Anthropology Defends Halloween

So, today I was driving, in between Halloween parades, and on my way to my second Halloween parade of the day. I was flipping radio stations searching for something to listen to. I could listen to talk radio since I only had Starman in the car and he is still too little to have an opinion on whether or not we listen to Disney music for the five thousandth time. While flipping, I landed on a gentleman discussing Halloween and all the things that were wrong with the holiday.

As it turns out, the station I had landed on was a fairly conservative Christian talk show and they were busy lambasting Halloween as a holiday where we encourage our children to dress up in inappropriate/scary/sacrilegious costumes and extort unhealthy candy from our neighbors. They spent a bit of time on the specific idea that the whole concept of "Trick or Treat" is actually teaching our children to give free reign to greediness and blackmail and extort candy from their neighbors. The show host then discussed the concept of All Saint's Day, celebrated on Oct 31st, a celebration of Christians living sacrificial lives and that somewhere along the line a bad decision was made on how to celebrate that day. He lamented Halloween celebrations and indicated that instead we should be out helping people and celebrating doing good works by volunteering and giving old folks a hug and spending time with them (his general words).

While I have absolutely nothing against doing good works and I wholeheartedly celebrate the act of volunteerism, as an anthropologist I would just like to make a case in defense of Halloween. I think that the host of the talk show was way off base when he associated going door to door and collecting candy with extortion. Extortion is a serious charge, which I believe requires forethought and malice to qualify. Instead Halloween represents the childhood fantasy of a holiday built around candy. But, from an anthropologist's viewpoint, Halloween is so, so much more than that.

My husband and I moved into our neighborhood a few years ago in the spring, and for the first 8 months we lived in the house, we did not meet or speak to any of our neighbors. It wasn't until Halloween night, when we dressed up the kids and started ringing doorbells that we had a chance to meet the people who lived around us. Now, a few years down the road, I still hold that there are some neighbors who, if it weren't for Halloween, we might never speak to. But, once a year when my kids ring their doorbell, we stand and chat like we have been old friends for a while. One nice woman from down the street even invited us in to see her new kitchen renovations.

Why is this important? It is important because, as any anthropologist would say, people fare better when they feel like they belong to some sort of community. And belonging to a neighborhood where people are connected and engaged helps keep our kids safe, helps provide a safety net if we need help if we fall ill or run into hard times. It decreases crime and promotes the swift identification and the meting out of justice when it happens. I do not see how these could be considered unchristian ideals.

Sure the kids dress up in all kinds of costumes, even scary ones, but most cultures have a celebration or holiday or tradition that revolves around the exploration of the dark side of human nature, death or demons. It allows our children to feel a sense of power, a conquering of the dark, so to speak. As far as I am concerned, all good things. Not to mention it is fun. The kids love seeing the other costumes, waving to someone after they realize they recognize them in their disguise. It brings out creativity and personality. And again, it is pure fun. Children don't understand the religious and personal reasons why they are not allowed to celebrate. I viewed this first hand when I dropped off Snowflake today only to see one of her classmates in tears at the door. Turns out, this classmate wasn't allowed to celebrate the holiday for personal or religious reason but I doubt she understood that. What she was most likely upset about was seeing all the other kids coming in, faces lit up, excitement twinkling in their eyes carrying sacks that contained their costumes and there she was empty handed, on the outside of it all.

And lastly, in response to the radio host who suggested that instead of Halloween, kids should go find an older person to hug, my children used to always visit the assisted living facility their Great Grandma lived in and the folks living there derived great joy from the joyfulness and cuteness of children dressed up with the promise of sweet revelry. Yes, there are the rude, greedy children who are just out for the "big score." But, those children would probably act that way on any day of the year. I shudder to see what they are like at Christmas. To me, that should not dictate our view of the holiday.

The night before Halloween this year one of my neighbors came over and asked if my girls would like to come dip caramel apples at their house after dinner. We went over and had a wonderfully pleasant time making caramel apples and chatting. They are a couple whose children have left home and do not have any grandchildren as of yet. They are lovely people, and I am glad the holiday gave us the excuse to get together and enjoy the company. Then, after the parades, and the visiting relatives in costume, we arrived home to find our next door neighbors emerging from their home with their 3 year old son and new daughter. My girls immediately started in, "Oh Mom look! The neighbors are going Trick or Treating, can we go with them, Please? Please?" We all ended up going around the cul de sac where we live, talking to other neighbors, laughing at the kids darting around the street and generally enjoying the night.

