When a Train Rings the Bell

Halloween 2015

Our neighborhood is no longer sexy. In fact, it reached its peak decades ago. We, of course, understood this when we purchased our home back in 2013, but we thought our young family could infuse life into it once again. Now that we are seasoned homeowners, we understand how naïve we were in believing that moving into an older neighborhood would change anything.

Young families, at least in the rural South, rarely live in cities (no matter how big or small), and sprawl continues. I think we are more acutely aware of this phenomenon because (1) environmental stewardship is important to us and (2) we chose to be countercultural in our home purchase (i.e. we live in the city).

Doing what you feel is best, however, rarely comes without sacrifice.

Halloween was upon us and, despite the countless fall-inspired events offered, my husband and I wanted our children to have an authentic treat-or-treating experience. Isn’t that the way of parenthood – the desire to recreate the sweetest moments of our own childhood for our children? We realize that the days of old pillowcases, non-breathable masks, and blind trust are over, but we hoped to connect with our kids through this American tradition. Plus, it would be their first Halloween together.

I’ll be the first to admit that the last place I wanted my children to trick-or-treat was in our own neighborhood. Even though we had gotten to know several neighbors as a result of our walks and enjoyed their company, an older neighborhood mostly populated by rentals and senior citizens did not sound like a recipe for a thrilling Halloween experience. In fact, on one occasion specifically, a female neighbor spoke at length about how she closes up her entire house every year to deter tiny tots in costumes. It was arguably one of the most depressing things I have ever heard.

Needless to say, I was discouraged, and I knew we only had a limited amount of time after dark before the nighttime fussies would set in and anchor us at home. Given how far apart safe neighborhoods are in our area, I also understood the difficulty in making another location work for our family.

It was 6:30 p.m. on Halloween, and a decision had to be made. I glanced at the window one last time to ponder the darkness when I saw a flash of light. It was an older youth in a superhero costume. I considered this young stranger’s life. Somewhere along his journey, an adult prioritized his childhood over their own frustrations and insecurities. If I was to overcome these weaknesses within myself, I knew what needed to transpire.

It only took 90 minutes of trick-or-treating to meet a dozen new neighbors and hear my son squeal with surprising and refreshing delight. As it turns out, many in our immediate community were excited to finally meet “the family who always walks”. In return for plentiful treats, we offered our neighbors an innocent little boy, dressed as a train, whose excitement demonstrated that it is possible to have joy, regardless of life circumstances.

In one of those beautiful, low humidity fall evenings in the South, a neighborhood that I was desperate to change actually changed me. Perhaps this is why the tradition of Halloween persists; perhaps we all need to remember that children begin without bias, disappointment, and baggage and those that they acquire are largely reflections of our own.

In the end, our experience reminded me that good things can happen in life when we are willing to ring the doorbell of opportunity with the vulnerability that community requires.

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