I’d been missing the Halloween Fairy, the Robin Hood of Candy. She would descend upon our house late on Halloween night once our little trick-or-treaters had fallen asleep. She flew in and flitted away with their candy.
Before bed, our girls chose ten pieces of candy to keep, leaving the rest for the fairy who, according to our legend, delivered their extra treats to little children who couldn’t traipse around in the dark extorting goodies from neighbors.
It worked when they were toddlers. Their eyes widened in dismay and sympathy as they imagined being ill and unable to participate. They reverently counted out their favorite treats and left the rest for the fairy.
My parents and siblings shook their heads and rolled their eyes like teenagers.
“Lighten up!” they said. “A little candy isn’t going to hurt them.”
We disagreed on the definition of “a little candy.” I belonged to a peer group of moms who packed all their kids’ lunches and bought organic. We all praised the dentist on the street who gave out toothbrushes on Halloween. These women backed me up. Most of them regretted that they’d not made an earlier acquaintance with the Halloween Fairy.
There are plenty of fantastic parents out there who are less controlling than I am. Their kids will surely be well-adjusted, have great teeth, clear complexions and modest waistlines despite fewer restrictions on what they eat and when. A part of me wants to emulate those parents, but relinquishing control feels liberating to me for about thirty minutes. After that, I start to vibrate at a frequency incompatible with sanity; the discomfort spreads like hives.
One year, the Halloween Fairy was nudged by guilt. She questioned her level of austerity. She got fancy. To minimize any potential suffering by kids deprived of a sugar-high, she left a substitute treat: a non-confection consolation prize of a new coloring book or art supplies.
In retrospect, this addition to the charade was the downfall of the whole Halloween Fairy façade. It required advance planning that I couldn’t reliably muster. Like other mythic holiday figures who come bearing gifts, it required stealth, secrecy and the ability to gather loot out of the keen gaze of preschoolers. Who has time for that?
Finally, one year I was lazy, or feeling uncharacteristically un-controlling, and the Halloween Fairy forgot to visit. With three children and an infinite number of parenting and general life decisions to make, something was bound to slide. The annual costuming crisis looms larger than what to do with the loot following the main event. I’m also more experienced as a parent, and perhaps I’ve “lightened up.”
Now my kids suffer my inconsistent rules regarding candy consumption. I’m apt to go berserk and order my kids to eat all the candy simply so I don’t have to see it any more or suffer their incessant negotiations. “Can I eat some before breakfast? Can I have some after dinner? How many pieces?”
My kids are aging out of the parental deceits we’ve used to both control them and create a bit of magic in their lives.
Or so I thought.
My third grader came home with tales of the Switch Witch, a kindly witch who takes all your Halloween candy and leaves a present. As the youngest child, she doesn’t remember the fancy Halloween Fairy who came bearing gifts.
“I want the Switch Witch to come to our house!” she announced.
Three days after Halloween, she ransacked drawers in search of sticky notes and stuck one to the handle of her orange plastic pumpkin, the one with the face of Winnie the Pooh. In tiny, uneven letters she had written: “Dear Swich Wich, Please take my candy and leave me a present…An iPad if possible.”
Please take my candy? Music to my ears, but then new negotiations began. It seemed implausible that the Switch Witch would come to only one child in the house. Would the others give up their treats? Had they had their fill? What could the witch leave them?
The Switch Witch’s personal shopper knew better than to head out without any direction. And so I conferred with the tween and the teen. Who knew it would be so easy? The tween directed me to the book light she’d seen earlier in the week. “The blue one on the display at register 12, near the entrance by garden supplies.”
The teen accompanied me on my late night shopping trip and chose a new CD.
And the nine-year old who invited this more flexible character into our home? She didn’t get an iPad, and I’ve already forgotten what she received. She gave me a compromise that works…for now.