My 4-foot, 11 inch Mother is the Biggest Person in Any Room

If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Mothers. We come in various ages, shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We bring our love, our quirks, our fears, and sometimes a little bit of our crazy to the job of parenting.
My parents grew up in the Bronx, New York, as next door neighbors. Yes, my mom literally married “the boy next door.” They are 100 percent Italian and grew up in a neighborhood of other Italians.
I’m sure they thought that everybody woke up to the smell of “gravy” cooking on Sunday mornings in preparation for the 3 p.m. dinner with 19 other relatives. I’m sure it was normal for families to scream and yell and gesture wildly during meals and for mothers to chase people around the house with wooden spoons and other impromptu weapons of torture.
If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest. But my parents relocated us to Orange County, California, where it quickly became evident that my family was not the norm.
Let me rephrase that. More specifically, “one of these mothers is not like the others.” For anyone who has ever been driven crazy by their mother, I hope you can relate.
Here are a few things other moms definitely didn’t do:
Other moms did not make their child’s friends wash their underarms and feet when they came over to play after school. “You girls stink,” she would say. “You have B.O. and I don’t know if it’s your underarms or your feet, so go wash them both.”
Totally mortified, I would take my friends into the bathroom to wash up, and I would wonder if anyone would ever want to come over to my house again. Somehow, they always came back, probably because we had good snacks.
Other moms did not picket at school and start a petition when their youngest daughter was not named 8th grade valedictorian.
Other moms did not hire a stripper for their son’s family-friendly 18th birthday party in the backyard. Because what boy wouldn’t want his mother there when interacting with a stripper?
On a similar note, other moms did not also hire a stripper for their daughter’s 21st birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, with her boyfriend and all four grandparents present.

Finally, other moms definitely did not hire an older, unattractive man to come dressed as a pink monkey for their three-year-old grandson’s birthday party and then – surprise! – take off his monkey suit to double as a stripper for the 21st birthday of her youngest daughter, terrifying all children (and adults) in attendance.
Other moms did not write a letter to Rosie O’Donnell (who had one of hottest talk shows on TV at the time where their son has just been hired in the mail room) to brag about how talented he is and how he basically should be running her show. Italians calls this the “my son” syndrome.
Other moms did not somehow force the school district to re-route the entire bus schedule so that their children could be dropped off directly in front of their house rather than on the corner bus stop like all the other kids.
Other moms did not go against the wishes of their grown children and secretly baptize their grandchild in the laundry room sink. With “permission” from the local priest, of course.
Other moms did not fill their entire car with lemons and picket in front of the car dealership (standing up through the sunroof with a giant sign that said “Lemon by BMW”) when it had mechanical problems.

Other moms did not bring a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to their 17-year-old daughter’s high school prom date’s house and give it to his mother to keep in the fridge because “Jami doesn’t like beer.”
Other moms did not tell their daughter’s new boyfriend, after knowing him for five minutes, that she wants another grandchild, then add that, at this point, she doesn’t care if they get married. She will even raise the child as long as they can just make one for her.
Other moms did not block traffic at the roundabout in front of the high school at pick-up time as they stuck themselves out of the sunroof waving a giant bouquet of balloons and honking their horn to wish their daughter a Happy Birthday.

Yes, my mom did a lot of things other moms didn’t do.
On second thought, perhaps other people didn’t have a home that was constantly filled with family, friends, food, and laughter, or a mom who let her kids’ friends live with them when they needed a place to stay.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who “adopted” the little old lady who sat alone in the back of the church every week and invite her to family dinner every Sunday.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who cooked dinner for her grown children and grandchildren every Tuesday night, year after year, making nine different dishes so everyone could have their favorites.
My mom stands only 4-foot, 11 inches, but I’ve never thought of her as small. To me, she was always the biggest person in the room (and by biggest, I mean loudest).
All kidding aside – from your eldest daughter who pours the milk before the cereal, to your only son who hasn’t touched a public door handle in 20 years, to your youngest daughter who will only eat ice cream with a fork – we may have turned out a little quirky, but all in all, I guess you did okay.
So thank you, my crazy Italian mother, for all those childhood memories, for being our fiercest protector, our strongest advocate, and our worst nightmare.

How Babies Uncovered the Mystery About Our Common Fear of Spiders

A fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.