As we finished the girls took up stations at our front door. Some kids came from my daughter's school and we talked to them and their parents. After I thought we were all done and ready to wrap it up for the night, about seven, one of Snowflake's best friends showed up at our door. They were just getting started and pretty soon the girls were begging to go back out together. Before I knew it we were back out on the streets, not because the kids wanted more candy, but simply because they wanted to have fun being with each other. Walking with the family of my daughter's friend, we went to streets I hadn't even been on before and I was introduced to people they had met in the neighborhood. New connections were made, and our sense of community deepened.

I therefore would like to make an impassioned defense in the case against Halloween. Despite it's outward appearances and people's accusations of celebrating the macabre and encouraging greed and gluttony in children, I see Halloween as an excuse to go door to door and visit your neighbors. It is a chance to deepen the bond with your community and celebrate the innocence of fun and the simplicity of childhood where the worst fear you have is the thing that goes bump in the night. It won't be long before they realize some nightmares are real and there are far scarier things in life than the local grocery store bagger dressed up like a zombie.

Applying the Mom Pledge to the 2012 Election

Elizabeth Flora Ross, who runs The Mom Pledge, advocates for a cease fire in the Mommy wars. She has encouraged moms with an online presence to take an oath to act in a kind and responsible manner.

I have rewritten this oath to apply to all Americans participating in the election process. With election day fast approaching, the debating and mud slinging is quickly picking up pace and I thought it was important to remind everyone that we all still have to live with each other after it is all over. While the debates are between Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative-type positions, not breast or bottle feeding, circumcision or intactivism issues, the pledge remains the same. Emotions are high, and the stakes are no less than our future, but there is always time for kindness and respect.


I am proud to be [an American]. I will conduct myself with integrity in all my online activities. I can lead by example.

I know my children learn from my attitudes and actions. I promise to model respectful, compassionate behavior. It starts with me.

I pledge to treat my fellow [Americans] with respect. I will acknowledge that there is no one, "right" way to [run a country]. Each [American] makes the choices best for [their] family.

I believe a healthy dialogue on important issues is a good thing. I will welcome differing opinions when offered in a respectful, non-judgmental manner. And will treat those who do so in kind.

I stand up against cyber bullying. My online space reflects who I am and what I believe in. I will not tolerate comments that are defamatory, hateful or threatening.

I refuse to give those who attack a platform. I will remove their remarks with no mention or response. I can take control.

I want to see [all Americans] work together to build one another up, not tear each other down. Words can be used as weapons. I will not engage in that behavior.

I affirm that we are a community. As a [citizen] , I will strive to foster goodwill among [all Americans]. Together, we can make a difference. 

Bullying is never okay, no matter what the context. What is most important, as is the wonderful right of all Americans, is to exercise your voice with its unique perspective by getting out and voting in an informed manner.

Vote For Amie

I have decided that one of the keys to effective parenting is this: know your limits. It sounds simple in theory, but it is so much harder to practice. It is the art form of constantly balancing everything in a manner not unlike the plate spinners on the boardwalk. In American society we all suffer from a great time suck. The fact remains that Americans work more hours, with less sick/vacation time than almost every other industrialized country. We fight obesity by condemning fast food, and yet our entire society is based around a fast-paced lifestyle. We have not built into our schedules anything that care for the basic needs of the family.

Because we work so much, gone are the days of the 9 to 5 job. Now we have the 8 to 6 jobs that require a rush home to somehow cram in dinner, homework, housework, extra curricular activities and quality family time all before bedtime. It isn't really feasible to cram it all in, hence the popularity of convenience foods. So we nuke our dinners, or grab yet another drive-thru meal, all in an effort to maximize time with our families before we have to get up and put our nose to the grindstone for another day.

Add to this the rising costs of feeding families, rising costs of childcare and lack of support from the workforce (not just with the inflexibility of most full-time jobs, but the serious lack of quality, well-paid part-time options). America simply does not have the time or inclination to care for its own families. We are too busy engaging in the rat race of consumption. To take it one step further, we even push our families into the realm of consumption by feeding them, caring for them and cleaning up for them by purchasing these services from third party providers.

In the wake of the whirlwind of political nonsense we have all been subjected to recently with the upcoming November elections, I would like to propose that one of the candidates (at this point, I really don't care which) start addressing the fact that families need help. And, before you, the reader, assume that I am strictly referring to families with young children, I am not. I am talking families who have elder care responsibilities, families with young children, families who have special needs children of any age birth to adult, families where one parent or spouse has a disability or illness and anyone who does not fit into the dual-income, no children model we seem to assume our economic system is based on.

