On Halloween, parents' worse nightmare is not sharing in the trick-or-treat loot


Now is the time to reap the benefits of Halloween. I'm talking about pay-back. I'm talking about sharing the wealth. I'm talking about getting my hands on some of the loot the kids brought in during their trick-or-treat outings last night.

There was a time when I would have railed against parents' taking candy from their kids. I would have thought the practice was predatory. I would have called it selfish. I would have considered it mean-spirited.

Well, times have changed. After years of tracking down those hard-to-find pieces of clothing that kids "absolutely had to have" to make a costume complete, after years of dealing with kids who can't decide until the last possible minute whether they are "too cool" to wear a costume, and after years of fending off the hordes who don't exactly follow Miss Manners' rules of conduct when they come to the door on Halloween, I say it is time for a cut of the candy.

Here in Baltimore, where our Halloween motto seems to be "We're Not Detroit, Yet," the trick-or-treat scene can get a little aggressive. Neighbors ask me "What do you do about big kids who come to the door and aren't wearing costumes?" I answer that it depends on how big the uncostumed treat-or-treaters are. If they are shorter than I am, I might give them a lecture about the spirit of Halloween. If they are taller than I am, I shut up and fork over the candy.

After putting up with such Halloween stress, parents are entitled to a little sweet stuff. I am not talking about taking all the candy. I'm talking about first right of perusal. What I propose is that when a kid brings home his sack of candy, his parent gets to peruse the loot, picking out the good stuff.

This practice wouldn't necessarily lead to conflict between parents and children, because kids often don't know what is good. The other night, for instance, during a pre-Halloween pep talk to one my kids, I urged him to go out and get Heath bars. "The what?" said the kid. He looked at me like I was from another planet. The kid claimed he had never even seen a Heath bar, my favorite candy bar, let alone tasted its toffee center.

He announced that as far as he and his brother were concerned, the prize pickings were Reese's Peanut-butter Cups, 5th Avenue bars, and Nestle's Crunch bars. I told him Reese's was so sweet it made my mouth pucker, that 5th Avenue had, I thought, the faint flavor of sandpaper, and that Mr. Goodbar was superior to Nestle's Crunch. The kid gave me that "you-are-clueless" look.

The kid and I did agree that Tootsie Roll and Snickers were fall-back candy bars, something we would eat if our first choices weren't available. But we were not able to agree on the concept of sharing these second-tier sweets.

I tried the old parental ploy of saying that "experts recommended" that the kid share his candy with me. This was stretching the truth. Last year I spoke to Ronald E. Kleinman, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School and Michael S. Jellinek, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. They had written a book on children's eating habits called "Let Them Eat Cake!" (Villard, $20) and had much to say about kids and Halloween candy.

They said parents should not fight with their kids over Halloween candy. They said that parental attempts to ban candy from their kids often end up doing more harm than good. And they said that after Halloween was over, and the candy sack was full, parents should work out deals with their kids on how much candy should be eaten each day.

The way I see it, I am following expert advice. I am working out a deal with my kid on how fast the bag of candy is eaten. I am merely adding a new provision to the deal. Namely, I get first shot at what's inside the bag.

I say picking the good stuff out of the Halloween candy bag is a reward that every parent deserves. My kid says, get real.

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