Ghosts, skeletons, and vampires may give us the creeps this Halloween, but a fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.
This fear, technically called arachnophobia (as the 1990 movie by the same name made famous), can cause crippling anxiety for some people and impact their daily life. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out why so many people are afraid of spiders, even in places where they hardly ever come in contact with them. While some experts assumed that we learn this fear from our surroundings as children, others believed it was innate.
Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that the fear is quite real and, in fact, hereditary. During their research, the scientists showed pictures of spiders along with more typically pleasing images, like flowers and fish, to a group of six-month-old infants. The scientists noticed that the children’s pupils dilated significantly when they looked at the spiders. Dilated pupils are a typical measure of the fight-or-flight stress response. The average pupil dilations were 0.14 mm when viewing the spiders, but only 0.03 mm for the flowers – a considerable reaction.
Remarkably, past studies found that babies did not have this same reaction when shown pictures of rhinos, bears, or other typically dangerous animals. This latest research, therefore, proves that babies as young as six months felt stressed out from looking at spiders long before they could have been taught to have this reaction from their parents or through experience.
The research team went on to conclude that arachnophobia has evolutionary origins. There is a part of our brain that causes us to identify certain objects as dangerous so we can react quickly in order to survive. This inherited stress reaction ultimately led to humans associate spiders with fear and unpleasantness, and that we must avoid them at all costs.
According to evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians in his book “Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare”, many responses to our environment throughout history have been rooted in our survival mode. These experiences led to some of the ingrained, instinctual fears that are genetically programmed in us today.
Other common fears include snakes, microbes, pointed objects, leopard spots, rugged terrain, and eyes. Maybe it’s time to stop singing the “itsy bitsy spider” song to your littles, and definitely don’t dress up like a tarantula for Halloween.
In all seriousness, though, it’s crucial to understand where certain fears stem from so that we can address them properly with our children. Talk to your kids about their worries; if they bottle them up, it will only get worse. Let them know their concerns are common and that others experience them, too. Show that you understand what they’re going through by sharing your own personal anxiety stories, and reassure them that you’re there to support them whenever they become frightened.
It may take some simple distraction techniques to help kids overcome their fear instincts. If it becomes so bad that their fears interfere with their daily life, you may want to talk to your pediatrician.

On Halloween, by a Candy-Loving, Dentist's Daughter

I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.

Halloween (and in particular the candy procured) is one of my favorite Holidays – which is curious considering my dad, his dad, and my dad’s two brothers were all dentists. Of course, growing up the candy-loving daughter of a dentist had its daily challenges. Simply biting down on a blow-pop induced heart-wrenching guilt. (That sticky sugar just sits between your teeth!) But – oh holy day! – on Halloween, my dad the dentist smiled his pearly white smile, and allowed me to guiltlessly celebrate the holiday in all of its sugar-laden, cavity-inducing glory.
Even as an adult, there are many reasons to love Halloween – the crisp fall air, the childhood excitement, the silly and scary decorations, and obviously the candy – plus, there is no atoning for our sins and no sitting through sermons. It’s a holiday of untainted indulgence, until I learned information that shook my moral compass: A nationwide program called Halloween BuyBack is working with dentist offices nationwide for children to trade in their candy in exchange for money. I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.
To better grasp this internal conflict, it helps to understand that a comically tortured relationship with candy runs in the family: My dad used to keep a personal stash of sugary orange circus peanuts and sticky black licorice in his office cabinets – right next to boxes of “Stillman, DDS” engraved toothbrushes. He is now retired from his practice, but according to the website halloweencandybuyback.com, it doesn’t matter: This year an estimated 22,000 dental offices will be participating. I checked the website, and there a six dentist offices within five miles of my house alone. That certainly makes it convenient for my family, but do I make my kids bring in their loot?
While the child in me sees Halloween BuyBack as a Halloween horror story, the mom in me sees the obvious benefits. Like so many parents these days, my husband and I are stringent when it comes to our kids’ sugar intake. We are aware that too much sugar may lead to childhood obesity and childhood tooth decay, not to mention that my kids are like suped-up wind-up-toys when they get a pinch of the white stuff. We never give them soda. Juice is for special occasions. Dessert is a treat, and often taken away for bad behavior. Yes – when it comes to sugar, we are a million times stricter than my parents ever were, despite my dad’s dental profession.
Yet, like my parents allowed for me, Halloween has always been a free-for-all for my kids. So when I brought up the cash for candy concept with my third grader, he looked at me like I offered him broccoli for dessert. “No way!” He said incredulously.
With logic on my side, I tried to talk sensibly: First of all, he could not possibly eat all the candy he’d collect, even over several months, even with my help! And then there’s the “selfless lesson” because it’s for a good cause – the candy goes into care packages for US Troops. Lastly, it’s bad for you! It will rot your teeth and your body!
But honestly, my heart wasn’t in the argument. Nostalgia (and hypocrisy – I’m eating sour skittles as I write this) get the best of me. I remember the thrill of dumping my precious treasures into my desk drawer after a long night of hitting every house in my neighborhood. When I was little, I would have screamed like I saw Freddy Krueger at the thought of someone ripping my hard earned candy from my sticky fingers, and no amount of cash would have lessened the blow. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who asked the Tooth Fairy for gummy bears.)
But I’m an adult now. The teacher of healthful living, and selfless giving. So this year, I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll let my kids run house to house until their little arms ache under the weight of all that delicious, teeth-rotting junk-of-the-Gods. Then, that first night, I’ll let them gorge until they feel physically ill (like roll around on the floor, clutching their belly, ill). The next day – candy hangover in full effect – I’ll have them fill a ziplock bag to take to their local dentist office. I’m not sure who this will be harder on, them or me.
In the weeks following, they’ll each get a piece for dessert or as a treat in their lunch, until they forget it about it altogether. The rest is mine, all mine (duh!). And yes, Dad – I promise I’ll floss.

