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As I looked around the park during my community’s Halloween party last year, two things tugged at my heart and made me sad at the exact same time: I no longer had kids young enough to dress up and go trick-or-treating with; and the moms who did looked completely frazzled and frantic.
While I stood to the side with a heavy heart, I spotted an adorable little girl being dragged into the park by her mom. They held hands, with the mom gently tugging her forward. The little girl was probably six or seven years old, dressed as a ladybug and all I wanted to do was tap the harried mom on the shoulder and step in. I’d take the little ladybug by the hand and go trick-or-treating with her.
But of course, I couldn’t. My chance to do that is over, at least until, hopefully, grandchildren. So, as I fought back tears, I glanced at the ladybug’s mom. She was texting on her phone, an impressive one-handed feat. I was sure the young mom would pay attention to her little person any moment, but after finishing with her phone, she made a beeline straight over to another group of moms, pulling her unhappy ladybug behind her.
I’m not judging, and I’m sure after I walked away, the mom was focused and present with her child. Too often, I know I wasn’t. That’s the irony of motherhood. We are so busy with the necessary elements that allow our kids to succeed in our competitive and quick society that we forget to just be with them.
When I think back on those days, on the classroom parties I planned or the parades we watched, my heart is heavy. I long for those days, those happy smiles when your little person rounds a corner and sees you waiting to take the perfect photo. I hope my kids remember me there, focused on them.
Most of all, I hope I was present. I know I wasn’t texting, because that wasn’t a thing yet when my kids were young, but there were plenty of other distractions, just as there have been for every generation.
I try to remember the last time I took my child by the hand and went trick-or-treating with him. Being the youngest of four, no doubt we set him free with his friends much sooner than we did our oldest. Was it the puppy/lion year, or did I get to hold that sticky little hand a bit longer? Did I appreciate the moments as Halloween approached, or did I allow myself too often to become consumed with the details? Or was I the mom with the happiest child, the one who made his own costume with my help? Do I remember the smell of roasting pumpkin seeds we’d just pulled from the recently cleaned out gourds? Yes, I do remember that.
But I can’t remember the last time I held a trick-or-treater’s little hand.
What I would tell my younger self if I could, and what I will tell any younger mom who would listen now is this is it. This year’s parade or Trick-or-Treat Night will never happen again and what matters is your child, not what the other moms are doing. A perfectly-themed, stress-filled costumed appearance isn’t worth it. The mom competition that happens in so many communities isn’t what anyone wants, but it’s easy to get sucked into. Try not to. Try to focus, instead, on the joy of Halloween.
Sometimes, the answer is to simply grab that sticky little lion/clown’s hand and remember that now, right now, is what matters. This moment, this Halloween, will only happen once. Hold on, take a deep breath and smile. And those texts, they can wait.
Kaira Rouda is a USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of contemporary women's fiction and modern romance novels. Her next novel, The Goodbye Year (SparkPress), will be released May 3, 2016. Connect with Kaira on Twitter @KairaRouda, on Facebook at Kaira Rouda Books and at KairaRouda.com.