People have told us that the holidays will be difficult.
Easter and Passover went by while we were still in shock. We were prepared for the emptiness in the room and at the table. We met it head on. The Jewish high holidays came and went last month. We never celebrate them much in our house. I usually have a conversation with the kids – but I use that time more as personal introspection than religious observance. We’ve been steeling ourselves against the emptiness at the end of the year and we forgot all about Halloween.
We’d prepared ourselves for the night itself. Where Maggie would go out trick-or-treating with Kim without her little sister to blaze the way to the doors on the blocks around us. But we hadn’t considered all of the little things that lead up to Halloween.
Kim has been the room mother for one or both kids for as long as they’ve been in school. One of her yearly obligations was planning the room’s halloween party. She would help organize who brought the snacks and she’d come up with a couple of activities for the kids. I would bake the pumpkin shaped sugar cookies. It counted as both a snack and an activity. Bring in the sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles and candy shapes and the kids can decorate their cookies during activity time and eat them during snack time. Last year I tripled the batch and made seven dozen cookies.
But the preparation begins well before the week of Halloween. The girls would ask Kim about the decorations. Did she buy the plates and napkins and cups? They would spend weeks choosing what they would be for Halloween. I think my favorite year was when they when Kim dressed them each up as Power Puff girls – or as Elena called them “Powder Puff girls”.
The hardest thing about any holiday is the wait. I didn’t used to be able to buy Christmas presents ahead of time. I couldn’t wait to give them to the person. I’d give them early and then have to get them something else. The girls would assemble their costumes and then be so eager to put them on.
A few years ago I came home from the store with new Halloween cookie cutters. There was a witch, a black cat, a bat, a ghost, and a pumpkin. Elena couldn’t stand it. “Let’s make cookies,” she said.
“It’s too early,” I said. “If I make them today they will be all hard and nasty for your party next week.”
“Oh, come on,” she said, giving me the cutest look she could come up with, “you know you want to.” She looked up at me, batting her eyes and smiling the biggest smile she could manage.
“Of course I want to,” I said, “I’m just not going to.”
“I’ll tell you what,” she bargained, “I’ll help you. I’ll get out the flour and the sugar and, and, what else?”
“That’s nice, but we’re not going to make cookies today,” I said.
Her smile disappeared. She tried to cry but couldn’t manage it. “You never make cookies when I want you to.”
“That’s just silly. We bake stuff all the time,” I pointed out. Logic was not going to help.
“It’s just no fair.”
Elena was pretty practical. She saw quickly that this wasn’t getting her anywhere. She thought a moment and tried a different tack. “You know, these are new shapes. You should probably make just a little bit of cookies to test them.”
I had another idea. “Go get your sister, we’ll use the shapes to make lunch.”
She looked at me curiously and shouted from the kitchen, “Maggie, dad says come in here.”
I looked down at her and said, “I could have done that. Go get her.”
She trotted into the other room and said, “Dad says you have to come into the kitchen. I think you’re in trouble.”
Maggie walked into the kitchen with Elena at her heels. “I didn’t DO anything,” Maggie said.
“I didn’t say you did,” I answered. The girls turned and stuck out their tongues at each other. “What do you want for lunch?” I asked Maggie.
“Salami, I guess,” she said.
“Bring it here. Elena, get two plates.” I said.
“Why do I have to get the plates?” Elena asked.
The girls dragged up chairs on either side of me and I laid two pieces of salami on the cutting board and cut out a bat shape from each. I peeled the outside of the bat off of each piece and gave one to Elena and the other to Maggie.
“Cool,” they both said.
I placed one bat on each one’s plate.
“Can I do one?” Maggie asked. And soon each girl was cutting out shapes from their salami slices.
For the next couple of years, every once in a while we would cut salami shapes for lunch. Hearts for Valentine’s day and scary shapes for Halloween.
The holiday I wasn’t ready for this year.