This Holiday Season, I’m Breaking Tradition

I never want to confine my family to tradition. I want my children to experience it, of course, but I also want to mix it up.

Tradition is and always will be important. But what happens when tradition starts to control your holidays in an unhealthy way?
I will never forget this story, once told to me by a person with much more wisdom than I.
Every Christmas Eve, her mother-in-law would come to the house and enjoy a festive dinner. Once they tucked the kids in tight, they would do something (in my opinion) absolutely insane.
They would put up the Christmas tree, fit with lights and ornaments. While most of us have been enjoying our Christmas tree for a month, they save it all for just one night. The woman was quick to tell me that this was her mother-in-law’s tradition that became engrained into their family.
The children would wake on Christmas morning to find that Santa had been rather busy, and that Mommy and Daddy look rather exhausted. It was the true Christmas miracle of miracles.
“WOW!” the children would shout.
“Where’s the whiskey?” their mom would mumble behind sleepy eyes.
Looking back now, the woman wishes she was brave enough to say, “What a great tradition you had with your family, but no, thank you.” She never did that, so as long as her mother-in-law was alive, they were stuck.
Many of us have experienced, and still do experience, the traditional holiday festivities. On Thanksgiving, we wear pretty fall dresses and eat at 3 p.m. at Grandma’s house. We enjoy turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, casseroles, and top it all off with warm gooey pies. Sounds nice, right?
Now, look in the corner. There you see the kids aimlessly scrolling on their phones, trying to make conversation with Great Grandma, and giving their cousins wet willies.
What if one year – not every year, but every few years – you broke tradition? What if (hear me out) you took a vacation with just your immediate family for Thanksgiving? You and your husband pack up your kids and head to the coast. Instead of turkey, you eat lobster. Instead of watching football, you play frisbee on the beach. Instead of dressing up, you stay in pajamas all day long.
After a vacation like that, you may feel rested and relaxed, which is the point of the holiday season, right?
I never want to confine my family to tradition. I want my children to experience it, of course, but I also want to surprise them with fun outings and activities. Instead of baking sugar cookies on Christmas Eve, go to the movies. Instead of Santa popping down your chimney, he visits you at a ski resort. Instead of ham or roast beef, grill out hamburgers and hot dogs.
You will not only be setting your kids up for fun, but you might also get a break and actually enjoy the holidays for once. My cousin took her kids to Disney World one Christmas. Now that’s cool.
When I was a kid, I was in the car all day on Christmas. We visited all of the grandparents around the state of Georgia. We would open our presents and at 10 a.m. and have to leave. We never had any time to play with our gifts.
What if, one year, we didn’t drive all the way to Grandma’s? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they came to us for once, and we were able to stay in our pajamas?
I am so sad for the woman whose memories of Christmas with her children are laced with a chore she despised. I don’t want to do that to myself. I don’t want to do that to my children.
For Thanksgiving this year, we will travel to see family. Next year, we are going on vacation. One for tradition; one for fun.
 

3 Ways to Make Halloween Fun for Your ASD Kid

Crowds of children, the fear of personal contact, and the idea of approaching strangers for candy can be too much for a kid on the spectrum.

