When Being ‘Extra’ Means Extra Parenting

By ELIZABETH QUINN,

Our neighborhood has a block party every year for Halloween. My friend, Meredith, offers up her house as home base for the night’s festivities. She rents lighting so we can actually see the children as they don’t follow instructions like, ‘Don’t go in the road on the side because there’s still traffic over there,’ and ‘Yes, you have to take your sister with you to the jumpy house in Mrs. Allison’s yard, no you don’t actually have to play with her—just get her there,’ or ‘did you eat anything off the plate of food I made you? I know you just want candy but please eat a few grams of protein today.’

All the neighbors bring food and/or donate cash towards the lighting rentals—but I know Meredith and her husband still bear the brunt of set-up, clean-up, and pay-up. Have we told y’all how much we love you lately? In the past, their house also served as the starting and ending point for the trick or treating hayride. This was my family’s contribution. Percy would get a trailer and hunting vehicle and the hay and drive the kids and assorted parents in a couple loops around our neighborhood. He would drive a little way and then stop, at which point the kids flee like rats off a sinking ship to trick or treat a few houses before returning to the trailer. They load up for the next round while discussing the merits of the candy on offer.

The past couple years, we’ve needed two trailers and still didn’t have enough room for everyone who wanted to ride. Instead of looking like some hillbilly version of a Mardi Gras parade with three trailers circling our small corner of the neighborhood—we opted out of having a hayride this year. My children were horrified. Is it even really Halloween if a bunch of city kids don’t travel their suburban neighborhood streets being poked by hay? It’s like we don’t even really love our children. But actually—it was perfect.

I know this will come as a shock, but it turns out—my generation was making something harder than it had to be.

This was my favorite Halloween as a parent, to date. Partly because I didn’t have to solo parent while my husband drove the hayride but also because the whole party became more relaxed. We weren’t checking our watches to make sure we didn’t stand around enjoying each other’s company too long before it was time to start loading the kids up. We didn’t waste 30 minutes arranging sugar-high kids on hay bales like animated puzzle pieces that weren’t going to actually stay put anyway.

And we didn’t have to do the mental calculus of deciding how far to go before stopping to let the kids off, which way should we turn next, are there enough houses with lights on to support 40 kids trick or treating right here, did we get everyone back on, do those two kids walking want to get on, and if they don’t, are they old enough to walk alone, who are their parents, should we ask them, I thought you were going to turn that way, oh well you should have. It wasn’t hard but it was occupying.

This year—we just trick or treated. We hung out, kids jumped, stepped in mud, tore costumes, scraped knees, parents refilled their go-cups, had adult conversations and food, and when it got sufficiently dark and the kids were sufficiently begging—we trick or treated. On foot. Like it was 1989 or something.

My kids’ candy buckets were full enough and they were worn out enough from the physical exertion of having to walk on their own two legs to willingly head home without protest by 7:45. Y’all. We have been doing this all wrong.

It was so delightful it makes me wonder—what else are we mucking up?

My generation and our spawn have been the beneficiary of many improvements in parenting: car seat safety, infant nutrition (just say no to ‘nursery water for newborns’ and rice cereal as a quality food), daily wine intake during pregnancy is not actually good for the baby’s blood, riding on ‘the hump’ is not a good idea, no Phenergan before two years old because brain development matters and helmets are cool, and three words: bottle rocket wars.

But we’ve managed to overcomplicate plenty during our tenure. Maybe there are some things our parents should have paid a teeny bit more attention to, but we have made being extra into an art form. “The Elf on the Shelf” is the first idiocy that springs to mind. The less said about that the better, but that will go down in the annals of history as one of the dumbest things this generation of parents did, myself included.

Our children will have more photos of themselves than we did, more info to paint a picture of life way back in the early aughts of the 21st century—but our smart phones have made us dumb to the fact that, if we don’t pay attention, we’ll spend more time watching our kids’ lives through the lens of our cameras than in live action. While that’s done in an effort to record and document moments of their lives we want to relive—can it count as reliving it if we only lived it through glass the first time?

It’s good that we know better than to give kids bubblegum flavored amoxicillin for every sniffle and sneeze, but we’ve managed to take home health too far. I recently bought a new box of band aids for the myriad and daily minor injuries. When I was putting them in the kitchen cabinet (everybody does this, right?), I noticed that one side of the individual packaging was clear—thus allowing viewing of which decoration that band aid has prior to opening it.

Alone in my kitchen I screamed, ‘YES!’ There is no way of knowing how many hours of my life I’ve spent opening band aids, but trying to keep the sterile backing stuck to the sticky part, while entering into fierce debate with toddlers about the benefits of the decoration/character of the band aid I’ve partially opened versus the one they were hoping to get. The opening of an Olaf bandage instead of Anna or Elsa could result in me opening half the box before the slightly scraped-up, six-year-old would deign to have one applied.

My mom’s approach to minor injuries was so 80s, it’s savage. She just sprayed any and all bleeders with Bactine and we ran away screaming in pain from the burn of that aerosol acid and, miraculously, no longer needing a band aid. I mean—that’s how you solve that problem. But the problem isn’t the lack of clear packaging on decorated band aids—it’s the band aid applier.

I’m not saying don’t buy fun band aids or have a stupid Elf, or a festive fall hayride—I’m just saying, we all lived to read this article today, so those 80s parents got something right. They may not have ‘believed in’ helmets or seat belts or trampoline nets, and they let us roam miles away to sell Girl Scout Cookies to strangers who invited us in while they wrote the check, and maybe they thought shoes were optional for children in the summer in public parking lots littered with broken glass, or let 14-year-olds ‘practice’ driving alone—but they didn’t have participation trophy debates, didn’t need color-coded planners to keep all the extracurriculars straight, didn’t live and die by whether a creepy doll in a red hat remembered to move across the house, and they knew the power of a bottle of Bactine.

Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.

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1. He drove a blue ‘77 Chevy Nova in high school. 2. He played on Jackson Prep’s 1985 and 1986 state championship basketball teams.