November 2, 2021
Halloween is a big deal in our neighborhood. Our area is one of the few places in Malibu where streets are lined with houses arranged on traditional blocks, on a semi-traditional street grid. Malibu is dotted with large houses and properties spaced far apart, many of which are second homes that are dark at Halloween, making it very difficult to trick or treat – so we are a destination neighborhood on Halloween. I hate to brag, but as a kid, I was a very accomplished trick or treater, so I know the key to a successful trick or treating night is quantity. Hitting as many houses as possible makes for excellent trading opportunities later, and a good deal of variety as well. I’ve talked before about the people in my neighborhood, so it will be no surprise that with our smaller and mostly festive homes filled with friendly and generous people who are home every night, you can expect to get a lot of treats from a lot of houses. Every year, we greet between 300 and 600 trick or treaters – this year was more in the 400 area, so I’ll be bringing a few bags back to Costco. I’m not a guy-who-buys-a-big-screen-TV-at-Costco-just-before-the-Super-Bowl-and-returns-it-the-next-week guy, but I do love their return policy.
For me, the holiday season officially begins in October, as Halloween approaches. Each year, when October 1 rolls around, I strike up a friendly conversation with Jill, who knows exactly what I’m after. As the conversation meanders, she is well aware that I will eventually ask, “So. When do you think I can put up the Halloween Tree?” Jill will sigh, and say something like, “I need two weeks.” I run as fast as I can to mark October 15 on the calendar, and, once again, I have something to look forward to in my life.
A side note. I know that when my dad sees that this blog is about our Halloween Tree, he will cringe in shame. Nothing brings him less joy than me mentioning or showing pictures of the Halloween Tree. He claims that it’s an embarrassment to our family. I of course disagree. There’s nothing quite like getting out the artificial holiday tree and beginning three months of celebration. First, it’s the Halloween Tree, then the Thanksgiving Tree, and finally the Christmas Tree. It’s a beautiful thing. And once we start trimming the tree with skeletons and pumpkins, Jill gets into it. She is usually the lucky one chosen to put the traditional witch on top of the tree. We put some pumpkins underneath too, and the holidays are off and running. With all of the use I get from our tree – three holidays a year for so many years – I think I’m now actually making money off of that tree! I’m not great with the whole money and profit thing, but it makes sense to me.
Trick or treaters love the tree when they come to the door, and contrary to my dad’s thinking, I never hear any parents pulling their kids away and whispering, “Let’s get away from these crazy Halloween Tree people!” Anyway, it was once again a fantastic Halloween, and next week, the Halloween Tree will magically transform into a Thanksgiving Tree.
The big difference this year, of course, is that for the first time ever in this home, none of our children were part of the festivities. Putting up the tree was a stark reminder of the empty nesters’ reality we are living. Ryan was 11 when we moved into this home, and Dawson was born while living here. These walls have seen 18 Halloweens with our children dressing up, trading candy, and entertaining friends. On Halloween night, we usually open our home to friends and our children’s friends. Jill makes a huge batch of her award-winning veggie chili (Jilly’s Chili recipe can be found on principalchef.com), I make cornbread, and we offer hot dogs, hot links, bottles of water, and a few other libations. Sadly, that did not happen this year, but it will hopefully return in ’22. What that means is, with the exception of 400 kids coming to our door, Halloween was q-u-i-e-t this year. And neither Jill, nor I, liked the lack of decibels.
I wrote my most popular blog post ever, Taking My Youngest to College, about 10 weeks ago. The minute we came back into our empty nest, Jill immersed herself into teaching, and I started figuring out what is next in my life. Things are certainly different. We see Dawson’s empty bedroom every day and unlike when he lived here, the drawers to his dressers are all closed. Dawson has six large drawers in his dresser, and until 10 weeks ago, at least five of them were open with something hanging over the edge at all times. I would dramatically close at least one of them when I woke him up, glare at him with a stern look, and he would tell me how much more efficient it was with the drawers always open. Exhibit 254 in my ineffective dad case. Now the drawers are always closed. Success does not always feel the way you think it will.
Putting up the Halloween Tree was a closed drawer moment. I love that our home is festive and fun, but it would be 10 million times better if Dawson (and Ryan) were here. I’ve written before that, even after 12 years, our home still seems emptier with Ryan gone, and now, with both of them out, the house feels like there is a lot of space in it. Because Jill is a more sensitive and deeper person than I, she felt it more than I did as we kicked off the holidays. But there are lights at the end of this new tunnel, and they’re not just the orange lights of our Halloween Tree. We go to see Dawson in Colorado for parents’ weekend next weekend! And Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday, is on the horizon, and all of us – Dawson, Ryan, and Ryan’s fiancé Yesenia – will be together for that holiday. In the meantime, we are just living and actually enjoying our new life.
Empty nesting is just fine. And I don’t mean fine like my friend Jen means it. When she says “It’s fine,” you know you’ve screwed up. I mean that in spite of missing Dawson, we are doing well. It’s definitely a simpler existence. Our house is WAY cleaner and the drawers are all closed. Marie Kondo’s shadow looms large in our house, as we (mostly I) seek even more simplicity and organization. It’s a little sickness I have, but more about that in some other blog post. I feel beyond lucky to be nesting with a fun and positive wife and life partner, and we are living well and laughing a lot in our new existence.
That being said, I can’t wait for the band to get back together again.