When my son, Jackie, was young, I dreamed of the fun we would share over the holiday season. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. On Halloween afternoon, we would load up the wagon with all his stuffed friends and begin the journey down the street. Most years, we only made it a few blocks.

Because Jackie has high functioning autism, the crowds of children, the fear of personal contact, and the idea of approaching strangers for candy was just too much. By the time he was in the third grade, we had to switch gears and rethink how we could make Halloween a fun memory instead of a stress-filled day. We decided on a party instead of the traditional door-to-door trick or treating. Here are a few ideas to make your ASD Halloween party special.

Movie party

Having a Halloween party and featuring a movie is a great way to celebrate while protecting your ASD child’s internal system. It’s low key but fun, and there are so many great Halloween-themed movies out there. We have viewed old-time favorites such as “The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” or “Curious George Boo Fest,” but there are other not-so-scary Halloween choices for older children as well. Check out “Monster House” and “Shrek” movies for an older group.

Serving treats of pizza and orange-and-black cupcakes adds to the fun, and goody bags filled with the candy they may miss out on can be added. You might also slip in some healthier options like fruit snacks or pretzels. The great thing about a movie party is that you can control when the fun ends so that your ASD child doesn’t become over stimulated. It’s also a great time to encourage socialization skills!

Hotel party

One year, I wanted to do something different. The constant ringing doorbell was becoming a real annoyance for my son. I decided to move the Halloween party to a local hotel. Many hotels understand the issues of special needs children and are happy to accommodate them. I rented a room and set up trick-or-treat stations around the hotel with the help of the hotel staff. We invited a small group of friends to rotate around the stations, collecting their candy and visiting with the staff.

My son had an easier time trick or treating in one place with staff that I could introduce him to before the party. The children ended up with a small bag of candy and small toys. After the trick or treating, we headed to the pool for a short swim and then to the room for Halloween cake. When the party was over, we had a fun time sleeping over with no doorbells.

Progressive party

Older ASD children can sometimes feel the loss of doing what they see as normal things. One idea to help them feel as if they are fitting in is to plan a progressive trick-or-treat party. We began at our house with three or four friends. I set up a small scavenger hunt in the house for the children to search for treats. They found a small bag of candy corn hidden on a bookshelf and fruit snacks behind a door.

After all the treats were found, we moved on to one of the friend’s houses where another scavenger hunt, game, or treat was waiting. Each friend had an activity at their house and the children had a fun time figuring out what awaited them at the next house.

They also enjoyed walking from house to house for a short time. Though there were still some crowds to navigate, the end destinations gave a place for decompression before heading out again. If your child’s friends live too far away, consider driving to the destinations. You can park a few blocks away so that the children can still have the experience of being out with other trick-or-treaters. The progressive party is a great way to have the best of both worlds.

Halloween can be a difficult holiday for children on the spectrum. We can make great memories even if the new traditions aren’t the same traditions that we have experienced in the past. Be creative and work with your child to make Halloween a great time filled with fun, friends, and, yes, a little candy.

A Sexual Assault Pun is Not a Halloween Costume

I thought maybe we if we all contacted Spirit Halloween, they’d take this costume off their shelves next year:

All the #MeToo headlines in recent weeks have definitely caught my attention and sharpened my Sexual Assault-Dar. I thought maybe we if we all contacted Spirit Halloween, they’d take this costume off their shelves next year:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Halloween. I don’t find a lot of things inappropriate. I took my kids to this pumpkin massacre scene earlier in the day, and we all had a good laugh at the one pumpkin lawn-mowing the other pumpkin, whose bloody orange guts were spilling out everywhere. We took selfies and high fived.

But my daughter’s almost 10, and while she’s beginning to notice that girls’ costumes tend to involve short skirts and bathing suits, how the hell am I supposed to explain the rapey gynecologist costume to her? In a couple years, she’ll figure out that her looks are where our culture wants her to put her focus. But we can draw the line at the light riff on sexual assault, can’t we?
It takes a lot to shield her from the headlines about Harvey Weinstein and the other men being exposed in this wave of revelations about past and current abuses. I somehow kept her from knowing about the recent Las Vegas shooting – but the next one may have to be confronted.
We want to preserve the innoncence of our childrens’ experience in this world as long as possible. We are here to be their rocks, to keep their impressionable brains developing on a vector unblemished by the trauma of shootings, natural disasters, and sexual predation.
She’s old enough to process that there is racism in this world. A proud understanding of Rosa Parks’ bravery could inspire her to be strong and stand up for what’s just, to treat her neighbors with sensitivity and respect.
She’s old enough to know that hurricanes are a reality, that people on islands which bore the brunt of the storm need our help. She understands that the oceans are warming and that scientists think our environmental impact is a part of the problem. She knows we had a hurricane here in New York when she was little, and we know we can always find ways to be safe if another one comes.
Somehow explaining that Dr. Howie Feltersnatch (how he felt her snatch) is a joke about a doctor who touches women’s private parts with a creepy grin feels like a conversation we don’t have to have.
Spirit Halloween, your seasonal pop-up shops with overpriced pink hairspray and employee only bathrooms bring us much joy. But you can do better than this.
Get this crap off your shelves!
Tell Spirit Halloween what you think via Twitter or email customer service here.