As we once heard in high school speeches for class president, "If I were elected I would promise to increase revenue and taxes to benefit our abandoned education systems. Good schools create increased property values, which last time I checked benefit even those who do not have children, or children in school.
I would encourage the workforce to add quality part-time jobs to their employment offerings so as to provide adequate time for each family to meet its own needs.
I would institute a program by which to encourage employers and families to work together to make time for proper food preparation. I believe that this would not only decrease American obesity rates by controlling what goes in our mouths better, but allow for more family meal time. Studies have shown regular family meals have decreased the likelihood for all sorts of negative social behavior such as drug use, eating disorders, depression, and truancy, which like quality schools, benefits all of American society. While there are many changes that could be made to improve the lives of all families, if I were elected, these are the three that I would change first"

"A vote for me, would be a vote for Valuing Families"

Alas, you will not see my name on the ballot come November. And, as far as I can tell, there is little to no chance that the current candidates will start espousing real valuation of parents in this country anytime soon. It seems we, as Americans, instead only value the almighty dollar. We have built an entire society that circulates around the idea that someone is home taking care of things, and when no one is or no one can and there is no money to hire someone....there is no time, in fact there is negative time and it affects all aspects of health and sanity. The only thing left for stressed parents living in this country is the critical coping mechanism.....KNOW YOUR LIMITS! And find a way to work within them as best you can. But, if you find you ever have extra time on your hands, maybe you can help me run for office in 2016. Then again, I might not have time.

The Stupid Couple Fight

The Husband and I got into a stupid fight today. No, not just garden-variety, run-of-the-mill stupid, I mean epically stupid. The kind of fight that lives in infamy years afterwards as a simultaneous testament to how hard marriage can be and the fact that no matter how old you get, you are still capable of acting like a child.

Let me explain.....

It all started with Snowflake's first grade social studies project. The directions were as follows: "As part of our history unit, we will be discussing our individual family cultures and traditions. We are asking each child to share a tradition that their family celebrates annually....Please choose one annual tradition (ie: Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays etc...)...Please help your child answer the following questions:
What family Tradition or Holiday do you celebrate?
Who celebrates this tradition with your family?
Why do you celebrate this tradition?
When do you celebrate this tradition?
Where do you celebrate this tradition?
How does your family celebrate? (special foods, gifts, decorations, etc)

Now, as a CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST (ah-ah-hem) you would think I might know a thing or two about this assignment, so when Snowflake asked what a tradition was I gave her some examples: putting out holiday pillows and blankets on the couch, Daddy taking the day off of work on his birthday, decorating the tree, carving pumpkins etc..

Admittedly, looking at the assignment I realized while they were asking about "traditions" they really meant holidays. Snowflake, when asked which tradition she wanted to share, correctly answered, "When we put reindeer food out on the lawn for the reindeer." The Husband said OK and started having her fill out her form. I immediately interjected and pointed out that the last question would make no sense if you started with something that specific. If you started with "put out reindeer food" you could not then answer HOW you celebrated. The Husband told her, just write "throw glittery oats on lawn," for the HOW. I became hot headed and retorted that he clearly didn't understand the directions and that she could not get up and present that to the class.

Here is where, I believe, it is in the chain of events that things began to go disastrously wrong. My husband, insisting that the word "tradition" meant you could use reindeer food as an example, was plowing through having Snowflake write out her answers and ignoring my strenuous objections. Finally I snatched the paper away and furiously began erasing it, snapping that she should write Christmas as her tradition and write the reindeer food at the end. The Husband, snatching it back, told Snowflake to keep writing.

Now, I won't go into all the details of the resulting fight...needless to say, they were a total departure from anything even remotely resembling maturity. There was yelling, there was pencil throwing, there were even accusations slung. Through it all, poor bewildered Snowflake sat in front of her paper muttering about how, "it's due tomorrow" and "can I work on my assignment now?"

Having completely lost all sense of sanity (not that there was that much there to begin with), I stomped into the laundry room to look for some shoes because at that singular moment I just wanted to get as far away from The Husband as possible. He followed me, and told me I was not allowed to leave the house and that I was acting no better than the kids. Abandoning the shoe search, I just walked out through the garage and out on the which point he CLOSED THE GARAGE DOOR! Now believing myself to be locked out of the house, without a cellphone, and without shoes, I began to walk.

