Wandering around any supermarket leading up to Halloween, you can’t help but be bombarded by reminders of the upcoming day of horrors at the end of October, which most children love and eagerly anticipate.
My nieces and nephews have been planning their outfits for weeks, and are already on to their second huge pumpkin. M has ordered a clever, subversive anti-establishment costume from Amazon and I’ve lost count of the Instagram and Snapchat photos being passed between Claire, M, and her other friends about what they’re wearing.
Although Halloween is a school night this year, they are going to a party at Claire’s house on Saturday, then onto another party which I’m trying to gather more details about. M knows she won’t be able to go unless I know where it is and who’s holding it. So far, she’s trying to be vague and secretive, but I’m standing my ground.
Over excited children and clever teenagers are nothing new, but every year, in spite of being with us for a while, J still struggles with Halloween and the whole build up of the day.
It’s not just that all special days are difficult for most Looked After Children, or another underlying reminder that he’s different and not with his family for yet another special event. With J it lies deeper and is a result of his family history.
J’s family had a culture of prank playing which was hard for an outsider to witness. The pranks were always at someone’s expense and can be cruel and often humiliating. It’s hard for me to write this without sounding judgemental and I can’t honestly say I’m not. It’s not the way I would choose to behave, but it is their choice and has become a family way.
Even at stressful and difficult times, such as contact days, they have played unpleasant pranks making J, who is already anxious about seeing his family, almost sick with stress.
When J first came to us, he only knew this way and would pull pranks on us all the time (mostly me) and they were usually physically painful or, at best, unpleasant. It made me wary at what he would do next and I would repeat to him that we don’t do that in this house and it’s not very kind.
I would never humiliate him or tell him off, and they gradually reduced but were always part of him and he would occasionally surprise me with an unpleasant practical joke. He was always hyper afterwards as, in spite of me not showing my disapproval, he would feel the shame internally and his behaviour would be heightened.
Hubby and I were talking about how far J has come over the years, especially since he has started secondary school and he hasn’t pulled a nasty prank for a long time.
Unfortunately, Halloween, like April Fool’s Day, is a day and evening where prank-pulling is acceptable, and J is torn between his past and how he behaves now. As a family we participate in Halloween as we have a lot of young children on our street who know we are a safe bet for a sugar overload, but also so that J can try to enjoy it without feeling anxious or stressed.
We’ve helped J choose his costume (I’m pleased to say he has gone for yet another superhero outfit rather than something hideous and scary). We’ll do some pumpkin carving which he loves, followed by door knocking with Hubby to top up his sweet and candy stash.
However, we are also going to donate some food to the local food bank where I volunteer. I gave J a choice of community based activities and he chose that one. He’d like to actually help out at the food bank but for safeguarding reasons, it’s not permitted. But I have told him he can help me and others sort through food at our warehouse one evening, once he’s had some training.
All this planning is to help J overcome his stress about Halloween and its unfortunate timing, as we also have a planned contact session with family in the same week.
J is looking forward to contact, but with mixed emotions. He is never great leading up to and after contact, and his behaviour can become challenging. Surprisingly M seems to cut him slack which is something she normally never does. Maybe she can remember how hard contact with her dad was at that age?
Halloween, Easter, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and most of all Christmas are all dates that J struggles with.
Any day that other children look forward to, that celebrates family in some way, is a difficult day for J and to some extent M, although she is less bothered now as at 16, she makes her own arrangements to see certain members of her family. Birthdays and Christmas are still somewhat of a struggle though.
My internal calendar is marked with big red rings around certain dates and Halloween is the next one on the list which needs careful managing.
J’s costume has been ordered and delivered but instead of being on show for him to look forward to, it’s tucked away in a drawer to be worn at the last minute. I’ve bought Baby S the cutest little pumpkin costume and J has been surprisingly sweet about it.
Maybe we can all focus on her this year instead of darker, meaner memories?