The Social Spookiness of Halloween

Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday.

My dog is barking wildly at the large, misshapen pumpkin I just dragged from the car to the front porch. It’s a good thing my mom visited two weeks ago, or she would definitely be growling, at least internally, at the pagan gourd flanking the entryway to my home.
My mom really hates Halloween. When we were growing up, my siblings and I were permitted to hand out candy to neighborhood children, but we did not engage in the “coarse” act of trick-or-treating. I think I actually learned the definition of “extortion” from my mom’s interpretation of demanding candy from innocent people in return for the favor of not committing a “trick” to their homes or property.
Now I’m a mom, and I have accepted that Halloween, even with its ghosts and goblins, has developed into a beloved American tradition, with costumes, candy, and parties that dangle very far away from any morbid or devilish roots. I’ve made my peace with allowing my children to ask for junk food at neighbors’ and even strangers’ doors, as long as they are sure to respond with an audible thank you and not make a grab for more than one or two pieces of candy.
There’s a spirit of an autumn carnival in our neighborhood on Halloween night. Some families open their garage doors and provide adult-friendly “treats” to tired parents as kids excitedly make their rounds. My kids revel in the ritual of categorizing, classifying, and counting their stashes of candy even more than the actual trick-or-treating. Their hauls expertly spread on the living room carpet, they conduct barters and exchanges of brightly colored fruit flavored candies for chocolate delicacies.
Perhaps the most unanticipated lesson of Halloween lies in the run-up to the evening, when friend groups are tested and children realize their status in the social pecking order. Are they like Tootsie Rolls – accepted but not wildly popular? Will they walk around with their parents and siblings? Will they be invited to pre-Halloween pizza dinners with the most popular kids in the grade or dressed according to an agreed-upon theme of the year? Halloween can be a ghoulish night, as it casts a sharp light on who is in and who is out.
Some children are fortunate to have one best friend, a yin to their yang, a jelly to their peanut butter. Halloween is a blast for those fortunate dyads. Salt and pepper, Batman and Robin, angel and devil, they move through the darkening sidewalks with confidence and laughter. Other friend group formations abound as well: colors in a crayon box, a litter of kittens, a gaggle of superheroes.
What happens to children who want to be a part of a group but don’t know how to ask for entry? Even more prickly is the question of what happens to the child who boldly asserts him or herself by asking to join in a group costume and is then rebuffed?
Halloween is not for the faint of heart. There are modern lessons that can be derived from this ancient holiday. Historically, we dress ourselves up to honor our dead and to protect ourselves from goblins and dangerous spirits on the loose. Likewise, we find strength to encourage our children to rise above the sting of possible social rejection. We celebrate our children’s individual spirits and enjoy the process of finding costumes that reflect what they love and enjoy.
Instead of fretting over possible social exclusion, perhaps Halloween is a good time to remind our children that, even as adults, we don’t get invited to every party or fun activity. We will all still be okay. If your child is the popular one this year, perhaps a lesson in graciousness and generosity is helpful, too. Would it be so terrible to have one extra football hero in the group, especially if it means including the child who doesn’t have a million buddies in school?
When my daughter was very young, she went trick-or-treating with a large group of girls. The laces on her brand new shoes kept untying, so she was constantly stopping to retie them. As I watched from the sidewalk, I noticed her hunching over after each stop on the Halloween circuit while the other girls ran ahead to the next house to gather their goodies. One child remained by my daughter’s side and patiently waited for her to take care of her shoes so that she wouldn’t trip in the slippery grass.
When we returned home that evening, we spoke about the unusual kindness demonstrated by my daughter’s friend. This “shoelace test” became the litmus test for friendship in our house. This was the type of friend to aspire to be and to value.
Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday. We can help make the holiday sweeter by listening to our kids when they share their concerns and reassuring them that morning will come again on November 1st.

