This piece has been adapted from its original appearance as a Halloween feature for RVA News.
“When I grow up, I’m going to be Robin,” Jackson said last year. “For Halloween, I’m being Batman.” To a four-year-old, this illogical career regression makes perfect sense. Surely he knows not what he says, I thought.
The Dark Knight is, of course, as always, an inspired choice. At the end of the long day – Halloween or otherwise – un-doing evil is an honest trade and an aspiring vocational trajectory. Robin, however, though a highly revered sidekick among comic book aficionados, performs his job (lest we get too carried away) while wearing green briefs and no pants. The Boy Wonder hails from a family of acrobats, but is this any sustainable way to pull a 9 to 5?
“Robin?” I asked Jackson. “Really?” Perhaps, at 4, All Hallows Eve is a bigger deal than growing up. But as we all know by now there are fears that come standard with both.
In 2009, in the interminable run-up to Halloween, my wife and I watched our Jackson go back and forth on his possible identities for the big day. He vacillated on the crucial decision like how I picture Lady Gaga tortures herself every morning as she steps into her vast closet of personalities. For the better part of a lunar cycle, he was going to be a firefighter, now a wild animal, then Lightning McQueen, now Bolt (the animated super-dog) and then that ultra-cool, red-faced Sith lord with the double light-saber: Darth Maul. Eventually he decided to fight fires – versus, say, searching for interplanetary Jedi to eradicate – up and down the streets of our Bellevue neighborhood on Richmond’s North Side. His parents were proud – a choice squarely in the tradition of working-class realism.
Now, as then, what we absolutely know about Halloween is that our son will not be donning a pointy black hat or pretend-riding a broomstick up and down the sidewalk anytime soon. And you can forget about the good, clean fun that is whipping up potions and casting spells on people. Under no circumstances will Jackson be showing up on our neighbors’ doorsteps as a witch. It's simply out of the question.
Naturally, guardians of morality everywhere are beaming with delight, but his zeal to have nothing to do with witches is not the conscious doing of his parents. We do not irrationally fear that a witch’s vestments and playful concoctions will plunge our boy into pagan ideologies or occult underworlds. It's just that Jackson is not at all down with witches. In fact, he hates them all the way down to their very suspicious toes.
Exhibit A: Throughout the calendar year – and I suppose this applies to Christmas in spite of its predisposition toward the spirit of giving – he maintains a staunch I-refuse-to-look-inside-my-closet rule. For him, as with many children perhaps, it’s personal, and it’s policy. Especially in October, during this high season for witches, he firmly believes that there really is a good chance that a witch is hiding out in his closet, waiting for him. Waiting to do God knows what? Infuse a little boy into a delicious stew?
Exhibit B: Back in 2009, we purchased an excessively kid-friendly (non-edible, mind you) witch-on-a-stick, the kind that shows off its desperate need for social acceptance with its one perfectly-painted goofy white tooth. This stick lady would make most anyone else smile. After planting the witch in our front yard, with the express purpose of diminishing the magnitude of this whole phenomenon, we watched as Jackson promptly seized the day. On more than one occasion he would tackle the witch and repeatedly punch her in the face – and with flourishes of unbridled glee.
Exhibit C: Sometime last year, upon Jackson's first extensive viewing of The Wizard of Oz, we also watched as our son absolutely couldn’t get enough of the scene where Dorothy dumps water on the Wicked Witch of the West, thereby melting her infernal nemesis. It’s an epic scene; everyone knows that witch had it coming. But the shimmer in our son’s eyes was only surpassed by the glistening of Dorothy’s red shoes.
So where is all this animosity and hostility coming from? Why the melodramatics from a boy whose relationship with the Scooby Doo cartoons -- and their fright-gags -- is doing quite fine, thank you very much?
Fully aware that corporations are not people, my wife and I only partially blame Lowe's for Jackson’s hate-hate relationship with witches. Several years ago, Jackson happened upon a very frightening sight inside Lowe's. She was standing right around the corner from the topsoil and flower pots. She was mechanical but appeared human. She had red lights for eyes. The expensive faux skin on her face – not to mention her exaggerated warts – could probably startle the ugliest animal in a forest, in Transylvania. And she made a very believable pot-stirring motion while speaking in an impressively hissing voice.
That was that. Ding-dong, the witch was dead. She would never be invited into Jackson’s world – for a play-date, or for Halloween – ever. The Chinese have their Year of the Ox. In that moment, for Jackson, it had suddenly and irrevocably become the Never-Ending Year of the Witch.
And so, here we are again, and here we go again. Treats are being purchased. Tricks are being plotted. And Jackson’s typically distracted gaze has re-fixed on his infernal nemesis.
Thinking the best defense is a good offense, our son has taken to hunting witches. While walking home from school among the decorations and lawn ornamentalia, while running around in the backyard with the alley close-by, and especially while playing Legos beside the closet – for him, they are all important minutes to be wary. Recently, for instance, in a minor incident, our witch-on-a-stick lost her nose. We found it lying beside her in the dirt. There is only one plausible explanation.
Fear, by whatever name, is an undeniably tricky business. From where it comes, and why, and how often, and to what extent – like a kid's witch fixation, it can seem an eternal year. And who, in their right mind, honestly doesn’t want to tackle it every now and then, punch it repeatedly in the face, and pull off its nose for that matter?