Last week, I began noticing posts popping up in my Facebook newsfeed about The Teal Pumpkin Project. It is an awareness campaign aimed at encouraging families to offer non-food treats to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Our local news channel in Louisville was promoting it heavily on their Facebook page and it was in turn being shared by many of my friends. And I thought, "really? Is this really a thing?" So I emailed Shana and asked her if it was a thing up there, too. She had not yet heard of it. However, just in doing a quick Google images search for the above photo, I noticed it was a topic of conversation for bloggers across the country.
Yes, it's a thing.
Now, here's the part where I come across as a total jerk-face. Having been a mom for 2 years, I'm rather annoyed with all of the parenting fads. Limit screen-time. Let your children play educational games on the iPad. Limit your child to a gluten-free, nut-free diet. Give your child a Wonder bread sandwich, slathered with Jiffy and send them out to play in the creek behind the house because that's what we did when we were kids and we turned out just fine. And the super-fun one...to vaccinate or not to vaccinate (and the one I struggle with - do I let my vaccinated child play with your unvaccinated one? Polio, Rubella, Measles...none of these are welcome in our house). So, I'm sure you can imagine the amount of eye-rolling on my face when I learned of the teal pumpkins. Really? Really we can't just let Halloween be Halloween? Do we have to be all Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man about this, too?
The answer is, of course, yes. Although scores of children with Type 1 Diabetes (like my childhood best friend, Monica) and food allergies (like my husband, although his oddly developed during a deployment) and children with swallowing difficulties (like my friend's 4-year old daughter, who has had a trach from day 1) have had to contend with the challenges of Halloween in years past, don't we always want better for our children? When we were growing up, the parents of these kids had to find alternate ways to make the night special. Some would prearrange with neighbors and family to have non-food or approved foods available. Often, these pre-approved foods were home-baked, which would now send off alarm bells for any parent. Monica's parents developed an exchange system; 1 full-size Snickers bar = 1 board game or 5 mini-bags of M&Ms = a book. Although they let her choose 4 or 5 pieces to enjoy throughout the coming months, the bulk of her haul was exchanged for non-food items. (By the way, I think this is total genius and I give them boatloads of credit for being so creative in a non-Facebook, non-Pinterest world. I also reserve the right to implement this in our house, even though food allergies are not an issue.)
I started to think, "Wouldn't I be more than happy to have non-food items on hand for the kids I knew personally who couldn't have the candy? Why wouldn't I extend that courtesy to anyone trick-or-treating in our neighborhood? Does it matter why the parents would prefer their children to have non-food items? Wouldn't I prefer Blue to have stickers over Snickers?" Yes, yes, yes, yes to all of that. No, I'm not a jerkface, I had just never stopped to think about how to make an event like Halloween better, more accessible to all children because my own child had not been challenged with it. Although I dread the inevitable power struggles that come with buckets of candy in the house everyday, it's something I was just willing to accept because it's part of "the Halloween experience." It's tradition. It's how it has always been. The end.
It's not the end. I have only been a mom for 2 years and I have volumes to learn about teaching our son sensitivity and understanding and inclusion. Halloween is about give and take. He instinctively knows how to take. I want him to find joy in being generous, but also in giving what others need; not what you want them to have. With The Teal Pumpkin Project, parents are saying, "this is what we want for our children. We are asking that you help us provide it to them." And I will joyfully cooperate. We are a more sensitive nation than 36 years ago and I think Monica would agree as she prepares her own children for the upcoming day...thank goodness for that!
Possible non-food treats:
pencil-toppers and fancy erasers
mini decks of cards
small toys and pocket-sized games
*Basically, just clean out your Dollar Store's party aisle. When you consider that multiple bags of the "good candy" is about $8.00-$10.00 bag, you may actually end up saving some money.
*Some non-food items are not appropriate for children under 3. However, I would not consider allowing Blue to approach anyone's house without us until he is at least 3. If we are with him, we can help him choose a treat that is best-suited for his age.