October used to be my favorite month. I love Autumn; it is my favorite season. When I was a little girl, I loved Halloween and especially wearing costumes. I never liked the creepy or scary side of Halloween, but I just ignored it. I was not a “haunted house” girl. The magic that came along with dressing up in a costume and pretending to be somebody else for a day was irresistible. In the area where I lived in the Midwest, October generally promised much cooler weather than the Indian summer days of September, and I can recall a few times where we would trick-or-treat in the snow. My mom would have to put a coat on me either over or under my costume, and I did not like that because I felt like it ruined my whole look. But we all did it- bundled up, scarf-and-mitten-sporting little cowboys and ghosts and Gremlins and Strawberry Shortcakes and Raggedy Anns.
Now, in the past several years, both October and Halloween have evolved into tremendously different things for me. First of all, we now live in an area of the country where October is basically the hottest month -just tortuously hot and super dry- before it falls away to our true autumn, which begins at the beginning of November. Also, it seems like culturally, here in America, Halloween has sort of taken over as this really somewhat gross, commercially over the top, zombie-and-sugar-fueled entrée into the cold and flu season. There is now more profit to be made by retailers on Halloween items then at any other holiday. And I know that it’s all about our attitude and all situations are what you make of them; so let me explain a little bit further about why my attitude soured so quickly.
When our daughter became terribly sick with PANDAS/ PANS, her major episodes of flaring were always in the fall, including the very first, crashing, terrifying, life-changing sudden onset of her 5th year on earth, as well each subsequent flare, for the three years to follow. I don’t remember for sure, but it was either in the Autumn of first or second grade where that year’s terrible crash and flare came a bit later in October and very much correlated with all of the scary things surrounding Halloween. Scary billboards, pumpkin and scarecrow displays in the store, something on a screen someplace that looked frightening-Halloween began to take on a whole new level of unavoidable terror for my daughter, and therefore for my entire little family. We couldn’t go anywhere pretty much for the entire month of October, because it was all too triggering and terrifying for her. One sight of something “scary” and about three days were ruined from sleepless nights to repetitive statements and constant checking in for safety. In each of our daughter’s major flares, they would come crashing hard in September or October, and then get gradually better, and usually she was all good by January or February and then we would basically totally get her back until the following fall. There are many reasons for this, but those of you have who have dealt with PANDAS/ PANS know exactly what I’m talking about. I was starting to truly dread late summer, as I knew fall was next, and until we figured out what it would take to get her back, September would loom large. This made me so sad. We needed our girl back, and I wanted to find a way to love Autumn again.
So, we stopped trick-or-treating the year she was in second grade. She perisisted with it in first grade, but it was really an overwhelming experience for her ,and she said that she never wanted to do it again after that year. We passed out candy at home on that second-grade year, and she was very happy to participate in that, although she didn’t like some of the costumes or masks that would come to the door, we were able to get through it by reassuring her. She did not mind not having any of the junk candy because healthy eating had become the most important part of her recovery, and through our constant education regarding food as medicine and how it affects every part of us, she was so motivated and knowledgable even at that young age, and had such a wonderful understanding of how what she put in her mouth made her feel, in both her tummy and in her brain. The sugar, refined chemicals and inflammatory food dyes have no place in anybody’s body, but they are downright dangerous to a child dealing with an already inflamed brain, a traumatic brain injury, which is what PANDAS/PANS is, only it is one caused by a toxic overload, whether it be chemical or environmental or bacterial or viral (or a combo- which is usually the case), rather than by a hit to the head. Out here where we live now along the coast, the schools are closed the day after Halloween. They’re not stupid, what great planning! What happens to a child’s body after they consume all of that garbage on Halloween and in the subsequent days is not good. The behavior and meltdowns for most kids are off the charts. Why set your kids up for failure? The hit that the body takes from all of that garbage non-food is a huge reason why everybody starts to become so sick, and the cold and flu season is ushered in upon a heavy load of intensely crashing, sugar and processed-garbage-non-food-laden, struggling immune systems.
The next year, when she was in third grade, she decided she didn’t really want to pass out candy, and so we left the porch light off that year. My husband and son were out of town together on a trip, so my daughter and I made cauliflower crust pizza and watched the movie Ernest and Celestine, (which I cannot recommend highly enough if you have not seen it.) We laid on the living room floor on blankets and had such a wonderful night. She slept in my bed that night, which she always does if the boys are out of town, and we really had a fantastic weekend. We started a new tradition of quiet and peace; saying goodbye to the stifling warmth of October, and ushering in our true cool, fresh and rainy coastal autumn, which begins in earnest on November 1st.
So we have not celebrated Halloween since then, and the porch light remains off each October 31st. Now that our daughter had been recovered for a few years, our family very much enjoys the seasonal transition which is Halloween- the pumpkins, the healthy baking, the soup making, and listening to Christmas music early, because, we cannot help it. My Vince Guaraldi holiday Pandora station is on fire. Seriously, it’s the best. Even our son who is older, and may have enjoyed trick-or-treating with some friends the past couple of years has chosen not to, because for one thing, he doesn’t want to eat the candy, so what really is the point- and he says he would rather be with us, creating new traditions. Strong and scary periods bring the most tremendous amount of growth and maturity to all members of the family.
Halloween does not have to be a value for you and your family just because you see everybody else doing it. It is OK to break free from other people‘s tradition. It is OK to not do the same thing you’ve always done just because you’ve always done it. It is a beautiful thing to create new traditions, turning the norm on its head, and flowing along and following the desires of your heart, rather than doing what you think other people expect of you. If you are afraid you’re going to be ostracized from your friend circle if you don’t participate in their Halloween parties or trick-or-treat rituals- guess what? Those people are not really your friends.
It is a beautiful thing to be able to transcend. Just because we are “in” this world, does not mean that we need to be “of” this world. What new traditions have you created for yourself and for your family based on following your own heart, rather than the more self-serving needs and desires of those around you? It takes a very confident person to do things differently. It takes someone who values themselves enough to understand that what is right for others, may not necessarily be right for them or for their family. As a child, did your parents ever force you to watch a scary movie or take you to a haunted house against your will? I ask you, what truly is the point? You’re not going to make your kid stronger by forcing them to do things like that, and then making fun of them for being scared, and you’re going to hurt them in a lasting way. I have many friends who don’t want to participate in Halloween mostly because they don’t want their kids to have the candy and become sick in the cold and flu season, but they are so held back by the belief that “children need to experience Halloween and trick-or-treating,” that they cannot say no, and they do not change what they do. I ask them, who are you living for? The opinions of others? Old, worn-out and potentially unhealthy traditions that no longer suit you, or your own family values that you have cultivated out of desire and necessity? What sort of message does that send your child? Does it tell them that what they want to do in their life, following their own hearts and minds and values, is not as important as what others want them to do? I will not demonstrate to my children that they have to ask permission of their peers in order to do anything in their life, no matter how old they may be.
May your be autumn be filled with peace and doing that which makes you truly happy.
With Love and Joy for the cooler weather,
The Mint Pixie
Here is more on our journey to PANDAS/PANS recovery, and how recovery happened:
all photos copyright themintpixie 2017