Halloween: Facing Your Demons

Back in the day, when I was just starting out on my own, one of my favorite music videos was Michael Jackson’s Thriller (if you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to check it out. Really.). I was not alone. Over 9 million people were transfixed by Michael morphing into a werewolf in the light of the full moon, then teasing the viewer – is he really a terrifying ghoul or is it all imaginary fun?

Halloween: The Yin and Yang

In my neighborhood, there was one block – the “it” place to be on Halloween. The homeowners worked for months to prepare their yards, their rooftops, their porches. Everyone just knew it was the scariest street in the USA. As the sun went down and we were enveloped in inky darkness, everyone – I mean everyone – trekked over to Harper Avenue. The street was crowded with princesses and superheroes and – on the other end of the spectrum – mummies and vampires. Black cats and witches crouched on lawns in the shadows of flickering pumpkins. At some houses (and you never know which ones until you get there) fiendish laughter startled the young ones or they got caught in sticky cobwebs as they started up the steps for a trick or treat. Some screeched with giddy excitement. Some screeched with fear.

That sums up Halloween for me. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to act out your most cherished fantasies. One of my daughters who has an insatiable sweet tooth once chose to dress up as a bag of M&Ms. On the other hand, it is a day when you come face to face (figuratively) with your demons.

Facing Your Demons

We are all scared of something. For grownups, it might be the specter of losing a job or a spouse, or even just the vulnerability of not being able to be there to protect our kids every moment of the day and night. For teenagers it might be anxiety about a test or getting into college or losing a boyfriend or coming out or staying away from gangs. For toddlers it might be fear of the dark or strangers or, in many cases, Halloween itself.

The question, then, is what can you do about it? As many child development specialists will tell you, there is a general guideline here: teach your children to face their fears, not to bury them. This means, for starters, take their fears seriously; don’t laugh it off if your four-year-old tells you there are tigers prowling outside their second floor bedroom window or if your teenager insists he can’t go out because he has an acne outbreak. Take it seriously. Then, help them to look their fears square in the face and teach them how to take action to overcome them. This can play out in lots of different ways.

If a child is scared of the dark you can provide a nightlight or you can talk about the magical things like fireflies that come out to dance in the dark. You can set a routine of nightly bedtime story: For some, a cheerful favorite overrides feelings of fear; For others, stories about other children working out their fear of the dark are more helpful. I used to tuck my girls in with music or a story on tape. One of their favorites was kind of a hybrid of scary and hilarity – a story about Bunnicula the vampire bunny who sucked juice out of vegetables.

As your children get older, they may fear the uncertainties of life out in the larger world. One thing that I have found to help is giving them a sense that they are not alone. My daughters were very young when September 11 happened. I think it was hard for them to feel the reality of the Towers coming down. But the aftermath was very real: Military planes flying very low over our Chicago house for several days, our family room rattling from the sound of the engines overhead. When a plane would come, the girls would drop to the floor with their hands over their ears. My youngest had nightmares of bombs falling out of the sky. Even now, more than a decade later, these nightmares revisit her sporadically.

One Christmas, I gave her a book, Iraqi Girl (Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq). Living in occupied Iraq with bombs falling all around her, the author says, “Do you ever feel that you are imprisoned in a cage and there is no one except you and a big lion in this cage and you can’t get out. You can’t get out and there is nowhere to run. No way to run. That is my feeling.” Toward the end of the book, the author is on her way to college. She says, “”I am on my way to the future and living what could possibly be a happy memory someday.” It gave my daughter perspective. And a window into someone dealing with the same fears on a much larger scale.

I notice, too, as my daughters have moved out into the world away from home, they often paper their rooms with quotes such as “she believed she could so she did” to serve as models of how to face their fears.

Be A Role Model

One last thought. Children are observant. They often take their cues from you. How you face your demons can impact how they face theirs. In the words of our great President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as he prepared to do battle with devastating poverty and unemployment during the Great Depression, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Do you have stories or suggestions about teaching children to face their demons?

How to Survive the Last 10 Days Before the Election

I am exhausted. And stressed. Every day when my alarm goes off, I paw the bedside table until my fingers find my cellphone, then I bring the phone into reading position and check the latest news headlines. There is always – I mean always – at least one story related to the election. Usually it is not good. Rants about Mexicans, Muslims, fat women. The email server story that won’t go away. It’s enough to raise my blood pressure and give me a headache. Sound familiar?

10 days to go. Need some inspiration? Those with election fatigue UNITE! Here are some ways to beat the blues.