I Thought I Hated Halloween, Turns out I Just Hate Adult Halloween

I have no patience for the over-the-top spookiness that grown-ups sometimes get into, but when it comes to trick-or-treating? I’m there.

Some years, the Halloween memes start in September. Other years, my social media feed is filled with “I can’t wait for Halloween season” stuff as early as mid-July.

I am, undeniably, a weirdo. That has always been true. I’m queer, I haven’t had a “normal” haircut in over a decade, and I just generally don’t fit in most places. The thing about weirdos is that they seem to really love Halloween. If you’re sort of nerdy, kind of crafty, and a bit of a social outcast, it seems like Halloween is the holiday for you. No less than three of my close friends throw a yearly “epic Halloween party” that they refer to as “an important tradition.” I’ve heard the phrase “Halloween is my Christmas” more times than I can count.

I mean no disrespect to the many grown-up people who love Halloween, I love people who love Halloween and want them to be happy! It’s just that, all of this excitement over the last day of October never made much sense to me. For the rest of the year, I felt like I had a special bond with my fellow weirdos. But year after year, when October rolled around, I suddenly felt like an outcast amongst outcasts.

I just didn’t like Halloween (or so I thought).

I hated the competitiveness of searching for the perfect cool hipster costume. There were amazingly intricate (and incredibly expensive) perfect fantasy costumes from Game of Thrones. There were obscure comic book costumes that only the most seasoned geeks would get. There were hilarious joke costumes, like the “sexy nurse” who was just wearing regular nurses’ scrubs. One friend told me that she spends at least 300 dollars on her Halloween costume, every single year. I couldn’t keep up.

Then there were the parties, which were always too much for my social anxiety to handle.

Don’t even talk to me about the horror movies and related horror content. I do not do well with blood and gore. I am un-ironically terrified of zombies, so no, I don’t want to come to your zombie walk or whatever. Attempting to participate in Halloween left me exhausted, feeling like a failure, and having weird zombie nightmares for weeks. I wondered vaguely what was wrong with me. Halloween is fun! I loved Halloween as a kid, so why couldn’t I get into it as an adult?

Well, it turns out I actually love Halloween, I just love little-kid Halloween. I have no patience whatsoever for the parties and the drinking and the over-the-top spookiness that grown-ups sometimes get into, but when it comes to trick-or-treating? I’m there. I mean, what’s not to love about candy, silly costumes, and hilarious little kids who get amazingly excited about this weird special day?

I first realized that I was into Halloween last year, when my kid was a little over a year old. We decided to go in a family costume, which is so delightfully cheesy I can’t even stand it, and so the wife, myself, and the toddler dressed up as Peter Pan, Wendy, and Tinkerbell. I had fun finding the perfect blue nightgown at the thrift store.

Then, much to my surprise, I started doing something else. Slowly, over the month of October, I started amassing Halloween decorations. One day my wife came home from work to find me cutting out dozens of felt leaves to hang in our living room window. It was like the lurking crafty mom in me was suddenly awakened.

On Halloween night itself, we took our cheerful child out to collect candy with his neighborhood buddies. Walking around with a gaggle of kids, listening to them chatter about all the chocolate they were going to eat later (if only they could get their moms to let them!) was an absolute blast. In one memorable moment, a three-year-old tripped over the tail of his costume and, when I asked if he was okay, brushed himself off and said “Don’t worry, me didn’t drop any candy.”

I mean, kids are the best.

This year is shaping up to be even more exciting. My kiddo is now two, and we were actually able to explain the holiday to him a bit and even talk to him about costume ideas. As a mother, there are few things as thrilling for me as watching my child decide what he wants, and go for it. He shot down all of my costume ideas, from dinosaur to lion (actually, he laughed at me for even suggesting such things), and then confidently announced that he will be a bunny.

Not just any bunny, the bunny in one of his favorite books, “Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket.”

As I plan out the specifics of how I’ll make such a costume, I find that I’m not annoyed in the slightest. The irony isn’t lost on me that the very thing that bugged me about adult costumes, the hyper-specific attention to detail, is totally thrilling when it comes to making a great costume for my kid. But I am who I am – a woman who’s way more motivated to make a cute and fun costume for her child than she ever was for herself.

As for me? I’ll be dressing up as a witch. Finally freed from the pressure to do something unique and clever year after year, I’m able to admit what I’ve always wanted out of Halloween. That, as it turns out, is to wear the same classic (and boring) costume year after year. My mom always wore the same costume and put up the same decorations, and the tradition was definitely a comfort to my childhood self. Now I’m forming my own Halloween traditions.

