I thought it was all about big boys, who should have known better, shaking me down for candy. They'd arrive in clumps, shout "trick or treat," and shove undecorated brown paper bags in my direction. It didn't feel right.
Then again, some things don't make sense until you've lived them with your own child -- and not a moment sooner.
The tale I tell today is from the year 2000, Halloween day. My 15-year-old son, a sophomore at Davis High School, comes home and says, "Mom, I have an idea."
Then he pauses. "No, forget it."
"Aw, come on, tell me." My hands assume a begging position, like a squirrel hoping for a nut.
"Maybe I'll invite some friends over this evening," he says.
Like every mom of a young male, I've worried about his social skills, so this sounds good to me. I tell him "yes" but I also ask him to carve pumpkins with me before his friends show up. Never before have we carved pumpkins without his sister, who has just gone off to college. This is the third-to-last time I'll get to do it with him.
I spread newspaper on the table and choose the smaller pumpkin for myself.
"Hey, I've got a thin-skinned one this year, easy for carving," he announces, hefting the larger pumpkin lightly from hand to hand.
"Maybe you just got stronger," I say.
After we finish the job and set up our two pumpkins by the window, he's on the phone, then off the phone, then on again until he walks in and announces that he needs candy for his friends.
"How many friends?"
"I don't know. Three. Or two. Or five."
I make a quick run to the market. These boys are too big now to go house to house trick-or-treating, so I want to buy a hefty consolation prize. I choose big Milky Way bars, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (large size) and a bag of M&M's.
At 7:15, guys start showing up. One is half in costume, the rest in school clothes. Like 15-year-olds everywhere, they come in a range of sizes. One boy is 6'2" and speaks in a deep bass. Another is only 5'4" but loud. The house reverberates with sound.
Even though my son knows I bought candy, I hear him say, "Wanna go out for a while and trick or treat?"
I immediately remember other Halloweens when I was acutely annoyed by large packs of teens, most without costumes, who showed up late at my door and growled in bass voices, "Trick or treat." They hadn't done their part -- dressing up -- but I still had to do mine.
I want to protest to my son, but things are moving too fast for me to get a word in. The boys are running in and out of my son's room grabbing possible outfits (an old cape, a flowered shirt, a skeleton mask) and my husband is poking around in the garage looking for the sickle he made a couple of years ago when my son dressed up as "Death."
One boy emerges in a too-small fishing hat and asks for a rod. In my daughter's room, I find a witch's hat, complete with glued-on grey hair. The big guy claims it.
In five minutes flat, everyone is partially in costume and heading down the sidewalk. I hear their deep voices as they laugh. I cross my fingers that the neighbors will understand.
That night I was reminded that parents are not the only ones who regret the passing years. A year earlier, for the first time, my son gave out candy instead of trick-or-treating. It was an OK experience, but not worth repeating. It's much more fun to go trick-or-treating with a bunch of guys and if the neighbors are grumpy, it's easier to laugh things off when you're in a crowd.
So here's what I can pass on, if you don't have your own 15-year-old boy.
When a crowd of under-costumed teens shows up on your doorstep, welcome them. It's a big group because they find strength in numbers. They're not wearing costumes because they didn't realize that they'd want to go -- nor how badly.
Give them big bars. Don't tell them they're too old. They already know that.
Let them pretend it just isn't so.
Marion Franck is a writer living in Davis, California. This piece first appeared in The Davis Enterprise.