Friday, July 30, 2010

the halloween conundrum

Each October, while other children dreamed of candy and debated over whether to go pretty (princess) or scary (toothless zombie), my sister and I braced ourselves for the torture known as Halloween, when, dressed in our everyday jammies, we would muffle our ears against the omnipresent sound of the doorbell, knowing that our parents were self-righteously ignoring it.

My parents were not, thank God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who denied us even a birthday present. Nor were they fundamentalists, rejecting Halloween as “Satan’s birthday” (as my Floridian children have been informed more than once by zealous baptists), or even ultra-orthodox jews, who would at least have supplanted the festive misrule of Halloween with an uproarious Purim that could have provided plenty of opportunities to go pretty (Esther) or skanky (Vashti). No, they were liberal, cultural Jews, who provided us with Christmas stockings (though God forbid a tree or lights), but who sanctimoniously insisted on the dangers of Halloween. “All year,” my mother would smugly query, “You tell children to stay away from strangers, and then ONE DAY, you encourage them to ring doorbells and ask for candy?” Never mind that we would only go to apartments where we knew someone; never mind that everyone else did it (“If everyone else jumped off the Empire State Building…?); never mind that it brought us shame and misery and pain, not only listening to that doorbell, but at school the next day, when everyone showed up with bulging bags of candy, not to mention a pushke full of change for the United Nations Children’s fund. (“Trick or Treat for Unicef,” children were taught to say, as if those behind the door would actually believe that, future readers of Playboy for the articles, these witches and pirates were only there to support charity). Later, when I read in CL Barber’s “Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy” about the reinforcement of hierarchy by its inversion on days such as twelfth night, I wondered if that would have proved a convincing argument for my highly intellectual parents – but I doubt it would have.

I bring up this painful memory not to evoke sympathy, verguenza ajena , or even schadenfreude, but rather because a recent discussion with one of my daughters reminded me of the conundrum my parents believed was posed by Halloween. Unlike Tigerlily (who would most likely want to shove her fingers in her ears and sing LALALA if the subject came up), the empathic Butterfly would like to see me dating. In her eyes (and probably mine as well) my social life is dull; she worries that I am lonely, and she would like to see a nice man about the house. The subject of online dating, however, is anathema to her. “No, mom. No internet.”

I told my dear friend, Perspicace Terapista (to whom we shall affectionately refer hereafter as “the Petvarkin”), and – insightful as always – she reminded me that the Butterfly’s response was, in fact, a good thing. “Think of all the time we spend telling kids that meeting people on line is a dangerous and bad thing.” The Petvarkin, of course, makes an excellent point all Match and Jdate and even Irishsinglesnetwork users need to keep in mind: you don’t really know who is out there. So what is a bella professoressa to do?

If we accept my parents’ response to the Halloween conundrum, bella p should not be on line at all. But why rationalize fear – or endorse a seemingly pious policy that (my own childhood demonstrates) causes pain and suffering? Why should I bypass the opportunity to receive winks from men who proudly assert that they don’t read books any more? My parents did, after all, afford a second model: the lie, or, more kindly put, the omission. (As in, not telling your child before she is anesthetized that she will wake up missing four grown-up teeth. Or that you flushed the fifth litter of baby gerbils down the toilet.)

As the Petvarkin pointed out, however, leading with a lie (“we met – uh – at a Starbucks!”) is not the best way to start out a relationship between your offspring and someone who might become a significant part of your life. Instead, she offered a different solution: “Show her the difference. Take her online and show her the safeguards in place. Explain to her the steps you are following to make sure you don’t place yourself in a dangerous situation.”

As we know, the Petvarkin is the brilliant Perspicace Terapista, so her helpfulness comes as no surprise. But the model she offered is also one I wish my parents had been willing to consider lo these many years. Don’t give in to the conundrum (my child might think it is ok to ring someone’s doorbell and ask for candy on President’s Day!”), but explain it: “Normally we don’t do this, but today is a special day when we wear costumes and ask for candy. We stay together, we carry a flashlight, we only go to the homes of our friends and we do not accept treats from anyone with his hand in his pants.”

So I think I will explain the process and the safety measures and show the Butterfly how these websites work. Because I bet after she sees the profiles of some of these charmers on (“Last thing read: Playboy”) the last thing she’ll want to do is meet up with some guy she meets on line!

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