Before I became a mom, I was first a tita to two beautiful little girls who, like everyone else, were born with no natural fears, bias, and prejudice. Then of course, life happened, and after a string of yayas and house help who each employed her own obedience tactics (“Huwag ka pumunta diyan, madilim!” “Sige ka, may mumu diyan.” “Wala kang kasama!”), my nieces inadvertently became afraid of the dark, of ghosts they couldn’t even see, and of being alone like it’s such a bad, sad thing.
When I have my own child, I vowed to myself, I won’t scare him like this. I will only tell him the truth.
When the time came for me to hire a nanny, I only had two nonnegotiable rules: one, if you need to rein him in, tell him the true reason why. Speak of no mumu or monster. Two, don’t let him watch Wowowee* (a horror in itself — but that’s just my opinion and we can talk about that some other time).
There have been so many times that I’ve been tempted to scare my child out of running away, staying up late, or asking for more, because it’s much more convenient to say, “If you don’t sleep now, a white lady will grab you by the ankles and drag you to the depths of the unknown!” than to engage him in a litany of scientific proof of how humans on little sleep can miss out on their growth potential, be predisposed to irritability, lack of focus and energy, and simply function sub-par. But I never broke character. I always told the truth even if it escalated to the proverbial ‘nosebleed’ levels, and even if I was pretty sure he was too young to understand.
And then comes Halloween and it threatens to flush down my years of truth-telling down the drain. On this night, everything that I ever hid from my son (broom-riding witch, flesh-eating zombie, evil sorcerer, moving amputated head/hand/hip, etc.) comes out of the open in an oxymoronic celebration of gloom and doom. All the pains I went through, day by day, to prevent my son from having unfounded fears —- put in jeopardy by an hour’s worth of collecting candy.
Sometimes, however, my eternally conflicted mind launches a full-blown debate against itself.
Lemming me: “But everybody’s doing it!”
Deviant me: “And since when was that enough for you?”
Lemming me: “The kids are getting all kinds of candies!”
Deviant me: “Are candies an endangered lot? I’m sure there’s more where they came from.”
Lemming me: “It’s all in the spirit of fun!”
Deviant me: “Their own brand of fun. this family has its own. Even the boy just shrugs it off. Why force it?”
Lemming me: [rolls eyes in surrender; exits stage left]
Of course this doesn’t mean that I’m all surly when Halloween rolls around. Children parading in costumes that their folks obviously toiled long hours on/spent a fortune over/asked yaya to perfect are a sight to behold and a thrill to watch. I do keep a stash of goodies in my bag on the off chance that a cutie pie walks up to me. It’s just like greeting my neighbor ‘Happy Eid Al-Fitr’ even though I’m not a Muslim.
Sometimes, as I mentally pin a first-place ribbon on the more creative, imaginative costumes, lemming me rears her persistent head once again: “you’ve always maintained that the ability to imagine is the real proof of intelligence.”
“Yes,” answers deviant me, “but the Jack-o-lantern and the Grim Reaper are a product of someone else’s imagination. Imagination as a sign of intelligence is not as conclusive if the idea is not original. It’s merely a subscription to a product that someone else made. A copy.”
“You’re boring!” lemming me hurls and leaves in a huff.
I’ve stuck to my formula up to this day, but my son is now seven and knows that Halloween does happen. He knows about the costumes, the candies, and the festivities, but he knows them the way adults do: a time for fun and for a little creativity. He knows that other families like to celebrate it, and it’s okay that we don’t. You celebrate your Halloween, we celebrate our… uh, cats’ birthdays. We’re all different and we can all get along.
Ultimately, for my son and me, no Halloween means no monsters under the bed to banish at night. Not celebrating means no nightmares and no sinister characters lurking in the unseen, so that we can walk leisurely in the dark. Our nights mean cuddles and safety, a time for shadow plays and magically (although rarely), for looking up at the sky and identifying the stars. Our nights are devoid of fear.
Because darkness is just the absence of light and that is the truth. I believe my son deserves nothing but.