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The first thing I saw when I woke up was my son Jackson. He was standing inches from my face dressed in his happy skeleton Halloween jammies and holding his favorite pumpkin blanket. Waiting for me to open my eyes, he immediately asked, “Can we go to Home Depot to get that pumpkin?” It was 7:30 a.m. On a Tuesday. In April. Okay, it wasn’t April but it may as well have been.
While most little kids think Halloween is a fun holiday, an excuse to load up on candy and get decked out as their favorite Disney character, my 5-year-old sees Halloween as a way of life. Orange and black are his colors. His symbol is a ghost or a black cat or a witch, I’m not even sure. All I know is that while my wife and love Halloween as much as the next adolescent-in-the-’90s parents, Jackson lives and breathes ‘All Hallows Eve’ year round.
We have vampire and Scream masks, bloody knives, and zombies in the front yard. Our doorbell has moving eyeballs. We own 10 plastic pumpkins of different varieties, two different Halloween countdowns, and a whole lot of Halloween-themed shirts, jammies, and whatever else you can slap a spooky bat on. Jackson has his own plastic bin of Halloween gear just for his room, which is decorated like a mini haunted house complete with cobwebs, an evil jack-o-lantern, and some eyeball and bloody finger lights.
He’s never cared much about Christmas or other things kids get excited about. Sports are okay. He goes through small phases where Marvel superheroes are cool. And for a hot minute, he did like Finding Nemo. When it really comes down to it, though, spooky things are his North Star. Even at age two, we could put The Nightmare Before Christmas on and, by the opening music, he was tearing around the corner in order not to miss a second of Jack Skellington’s misadventure.
Nowadays, Jackson doesn’t watch cartoons like other kids. Instead, he begs us to watch videos shot inside haunted houses. He likes the walkthroughs from Spirit Halloween, which also happens to be his second favorite place on earth. He can sit there for hours entranced in howling wolfmen, or some guy giving a tour of his Don Post mask collection.
At first, we didn’t know what to think. By all means, Halloween rules, but when your 5-year-old son is obsessed with skulls and grim reapers year round, it makes you second guess some of your parenting decisions. Did we accidentally plant a seed that we shouldn’t have? Was our kid screwed up ⏤ a little weirdo? He’s not a serial killer in training or a pyro, he doesn’t abuse animals. He’s not Rosemary’s Baby, nor is he Damian from The Omen, either. He’s just a little dude down with scary clowns and 24/7 candy corn.
So we took a step back. We stopped letting the rest of the world’s judgment about what’s acceptable versus what’s true affect us ⏤ and there’s a distinct difference between “real” and “true.” And once we stopped trying to shove “normal” little kid stuff down our little kid’s throat, we were able to breathe. So what if he doesn’t want to watch Paw Patrol?, we said. That show sucks, anyhow. What we did next was embrace Jackson for who he is. We invested in his passions, even when they included jumping spiders and rubber snakes, hockey masks and plastic vampire teeth.
The craziest thing about parenting is that you have these bedrock ideals ⏤ the music, the art, the politics ⏤ that all flavors your worldview. And you believe they can’t be compromised. But when there’s a situation that involves your child, it all goes out the door; that rational mind, those principles, they all come into question for no other reason than we want our kids to have the best life ⏤ even if that means having to explain to them why Michael Myers is a bad dude. Jackson is our favorite little creepy crawly weirdo, cobwebs and all. Now I just wonder what his little brother’s going to be into. Hopefully not Easter.
Robert Dean is a father of two and writer living in Austin, TX. He’s currently shopping his newest novel, A Hard Roll. He likes ice cream and koalas.