Halloween in the Bubble

Most people in these parts go trick-or-treating in one of three areas: Hempstead Street, Three Springs in Westlake Village, and Deerhill in Oak Park. When I say “most people” I mean most trick-or-treating aged kids and their parents that we know in Agoura Hills.

For our first Halloween as Agoura residents we went along with the popular trend and ventured off to Hempstead. I was impressed with the organization of the event – the streets into the neighborhood are closed off the car traffic, and emergency response teams and police are on hand just in case. Many of the houses are over-the-top tricked out in decorations and even operate as haunted houses. Of course everyone wants to go there.

But.

That year my kids were 5 and 3, and my husband did not come with us. They each took off in different directions, which is one thing when you’re walking along a normal street, but treacherous and nervewracking when that street is as crowded as Disneyland’s Main Street just after the fireworks.

Dude. It’s just too crowded for me. Plus because there were so many kids, they all had to stand in line at each house for their one piece of candy.

Every year since then, we’ve trick or treated here in our own neighborhood. Only every third house has a light on, and we only see a rare band of other kids out reveling, but it’s much easier for me to keep track of mine, and there’s no waiting in line. There’s no need for me to drive, find a unicorn parking space in the crowded streets around the target neighborhood, and chase my children through the crowds.

Also, it makes our neighbors feel good. There are some houses around here whose owners decorate like crazy, rigging up zombie mannequins that talk to you as you walk by, or full-on mock graveyards with things crawling out of the ground. But hardly anyone comes. Every time they open the door to my children’s cries of “Trick or treeeeeeeat!” each adult has joy on his or her face. “Wow, great to have you!” they say, or “We didn’t think we’d see any kids tonight!” And then they dump half their candy supply into my kids’ bags. After 45 minutes of this, my children are tired and their bags are full.

I know I am in the minority among parents in this town, but I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Take a chance, I encourage you, and try trick or treating in your own neighborhood. Take back Halloween!

Sadly, this might be the last year I get away with this little family scenario. My boys were asking to go off with their friends this year, and I firmly denied. There were only a few tears, and in the end we had just as much fun as ever. But I’m not sure that will work next year. Sad trombone.

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Allergen-Free Goodies for the Trick or Treaters

This is a reprint of a post that originally appeared in October 2008 on the now-defunct website Being Savvy San Fernando.  Links to resources have been updated.

Nothing takes the fun out of trick-or-treating like food allergies in children.  If your child or someone close to you has a serious food allergy that makes most candy dangerous to them, navigating Halloween can be an anxiety inducing experience.  Some parents cope by skipping the ritual altogether, but as children get older and especially if they have siblings, it gets harder to deny them the fun of going door-to-door with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.

Kim Parlee, 36, of West Haven, CT approaches Halloween, and any treat-filled holiday season, with trepidation.  “I never thought I’d be afraid of a Snickers bar,” she says.  Her 3-year-old daughter Kameryn was diagnosed with multiple food allergies when she was 8 months old.  Since she has an older brother, trick-or-treating came with the territory, and so far Aidan serves as a willing apprentice in the effort to shield his little sister from dangerous foods.

This family takes special measures when they go door-to-door on Halloween night:

-Kameryn wears gloves to minimize contact risk.  This year she’ll dress as Cinderella, so the gloves absolutely fit the costume.
-Kim goes right up to the doorsteps to help the children select the safest treats from the offered bowls.
-She tells the adults at each house that Kameryn has food allergies.  People are very nice about it, and then they understand why she hovers.

After the loot is gathered, the real work begins back at home.  Kim and her husband Charlie go through everything that both kids collected and read as many labels as possible.  Aidan trades out safe candy with his little sister.  And Kim keeps safe candy as a backup to fill Kameryn’s collection after the unsafe or questionable foods are removed.

As for giving out candy to the neighborhood children, it’s still a must to use safe treats, especially when the food allergies in your household are life-threatening and you don’t want to chance having traces of peanut in your house at all.  “It’s getting harder to buy safe candy because more and more manufacturers are putting facility warnings on their labels, just to release themselves from liability,” says Kim.  Her family has identified a few tried and true safe treats, mostly sugar-based hard candies and lollipops (luckily, Kam is a big lollipop fan!).  Alison St. Sure provides a very comprehensive list of major candy manufacturers and their brands and links to their allergen statements on her blog, Sure Foods Living, which is dedicated to awareness of celiac disease and food sensitivities.

As an alternative to trick or treating for candy, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis encourages kids to collect donations to support their “mission to raise public awareness, to provide advocacy and education, and to advance research on behalf of all those affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis. Every dollar, quarter, nickel, and dime counts.”  You can request a collection kid for your child here.