I guess I just needed a kid to inspire me.

How to Get Gift-Givers on Board With Giving Experiences Over Things

Win people over to the experience-giving side by offering them the benefits of this approach, along with some easy ways for them to make the transition.

My husband and I tried early on to stem the massive flow of things arriving for our kids every birthday and Christmas. With four kids, large families on both sides, and two December birthdays, our house is overcome by mountains of trinkets, toys, and miscellaneous items, most of which are not used.
Everyone feels showering our children with things is an act of love, and it certainly can be. However, it’s also a sad reality that many of the material possessions they receive end up in a forgotten box, donated, or outgrown much sooner than anyone expects.
Still, we weren’t successful in convincing others to curb the gifts, maybe because we didn’t give them other options. When my mom took it upon herself to give our family a yearly pass to a local museum last year for Christmas, we realized that experiences were an obvious replacement for objects.
San Francisco State University conducted research that confirms experiences make people happier than things. The experiences don’t have to be extravagant, luxury vacations. They can simply be meaningful times that create lasting memories.
Memories have been made with the museum membership we received. We’ve visited the museum regularly this year, taking my mom with us on one occasion so she could see how much her gift meant to us. The kids talk about the benefits of this gift all the time, knowing we couldn’t pay for our family of six to attend so often any other way. Plus, every time we visit, my mom receives a picture of the kids learning robotics or digging for fake dinosaur bones in a sand area. It’s the thank you card that never stops coming.
The key to winning people over to the experience-giving side is offering them the benefits of this approach, along with some easy ways for them to make the transition.

Give time

What it means to give of ourselves comes truly into focus when we think of giving our time. It’s a cherished commodity, and encouraging our loved ones to spend time with our children helps them all create memories they can carry with them for life.
For family members who feel it’s impersonal or underwhelming for a child to simply receive a ticket to a ballet or to the aquarium, tell them to buy a second ticket and go with the child. Yes, that ups the expense, but just tell them to go with cheaper tickets – the experience of being with the gift giver will likely mean more to a child than having the more expensive option.
There’s also the option of spreading the time gift out over the course of the year. Offering children special one-on-one experiences like a meal at a restaurant or visit a local attraction sets aside time for the relationships with their extended family members to flourish.
You can seed the desire for experiences over things and gifts of time as early as setting up your baby registry. Think registering for donations to charities of your choosing, babysitting coupons, and home-cooked meal requests.

Go long term

There are plenty of people who opt for material items because they assume they will last longer than experiences. While this is true in some cases, it’s not in others, but still many well-meaning family members can’t get past the hurdle of offering an experience that only lasts for a couple of hours over something the kids can hold.
Recommend these individuals give long-term experiences, such as swim lessons, music lessons, or, like my mom offered, museum memberships. The giver can choose how long they want to pay for these experiences, obtain a gift certificate, and give a child a chance to go to class after class to develop a skill or take joy in a passion. Plus, those skills and learning experiences can have lasting impact on a child.

Buy the small, meaningful item

Everyone has that friend or family member who absolutely must put an actual item in each child’s hands on Christmas morning. They live for the wrapping paper and bows, and every part of them rebels against the idea of not having something material waiting for a child.
These die-hards are usually the last to even think of offering experiences, but there may be a way to turn them. Encourage them to buy a small item that relates to the bigger experience. A person who gifts a child swim lessons can throw in a nice pair of goggles. The child gifted with art camp can receive paint brushes. This way the items are sure to be cherished and used because they are relevant to the bigger experience being offered.

The harder, more rewarding path

Giving intentionally takes effort, and that’s what experience giving often is. Getting to know a child and learning what they are interested in doing with their time is an intimate process that strengthens the relationship. Investing the time to be a part of the experience for the recipient asks even more of us – and this is what makes the gift of experience all the more meaningful.
Keep the experience option in mind next time you have a loved one’s birthday or special occasion coming up. Clothing and toys all gather dust and get boxed up – memories last a lifetime.

Make a Cheap, No-Sew Halloween Costume for Your Kid (Without Losing Your Mind)

Some tips to make your Halloween stitch-witchery a little easier.