  • Do as I say, not as I do. Do not pick up that cellphone first thing in the morning. This may be a challenge. Old habits die hard. I’ve gotten a little better about it. I look out the window, try to figure out the weather, THEN reach for the cellphone. It’s a start!
  • Put your TV in the shed. Or the garage. Or somewhere you will not watch it. Or just block CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Seriously, limit your TV news time. You only need to hear the Breaking News once to absorb it – that means 5 minutes max.
  • Routine. One that does not involve repeated peeks at the news. Remember what you used to do before 2016? Try going back to that.
  • Meditate. This is a good habit during any time of stress. Do nothing for a few minutes. Feel the stress leave your body. Ahhhhhh.
  • Vote Early. I did this. And, you know what?! A burden lifted off me right away. I’ve made my choice. I don’t need to weigh the issues any more. I’ve moved on….a little bit.
  • Work the Election. Still feeling anxious? Sign up to help your candidate. Being involved can make you feel more productive and less out of control. In the end, you’ll have done everything you can.

I’ve been thinking about that song “Wake me up when September ends.” Is it November 9th yet?!

What do you do to cope with election fatigue?

Great Halloween Reads!

New and Fabulous

Eek! Halloween! by Sandra Boynton

My pick for this year’s best new Halloween read. The chickens are scared…YIKES! There’s a pumpkin nearby with flickering eyes. And a mouse of enormous size. That’s not even the half of it. What the heck is going on?!

A great board book from one of the board book masters. Pegged for kids up to age 5.

Oldie but Goodie

The Witches by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

OK. This is a must. What’s Halloween without a little Roald Dahl? And The Witches is perfect for the occasion. It’s a fantasy about a group of witches who are out to rid the world of children by turning them all into mice and letting mice-phobic humans take care of the rest.

The boy hero of the story is out to foil the witches. But first he has to figure out who’s who. You see, these witches disguise themselves to look like ordinary ladies – it might be enough to make you take a closer look at some of the (seemingly) innocents walking around your neighborhood (tee hee).

The author is a master at creating horrifying scenarios (like children being turned to stone). But it’s his sense of humor that sets him apart. For example, the witches in this tale are all wig-wearing baldies who are constantly scratching their scalp-itch.

Pegged for Grades 3-7. Great fun!

Share your favorite Halloween stories!


The other day I was watching the Cubs playing in a tight game. The opposing team was up to bat with a runner on first. The pitch…the runner took off…the Cubs’ catcher threw down to Javy Baez at second…in a single beautiful motion Baez glided a couple of steps, jumped, plucked the ball out of the air just behind the bag, swooped down, tagged the runner out. A work of art. Also, a superb athletic move. The Cubs won. And won some more. Now they are in the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Ahhhhh…1945. That was the year of the Curse of the Billy Goat which many fans swear has haunted the Cubs for the past 71 years.

Curse of the Billy Goat

On October 6, 1945, the Cubs were playing…yes…in the World Series. Billy Sianis had a beloved pet goat. A decade or so before the 1945 World Series, Billy rescued a goat that had fallen off a passing truck. The goat became his everything. The goat was a regular at the local watering hole Billy owned. Billy called the bar…surprise!…Billy Goat Tavern. Billy also loved the Cubs. And on that day in 1945, he purchased two tickets to the World Series game. One for himself. One for his goat. Some say the gatekeepers refused to allow the goat into the ballpark. Others say the goat was thrown out mid-game because it smelled bad. Whatever the specifics, Billy placed a curse: “The Cubs will never win a World Series again.”

Why do sports fans believe in Curses?

What is it about curses (or superstitions) and sports? My girls were hard core soccer players and their parents were hard core fans. Their father had his “winning” shirt that he wore to every playoff game. That worked…until it didn’t. How many of us have our own secret sauce…turn the cap backward, sit in that special seat in the stands, repeat a magic mantra (ooops…cheer), One survey found that 1 in 5 fans try to work their mojo to influence the score.

Why? Well, first of all fans really care about their sports. So the outcome affects how we feel. Second, there are so many complex factors that go into what that outcome is. Player skill, of course. But also mental strength, physical stamina, momentum, and, yes, luck. And we fans have very little control over any of this. We can cheer, of course. Hence, home field advantage. But despite the statistics and other facts we can look to, there’s always a sizeable element of chance in every game. So we bring our mojo. It gives us a sense of control.

Curses are meant to be broken!

Last year, five gung-ho fans tried to break Billy Sianis’ curse by eating 40 pounds of goat meat in 13 minutes. It didn’t work….or maybe it had a one–year delayed effect. I have a feeling it did.

