Tegan, who is 2, has been talking about Halloween since August.
I bought it up on a rainy day as we watched water run down the windows, saying how the tree limbs seemed to dance. We talked about how it'd be fall soon. How the leaves would change color, fall and dry, and tell us in a quiet way that winter would be coming. I told her how we'd pick out pumpkins, dress up for Halloween, go trick-or-treating. She wanted to go knock on people's doors, dressed up like a blueberry.
"Halloween isn't until the end of October," I said gently, "So people might get a little confused." She nodded thoughtfully.
Since then we've picked out our pumpkins and bought Halloween-themed pajamas. We sing songs about the leaves falling down. She's made paper ghosts and pumpkins at school. She's recently decided she wants to be Minnie Mouse.
"What is trick or treat?" she asked me the other day.
"It's when we get dressed up in our costumes and knock on people's doors to get candy," I reminded her.
"Oh (a pause). I don't like candy." (She's never had candy.)
"Well that's OK. We can still do it for fun."
"Daddy can have my candy."
I'm sure Tegan will like candy, that her eyes will widen as she tries a Kit Kat bar, bites into a peanut butter cup, discovers gummy bears.
And I have the relief that it'll be OK for her to experience these things. I won't have to worry that a candy bar may contain traces of peanuts, that something in her plastic pumpkin pail could be devastating to us.
I want Tegan to know that not all kids can have candy. That for some kids, it's not safe. I also want her to know that all kids should be able to have fun. That no one should have to feel left out.
I recently heard about the Teal Pumpkin Project, a new way to help kids with food allergies safely trick-or-treat.
To participate, you paint a pumpkin teal (the official color for food allergy awareness), place it outside your home, and buy some non-food items (think: stickers, crayons, bouncy balls) to have in addition to your regular fare. The teal pumpkin lets people know that you have non-food treats available for kids.
This week, I picked up some teal paint and a handful of mini pumpkins with Tegan, explained to her why we'd paint them.
My husband, Tegan, and I then sat on our driveway that evening, dusk fading, painting them.
"We're painting pumpkins for boys and girls, Daddy," she said. "Because some kids are allergic to candy."
I felt so proud of her. For understanding. For wanting to help another child feel included. For learning what it means to be an advocate.
We've placed one of the pumpkins outside our home, and I've put one on my desk at work to start conversation. I plan on giving Tegan's pumpkins to whoever wants one. She's asked that we give them away.
Come Halloween, hopefully she'll be okay with giving away Play-Doh and stickers, too. Somehow, though, I don't think she'll mind.