All over, children have begun the countdown -- T minus 22 days to trick or treating.
But for parents, it's a case of the oh, no's -- another Halloween of doorbell-ringing and watching the kids inventory the loot: 20 pieces of bubble gum, 10 candy bars, 11 pounds of candy corn and more.
This glut of goodies usually causes two personality types to emerge -- pirate hoarders and candy vampires. Melissa Gordon of Princeton, N.J., now 13, is a former hoarder. She always protected her stash until the following July 4th. "If you think secondary cigarette smoke is a hazard," says her mother, Marlene, "imagine what all that candy did for my attempts at dieting. And I still get goose bumps thinking about how one April I discovered large quantities of melted Hershey's Chocolate and swarms of ants in the back of her closet."
Meanwhile, brother Josh suffered from being a candy vampire. By 9 p.m. Halloween night every morsel was devoured. In either case, sugar overdose is enough to send chills up and down parents' spines.
Out of desperation, some parents have entertained the idea of throwing a Halloween party in their homes. But usually that is as far as it goes. The thought of containing eight 4-four-year-olds in the house for two hours (90 minutes past their attention span) can have parents riding a broomstick by the end of the evening.
So what can parents do to keep their ghosts and goblins happy? Consider a Progressive Halloween Happening -- in costume, of course -- where several families host a series of mini parties, each one centering on a different activity.
With a progressive party, says parent Peggy LoCastro of Harrison, N.Y., no one gets stuck with all the preparation, expense or cleanup. "It's easy to be enthusiastic for 30 minutes," says LoCastro, who already has given a progressive party. "The kids are heading to the next party before they tire of what they're doing." As for treats, LoCastro suggests handing out trinkets -- washable magic markers, stickers, pencils, barrettes, cards, plastic creatures -- to the party goers. "The kids love them," she says, "and they last. Meanwhile parents retain control over what the kids are eating and doing."
Of course, it wouldn't be Halloween -- or a party -- without some sweet treats. Making and decorating candy and baked goods during a progressive party allows children to achieve instant success. "They can be as creative as they wish," says Connie Kruelle of Connie's Confectionary, a cooking school for children in Germantown. "Only their imagination limits them." And, adds Gail Osgood of Culinary Kids in Bethesda, kids learn to follow directions, share and experience new tastes.
Progressive Halloween happenings create happy memories. Reminiscing about her childhood in Indiana, Jean Kling of Capitol Hill Arts Workshop remembers Halloween as always receiving rave reviews. Every house had something different -- from bobbing for apples, to concocting a witches' brew (hot apple cider), to the grand finale -- eating dessert with the best storyteller in town, scary atmosphere and all.
To ensure a bewitching and safe time, here are some things to remember:
Plan out the party -- every parent should know the events and the schedule for each step.
Stick to the schedule -- to assure that the children do get to all the houses.
Do as much in advance as possible -- have all the ingredients or supplies ready for your activity.
Do things for mood -- masks, face-painting -- early in the evening.
Plan activities according to children's ages.
Find out if any of the children have a fear of the dark, masks, etc. Crying 4-year-olds can frighten even Casper the Ghost, not to mention other children. If they don't want to dress up or take part in something, don't force them -- there's always next year.
Double up if there aren't enough activities -- parents can assist other parents by shopping, setting up, cleanup, etc.
Make sure all children, regardless of age, are escorted from house to house.
Know the length of each activity -- some cooking requires significant time: Bake the cake or cook the food in one house -- decorate it at another and eat it at another.
Serve some food before the hungry monsters get to the last house.
Dress up, too -- there is a little bit of childhood in all of us.
From area experts here's a potful of haunting ideas: Books Ages 4-8 One Dark Night, by Edna Preston. Woggle of Witches, by Adrienne Adams. The Humbug Witch, by Lorna Balian. Ages 8-12 Dorrie and the Halloween Plot, by Patricia Coombes. It's Halloween (poems), by Jack Prelutsky. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, edited by Alvin Schwartz. Records Ages 4-8 "Halloween: Games, Stories and Songs," by Kay Lande. "Tales to Grow On," told by Barbara Freeman and Connie Regan. "Witches' Brew" (sound recordings), by Hap and Martha Palmer. "Spirits and Spooks for Halloween," summoned up by William Conrad. Ages 8-12 "Graveyard of Ghost Tales," told by Vincent Price. "Tales of Witches Ghosts and Goblins," told by Vincent Price. "Sorcerer's Apprentice; Leonard Bernstein Plays for Young People." Home Videos Ages 4-8 "Scary Tales and Silly Stories" (Disney), 43 minutes. "Halloween Is Grinch Night" (Dr. Seuss), 30 minutes. "Bunnincula: The Vampire rabbit" (Worldvision), 23 minutes. "Casper" (Kids Klassics), 30 minutes. Ages 8-12 "Disney's Halloween Treats," 30 minutes. "Sleeping Beauty" (Disney), 75 minutes. "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (Disney), 94 minutes. "Escape From Witch Mountain" (Disney), 94 minutes. Craft Ideas (courtesy of Raye LeValley, coordinator of Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, and teacher Susan Rogers) Ages 4-12 Pass the paper and draw -- every child gets a piece of paper (can be in a shape of a monster, pumpkin or just a square) and markers or crayons for decorating. Instead of decorating their own creature, the paper gets passed around when they hear a howl, or some other Halloween sound -- each work becomes a composite. Create your own mask -- parents trace or cut out masks and the children use sequins, pompons, feathers, fabric, glitter macaroni, acorns, and some glue and scissors to create. Act out -- children can make different sounds and walk the way they think their creature would. Make your own place mat -- with paper cut into different shapes -- haunted house, ghost, etc., or just rectangular. Children can use markers to decorate their place mats for the evening. Or they can decorate with sponge painting. Parents can cut out different Halloween shapes and children can dip them into paint (use clothespins to hold sponges so hands won't get so messy.) Create your own jack-o'-lantern -- children can bring a small pumpkin and decorate it using paper, stars, pompons, ribbon, yarn, markers, etc., and glue it to the pumpkin. (This eliminates knives.) Create your own creatures -- use old tennis balls, toilet paper rolls, yarn, buttons and glue them to make imaginative critters. Ages 8-12 Create your own T-shirt -- children bring a T-shirt and use puff pens, glitter pens, sequins (use Quik Glue) and leftover latex paint which can be dripped (dries permanently) on Halloween T-shirts. Create a face -- children can paint each other's faces and spray their hair (make sure to use make-up and hair spray paint that washes out or special Halloween make-up kits).
Make a haunted house -- children bring an old sheet or large piece of fabric and with markers make a haunted scene. Parents create a haunted room -- make the room dark, hang threads, and have bowls of things for children to touch -- cold spaghetti and peeled grapes, for example. Create a mood -- play eerie music, have lots of candles in safe places, lights that blink. Alice Shapin is a Washington area free-lance writer and mother of two.