Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thankful for fun scares instead of food frights

Spooky music greeted us as we walked through the dimly lit room, ghostly beings swinging above our heads. Pamela tightened her grip on my hand when she heard the sound of rats squeaking as they feasted on severed hands during a dinner party attended by a stylish skeleton and pumpkin head creature. As we rounded the corner, we saw a skeleton that had donned a witch’s hat to sit and read the local newspaper. Then, through dark strings that formed a type of curtain, we spotted the creepy face of a Guy Fawkes mask staring at us while the person dressed all in black clutched a skull and knife. He startled us as he suddenly stood up. Some kids ran from him screaming, especially when he would pretend to be a statue then jump up as they peered for a closer look. Once the secret was out that there was a live person behind the intimidating mask, he started to show up at random spots to scare people walking through the haunted house at the Pawling Free Library.

My 12-year-old son Joseph had a blast watching people’s reactions to him from behind his Guy Fawkes mask during the library’s haunted house. He worked with other kids to plan the event and set it up on Halloween.

Halloween can be extra scary for kids with food allergies because of the ubiquity of candy and treats that are filled with potentially life-threatening allergens. While lots of kids revel in the huge piles of candy they collect trick-or-treating on Halloween night, kids like Joseph focus more on costumes and fun that doesn’t relate to food. He is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, strawberry, cantaloupe and watermelon, along with having asthma.

Over the years, Joseph has enjoyed dressing up and checking out other people’s costumes. When he was younger and we lived in North Carolina, we enjoyed food-free Halloween parties through the local food allergy support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely) where he could play games and get fun prizes instead of candy. We have always made our own treats free of all of the foods to which he is allergic, such as Halloween-themed cupcakes, cookies and chocolates in the shapes of pumpkins, witches, bats and ghosts.

As for trick-or-treating, he did that, too. But his goal was to collect candy to leave for the Halloween witch, who would replace the candy with a gift for him to find the next morning. This year, my daughter Pamela collected lots of candy trick-or-treating — enough to leave for the Halloween witch to bring gifts for her and her brother.

This year, Joseph decided to focus on the fun scares that go along with a haunted house. Nicole, the youth services programming coordinator at the Pawling library who was leading the teens in planning the haunted house, made the extra effort to ensure that the event would be safe for him. Especially with Joseph being there for several hours, I had worried that kids might be eating candy during setup or while walking through the event, and she had no problem making sure that wasn’t the case.

As we begin the month when giving thanks plays a prominent role, I am so thankful for the empathy exhibited by people like Nicole who help make it easier for Joseph to enjoy events like the haunted house.  He was thrilled to be able to dish out fun scares instead of facing candy-filled frights.