. Dog-tired, I kept snoring. Then I heard a faint wheezing. The wheezing turned to heavy breathing, which got louder and louder. High-pitched moaning pierced my eardrums and my eyes snapped open.

A dark shape stood next to me, holding what looked like an axe!

I screamed. “Ahhhhhh!!!!.”

My wife jumped up and shrieked, “Where’s the baby?”

The figure screamed back. “Dadddeee!!!”

Bolting upright, I recognized the shape as my son, Benjamin. The axe I imagined was his tattered blanket.

My son burst into tears and fell across me in the aftermath of what had been a twisted recreation of the movie scene in which Drew Barrymore sees E.T. for the first time. In this case, I was Drew Barrymore.

“What were you doing standing over me like that?” I said breathlessly.

“I – just – wanted – to – cuddle,” Benjamin blurted between sobs.

And there it was. The dramatic comeuppance for two parents who had long struggled with the issue of a family bed.

Before my wife and I had children, we swore we’d never let our kids sleep with us. We judged others who let their kids in the bed, thinking that kind of arrangement could only create intimacy problems for the couple and therapy sessions for the children.

Sometime later, we found ourselves changing our tune. It began when Benjamin, then almost three and new to a “big boy” bed without rails, started sneaking into our room in the middle of the night. Due to fatigue and the sheer joy of cuddling, we let him snuggle with us for a few hours each night. This went on for a couple of years until Jacob got old enough to leave the crib and want his own time in Mommy and Daddy’s bed.

So we started a campaign to keep the kids on their own mattresses. We told them that they could crawl in with us in the morning, when it was light outside. Jacob, always a deeper sleeper, was easier to keep to the new rule. But we had to experiment with all kinds of tricks to keep Benjamin in his room. Over time, we tried clocks, a sleeping bag on our bedroom floor, extra stuffed animals, a special pillow, and just plain begging with intermittent success.

Then, there was the previously mentioned night of all that wheezing and screaming.

After we all calmed down, I escorted Benjamin to his bed, reminding him of the house rules. A little later, he returned. I got crankier and he went away wailing again. This back-and-forth occurred every 10 minutes, as he tried to gain our sympathy and we used every tactic from yelling to listing all the playdates he was going to lose.

Then, my son Jacob joined the fray, shouting out like a lost child that his pull-up needed to be changed. Jacob fell back asleep but he was replaced by the dog that scratched at the door to go outside and the cat that upchucked a fur ball on the bed. All the while, my wife and I bickered about how to handle the whole mess.

I pleaded with our first-born. I even cried when he cried, asking for mercy on his exhausted father who had to wake up to teach cranky high-school sophomores in the morning.

Finally, with Benjamin as worn out as I was, I found clarity – kind of like a Bugs Bunny horror spoof in which the rabbit realizes the way to stop the monster is by complimenting him (“Gee, Doc, you got really big muscles.”) So, I appealed to Benjamin’s desire to feel like the big boy he was.

“You graduated from kindergarten and now you’re a first grader,” I explained. “It’s time to graduate to sleeping the whole night on your own. You can do this.” I then promised him a reward chart that would track how many nights he could stay in his bed.

Things got a lot better after that. For a while thereafter, Benjamin still crawled into bed with us at 6am or so, but he was proud of himself for becoming more “sleep independent.” Eventually, he stayed in his bed all night and my wife and I got our bed back…That is until kid number two started haunting us.

Posted in Babies, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Halloween, Humor | 1 Comment

Evil Dad

By Gregory Keer

I don’t enjoy seeing car wrecks, reading about celebrity break-ups, or learning of the latest politician caught doing something illegal. But I do like witnessing other children behaving badly. I know it’s sinful, a little evil, even. That doesn’t stop the twisted inflation of my ego resulting from other parents having a similar or worse time than I usually have. Honestly, I do not wish misfortune on any parent — I just want to be there when it happens.

I didn’t always know I had this character flaw. For most of my fatherhood tenure, I’ve been too preoccupied to notice it while my own kids went through phases of throwing breakable items in grocery stores and telling friends that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. My youngest boy, Ari, may be my biggest troublemaker. At an amusement park, the other day, he thought it was hilarious to randomly swat other grown-ups while I carried him through the crowd. I’m pretty sure he would have laughed harder should I have been punched in the nose by one of his surprised victims.

Although I know that all children misbehave at times – and that pushing boundaries can be healthy, especially when the stakes are low at the younger ages — I worry about the judgments of others who might see me as an ineffective parent. I sometimes fantasize about turning into a Dickens character, pulling my kids by the collar, and growling at them in a cockney accent, “Mind your manners, my urchins. It’s not wise to make your father look poorly.” (Actually, I did that once and my kids laughed at me).

But a recent conversation has allowed me to embrace my vampire-like desire to feed off other parents’ misery. During a basketball game for my oldest son, I watched a father on the sidelines, trying to give advice to his eight-year-old kid, who responded with, “Why should I listen to you, Daddy? You stink at shooting!”

Then, my friend Adam, a master of the witty aside, leaned toward me and said, “There’s a column for you. Write about how much fun it is to see other parents suffer.” We spent the rest of the game recounting tales from the parenting dark side. When once, as younger men, we might have shot the breeze about girlfriends, pro sports, and bad job experiences, we were now reduced to cackling gossips.

I told the story of the panicked mom who scoured a zoo in search of her missing son. When she finally found him in the dimly lit reptile center, in which she had looked twice before, she screamed, “Why did you go in here alone?” The child responded with the classic, “I don’t know.” As Mom launched the rest of her tirade, I tried to conceal my grin as other people escaped the house of snakes and the nearby baboons screamed along with the poor mother.

We talked about the father who leaped out of the stands to accuse the opposing coach of letting his players hit baseballs at his son on the pitcher’s mound. The agitated dad was just trying to be protective, but the tantrum stood out during a tee-ball game among five-year-olds who could barely tap a stationary ball. We took glee in the pain of the dad who, after overhearing his child refuse to share any of his toys, announced, “We’re really nice people. Please don’t judge us by our son.” And, in one of the more ugly examples, I noted the wicked thrill of seeing another parent get chewed out because his son bit my son, and not the other way around.

I am not proud of my primal need to feel better about my own failures by recalling the difficulties of others, but it does remind me of how absurd it is to try living up to the expectations of calm and wisdom most of us place upon ourselves. As this Halloween approaches, I won’t need a costume or candy. I’ll be the Evil Dad, feasting on the treats supplied by parents trying in vain to keep their kids in line in the dark of the night.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Halloween, Humor | Leave a comment