Go Cubbies!

Share your stories of curses and superstitions!

Root, Root, Root for the Cubbies!

Today’s inspiring story comes from my hometown Chicago where the Cubs may FINALLY win the World Series. Disclaimer: I do not have the power to jinx them.

The Cubs have not won a championship in over a century. Many Cubs fans have come into the world and passed away again never experiencing the thrill of that victory. But now, this year, Cubs fan Virginia Wood, who herself has lived over a century – 101 years to be exact – may get her chance.

With so many disappointing seasons in the past, many Cubs fans are tamping down on visions of trophies, hedging against possible disappointment. Not Virginia Wood. Interviewed by a Chicago Tribune reporter, Wood exudes the confidence of a champ : “Oh, I’m counting on them going all the way, absolutely.”

Wood will be 102 next month. What a birthday present a championship would be! She makes no bones about it: “Oh yeah, sure, I’d like to have that. Good birthday present. Oh yeah, that’s the best.”

Go Cubbies!

Share your stories about the boys of summer!

Blowin’ in the Wind

Fall is late in coming this year. Most of the leaves near my house are still green. But this afternoon, the temps dropped a bit and the skies clouded over and fall suddenly seems imminent. Recently Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In celebration of his song Blowin’ in the Wind which is sung at many a kids summer camp, and in anticipation of those cold gusty winds that are almost upon us, I recommend the book

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert

With gorgeous pictures rustling with fall shapes and colors, this book tells the story of Leaf Man as he is blown from his resting place by a fall wind. Where is he heading, the book asks? West over orchards and prairies? East towards the marshlands? We don’t know…cause a Leaf Man’s got to go where the wind blows. Pegged for ages 4-7.

And, if you want to hear an absolutely ADORABLE reading of this lovely book, check out 4 year old Jonah’s storytelling on you tube.

Share your favorite stories about fall!

Fly Me to the Moon

Ever have those nights when your kids just don’t want to settle down for sleep? Cuddling up with a good book sometimes helps. Here’s a new one that is so quietly beautiful it might just do the trick.

The Star Tree by Catherine Hyde

The Star Tree is about the wonders of drifting off to sleep and slipping into dreamland. It is midnight and Miranda’s nightlight has gone out. But there sits her rocking horse waiting to take her on a journey through the night sky. What makes this book so magical are the magnificent illustrations, each one shimmering like the world under the light of the moon and twinkle of the stars. This will help your little ones go to sleep with a smile. Pegged for Preschool-3rd grade.

Share your favorite bedtime stories!

An Alternate Reality: Treating Teachers as Society’s Superstars

Chicago is preparing itself for a teacher strike. My kids are grown now but I remember the days when I worried about whether school was going to take a break mid-year. I worried about all the learning that wasn’t going to be happening if teachers weren’t there to inspire. Today I share — once again — a skit from two great comedians – Key and Peele.

I encourage you to check out TeachingCenter.

  • What if big corporations put their money behind teaching?
  • What if the schools that performed worst one year got first pick for superstar teachers in next year’s draft?
  • What if the general public held up teachers as heroes, idols even?

Great food for thought. And presented in an entertaining way. So far, nearly 7.2 million people have watched this on youtube. Now that’s inspiring. Thank you Key and Peele!

Check it out. If you’ve already seen it, check it out again! Let’s get that number over 7.3 million. And, once we’ve thought about it, maybe we will each find a way – big or small – to let great teachers we know they are appreciated. Heroes even.

Share your inspirational stories about teachers!

The Wickedly Delicious Roald Dahl

We are now in October. Which means Halloween is creeping up on us (wha- hahahahaha). There is no more wickedly delicious author than Roald Dahl. So here are a couple of stories to get you in the mood…

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

If your child hasn’t read about Willy Wonka and his famous chocolate factory, pick up a copy of this rollicking book and follow the adventures of Charlie and the four other winners of golden tickets in the zany world of Willy Wonka. Dahl paints a picture of kids so obnoxious you can’t help but be gleeful when they get their just desserts. Hee hee. Pegged for grades 3-6.

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Here Dahl writes for the slightly younger set. When my kids were little we had endless readings of this book and never tired of it. The Enormous Crocodile is hungry and he has his mind set on a juicy child for lunch. As he leaves his swampy home and treks through the jungle toward the space where children are playing, he meets up with various other animals and disgusts them with his “secret plans and clever tricks” to snap up a delectable child. Follow along as the crocodile puts his plans into action and the other animals attempt to foil him. Pegged for grades 2-5.

Share your favorite Roald Dahl book!