I walked to the end of the street, where I made a decision. Being too stubborn and prideful to beg to be let in, I decided I would head to someone's house and call my mom. While there were many doors I could go knocking on at 7pm on a Sunday night, I chose my friend who lives down the road. Of course, as I was walking I realized the street lights had not come on and as I got further from our street it got darker and darker. It was near pitch black by the time I got three blocks over and it was beginning to dawn on me that I had not in fact made a very good decision. I began to get a tad jumpy as I walked and I started thinking things like, "Ok, if something happens to me it is really going to be my own stupid fault" and "How on earth did we get to this point?" and "I really need to try and be less stubborn" and my favorite, "Gosh I wish I had some shoes!"

I arrived on my friend's doorstep and knocked. When she answered the door, surprised, she immediately made the mother-like observation, "Are you ok? Where are your shoes?" I explained that The Husband and I had gotten in a stupid married-couple fight and I had walked over. Then I asked if I could come in and use her phone. She invited me in and did what any truly great friend would do....she sat me down, fixed me a drink and we talked.

As it turned out, it was a good thing I showed up, because she had somehow missed the homework assignment note and went looking for it. She found it and thanked me for bringing it to her attention. We shared stories of stupid couple fights (the kind where teddy bears fly across the room, or brownie pans full of brownies are thrown on the floor and stomped into bits) and after laughing until tears nearly ran down our faces about how hard marriage is sometimes, she got her keys and prepared to drive me home.

My arrival home was met with an immediate apology, as well as a reciprocal apology from me. Turns out, The Husband had Snowflake redo her assignment and they decided on a different "tradition," Thanksgiving. The paper was wonderful. Why do we celebrate?, "To show thanks for the people we love and the things we have."

I am thankful for many things. But, tonight I am most thankful for my wonderful partner in parenting. No matter how ridiculous we both act he always manages to redeem things. Also my friend, who neither questioned or judged why I was showing up late on a Sunday night, in the dark, in the cold, sans shoes on my feet. We ALL get a little stupid now and then, but if the people around you truly love you, the laughing-about-it-later part comes quickly.

Taking Things for Granted- An Adoption Post

As my birthday approaches each year, I tend to become pensive about, well, my birth. This is significant because I am an adopted, only child. I am very lucky, I was raised by a wonderful mother and father. I have always known I was adopted, but there are have been things, no matter how wonderful my adoptive family is, that bug me.

There are certain things that children raised in their natural families take for granted. For starters, I never get tired of hearing people say things to my kiddos like, "Wow! They all look like they belong together" or "He looks JUST like his big sister." And the one that really warms my heart is when people tell me "OH! He/she looks just like his/her mommy." That one really never gets old. People take the fact that they look like their family for granted, some may even resent it, but what it gives you is a sense of belonging, a visual representation of an unspoken bond. I was so excited when my second child was born looking like my own little mini-me (minus her Shirley Temple curls).

When I was little I always thought it was so funny when people would tell me that I looked like one of my parents (My dad is 6 feet 4 inches and fairly thin, my mom is 5 feet 6 inches and also really thin. Meanwhile I am a mere 5 feet 1 inch and built like a square). I would always give them a sort of sideways look when they made those comments and make a point to tell them, "Really? Because I am actually adopted."

I am sure that people were just looking for similarities because they knew we were related, something to say for small talk, but it felt weird. It felt like they were stretching, or even worse, not really looking. While we all shared the basics; brown hair and blue eyes, I found it hard to believe they could mistake my parents' angular features and skin with the envious ability to tan for coming from the same gene pool as my round, freckled face, paper-white skin, and shoulders so wide that there was little chance that I wouldn't be an excellent swimmer. It wasn't until I had children of my own that it really dawned on me how precious something as simple as looking like your family really was.

The other thing that people who are not adopted take for granted is the ability to ask questions. When I was horribly, horribly morning sick with my second pregnancy I would have given my right arm to be able to turn to someone and say, "Did you have to go through this? How did you cope?" or when my first daughter started talking late it would have been so helpful to say to someone, "Did anyone else in the family start talking after two?"

It sounds silly, but it is a privilege to be able to look the doctor in the eye and answer when you are pregnant with your first child and he asks, "So, do any birth defects or pre-term labor issues run in your family?"

Yes, I love my parents. Yes, I was very lucky that my birth mother and father were strong enough to give birth to me and sacrifice in an unimaginable way to give me a life with everything a child should have. Sometimes I feel wrong wanting more than that, like I should be grateful for what I do have. But, then someone will say something like the lady at church last Sunday who turned to me and commented, "Oh Starman looks so much like Snowflake, there is certainly no arguing that those two belong to the same family," and I start to pine for all those things that my children will never have to question, but will probably never appreciate.