It’s nearly that time of year again. As September wraps up and October looms ahead, kids between the ages of three and 13 start brainstorming about what they will dress up as for Halloween. Meanwhile, moms everywhere give a collective sigh, because they will be responsible for conjuring up yet another costume.
In Halloween costumes – and in life – I’ve always been a do-it-yourself mom. For one, it usually costs less money to build a costume out of makeshift materials than to buy one from a big-box retailer.
Sometimes the individual elements can even be repurposed after the holiday, so it’s less wasteful, too. If you buy a pair of gray sweatpants to go with a shark costume, they don’t have to be shoved into your dress-up box on November 1st. Your kiddo can wear them all through the winter.
I also just like making things myself. Costumes, cakes, curtains, you name it. While I’m not really a fully-committed “Pinterest Mom” (my husband might disagree with that, so don’t ask him), I do find enjoyment in turning a pile of old clothes, a stack of felt, and some hot glue into a costume that vaguely resembles a Ninja turtle.
As a stay-at-home mom, my days are often filled with the menial kinds of tasks that keep a household running but leave me feeling awfully unproductive at the end of the day. DIY projects make me happy. And my kids, so far, have appreciated the one-of-a-kind costumes I’ve been able to put together for them.
Without any judgment on the moms who toss a costume into their Target cart, pay the bill, and get on with their day, you might be someone who looks at those $39.99 prepackaged costumes and thinks, “Huh, I could probably make that myself for at least half the price.”
Whether you want to avoid shelling out big bucks for an overpriced mermaid costume or simply want to get your hands dirty with pipe cleaners, rhinestones, and scrap fabric, here are some tips to make your Halloween stitch-witchery a little easier.

Give your kids a deadline for making a decision

If your kids are like mine, they start proposing costume ideas in July and change their minds no less than a dozen times. You know what’s worse than scouring eBay, Amazon, and the craft stores for all the supplies needed to make a Dora the Explorer costume? Having your kid decide she actually wants to be Doc McStuffins instead. Let your kids entertain a million different ideas at first, but tell them no take-backs once it’s October.

Look around your house before you buy anything

What do old sheets, aluminum foil, muffin tins, wooden curtain rods, cardboard paper towel rolls, and bungee cords all have in common? They can be re-purposed into any manner of costume parts or accessories, and they’re probably all lurking somewhere in your basement. Shop local first – as in your own house – before you start searching elsewhere.

Get thee to a thrift store

Used clothes are the perfect foundation items for homemade, no-sew costumes. Hoodies can be turned into anything requiring a headpiece (like many animals), skirts and dresses can be refashioned into everything from cloaks and capes to princess and fairy outfits, and a T-shirt turned inside-out to hide a logo or graphic is basically a blank slate for whatever you need it to be.
Bonus: you’ll feel significantly less guilty about taking a pair of fabric scissors to a gently-used $3 sweatshirt than one you just bought, brand-new, for $14.99.

Invest in a glue gun

This step is essential. I have never once used a sewing machine (or even a needle and thread) to make a costume for my kids. Instead, I hot-glue everything. Truly – everything. Buttons, felt, fabric, velcro closures, PVC piping, cardboard. It works on nearly every kind of material. Fabric glue and Krazy glue work only selectively, under certain circumstances. Hot glue is the most dependable and versatile option.

Felt is your friend

You can use felt for anything. A swath of soft, flexible felt can be bought by the yard and used just like fabric. It cuts more smoothly and bonds together better with hot glue than its cotton, flannel, and fleece counterparts. It’s very forgiving.
Stiffer felt, usually sold in rectangular sheets, is perfect for decorative accents: animal or character facial features, superhero emblems, letters and numbers, flowers and leaves, headbands and hair accessories. The stiff kind is also the easiest and most comfortable way to make a partial face mask. (Just cut two holes on either side and attach with sewing elastic.)

Leave yourself enough time

This is probably the toughest part. Depending on your level of craftiness, it might take two hours or two days to whip up a Captain America or Lego Ninjago costume for your kiddo. I know you’re busy, but don’t wait until the night before to get started. It’s unusual for everything to work 100 percent as you expect it to, so you will need to have a backup plan (and the time to execute it) for any element that doesn’t quite work on the first attempt.

Head to Pinterest

There, I said it. Maybe I really am a Pinterest Mom. Just remember: you don’t have to copy another mom’s butterfly or gumball machine costume tutorial to the letter. You can adapt, modify, skip steps, and take shortcuts. Find some inspiration and do what works for you. After you’ve racked your brain trying to figure out how to turn an old plastic container into an astronaut helmet, you might have a total lightbulb moment while perusing Pinterest tutorials.