It starts with that familiar Spirit Halloween sign on an abandoned big box store. Basic memes about bonfires and pumpkin spice lattes come next. Then, after the fantasy football drafts have ended and you spend one last weekend day drinking in a pool, we all have to dive head first into fall.
I’ve always seen fall in Erie like the ultimate Sunday evening: My enjoyment of all that it brings is hampered by my knowledge of what is to come. I love much of what comes with fall. Football? Hiking? Not running up the electric bill with constant air conditioning? Count me in on that. Still, I’m a parent and fall usually brings a number of tedious and unwanted responsibilities for those of us who decided to have children.
Over the past 12 Octobers, I have been forced to spend my money and time on the abhorrent scam that is fall tourism. A costume at the Halloween store followed by a pumpkin at Mason Farms. We better stand in line for a pumpkin walk. We can’t miss Port Farms. I better dig out the warm jacket because you have to do Zoo Boo after dark. After all that, the grand finale involves walking the streets and soliciting your neighbors for candy. I’ve spent seemingly every weekend of those 12 Octobers freezing, poor, and filled with fun-sized chocolates. I reluctantly prepared for these annual traditions until I realized that everything was going to be different this year.
Those who listen to the podcast know that I have a 12-year-old son that we refer to as SmartDumb. He recently entered 7th grade at Strong Vincent. He gets his name due to the fact that his academic acumen is incongruous with his chosen conversations. His report card may say that he’s bright, but it doesn’t seem to transfer into his lengthy conversations about video games and his pet dog. He usually starts deciding on his Halloween costume about two weeks after school starts. This year it doesn’t seem to be a priority.
“When are we making our run down to the pumpkin farm this year?” I eventually had to ask.
“We don’t have to,” he said, “They just sit there until they get old and we throw them out anyway.”
He’s right. Pumpkins are a scam. I’ve always thought that way. So why can I only think of the time that he made a putt for some radio station contest at Mason Farms and won a pumpkin? We weren’t allowed to carve that pumpkin and I’m pretty sure we were putting up Christmas decorations before he allowed us to throw it away.
“I don’t know if you planned on trick or treating this year, but we better figure out the costume situation ASAP so you’re ready,” I said.
“I’ll walk around with my cousins or hand out candy, but I’m not putting on a costume and collecting candy.”
Great! I hate doing that! I don’t want to walk around town and freeze. I have no interest in making small talk with other parents. So why do I fondly remember the time he beamed with pride because the teenagers handing out candy told him that his Charmander costume was their favorite one they had seen that night?
In the past year, SmartDumb has grown roughly 6 inches. His voice has changed and I had to teach him to shave his patchy trash stache. The kid I had to beg to take a bath now wakes up at 6:30 to hop in the shower before we get in the bathroom. He will make his breakfast in the morning and be dressed and ready to go without being prompted. I’m proud of his independence, but I strangely miss the days where I couldn’t get him in the bathtub without a slew of toys and an adequate supply of bubble bath formula.
I didn’t realize how I felt about all of this until waking up from a dream I had a few months ago. I was at his High School graduation. It was one of those picturesque outdoor ceremonies that you see on TV that could never happen with our volatile weather. I don’t recall a speech, his diploma or anything, but I did know that he was successful in achieving his goals and was heading off to do exactly what he wanted to do. I felt a mixture of pride and absolute devastation that it was all over. I thought of the funny, touching, amazing, and mundane things that we had done together while knowing that it would never be the same again. Pride and excitement for the man he was becoming. Grief and sadness for the little boy that I had lost.
I woke up to relief knowing that we still had several years until that day comes, but knowing that the message rings true. I’ll continue to try to help him become the best he can be, but I’ll also try to enjoy the lazy days of video games or the car rides where we discuss life. Many of our best moments come from instances where we weren’t trying to have a significant moment at all and there are still plenty of opportunities to have those moments.
Overall, I look forward to the next step. I’m sure it will come with bad days and good days, but SmartDumb is a good kid. We can handle this. It’s not like this doesn’t come with any benefits. I always hated shopping for his costumes anyway.