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Halloween is almost here, and jittery parents across the nation are debating whether or not to let their children hit the streets for traditional trick-or-treating. Some parents and local governments want to cancel the holiday altogether in the wake of the September 11 attacks and anthrax scares. Others suggest just doing it differently.
"I feel that trick-or-treating, in the sense we have known it, ought to become a thing of the past," says Cam Hedberg-Martin, a mother of three from Greenfield, WI. "We are all angry and hurt by the fact that we are forced to make changes as we try to return to normal, but that should not override our common sense."
Hedberg-Martin will probably take her children to a local party instead of letting them go door-to-door this year. Yet she's not happy with the choice. "Family traditions are invaluable legacies to hand down to one's children," but circumstances are different now, she says. "I am concerned about the safety of our children this year. The thought of possible scenarios for that evening makes me feel that we should seek alternatives to trick-or-treating. It is a shame that things have come to this."
While other parents may be spooked about potential dangers, they're not letting it stop their children from having the usual holiday fun -- they're just using caution as their guide. "We are letting our kids go trick-or-treating, but we will keep it to our neighborhood or places where we know people. And of course we will be with them," says Carole Sincic, a mother of two from Orlando, FL.
While her sister-in-law plans to throw out her children's candy "and replace it when they're not looking," Sincic says she won't go that far. "We always inspect the candy, but maybe we will be more diligent about it this year."
Dr. Raymond Guarendi, clinical psychologist and author of Back to the Family: How to Encourage Traditional Values in Complicated Times thinks that there's too much unnecessary worry about the holiday. "We need to continue on with life and not dive under the sand for risks that are less likely than being struck by lightening," says the father of ten. "Truth be told, there are far more risky things parents and kids engage in all the time than going Halloweening. If you really want to eliminate risks, don't swim, don't get in a car, don't eat food and don't go on amusement park rides. Those are really dangerous things."
Continuing with such holiday traditions like trick-or-treating are ways families can get back to normal during what has been a stressful time. "Children crave continuity and normalcy. It gives them a sense of security," he notes. Plus, he advises, "they take their cues from their parents. If they see mommy all jittery, they're going to be constantly worried, too."
If there are any reports of tainted candy, he says, then you can worry, but he warns parents from anticipating such risks. "The terrorists have succeeded in causing so much worry that people have stopped living their lives. Our job as parents is to remain level-headed and not magnify risks way beyond what they are. We want a risk free existence and that's never going to happen."Popular getups are heros not horrors
Whether children stay indoors and celebrate at Halloween parties, or go door-to-door, those who do get dressed up may adopt a different look this year. Many parents are advising their children to wear costumes with a lower scare factor since the real world is scary enough. "Instead of the 'Barbie' and 'Hippie-chick' costumes they asked for last year, my daughters have requested that we take our old uniforms out of the attic for them to wear -- my husband and I are retired NYC Paramedics," says Valerie Serao, of Stony Point, NY. "They will be in full regalia, complete with stethoscope, badges, and helmets."
In addition to candy, the girls will also be collecting spare change that they will donate to the New York Police Department Widows and Orphans Fund. "I'm proud of their desire to help others, and also happy that they have newfound pride in what I did as a professional woman before I dedicated myself to being a full-time mom," says Serao. "They have found heroes and heroines in everyday people, right in their own backyards."
As an alternative to the usual guts-and-gore theme, other popular patriotic costumes selling well include military camouflage, firefighter and police uniforms, the Statue of Liberty, and even Uncle Sam. And other good guys like Superman and Batman are winning out over the bad guys this year, store owners report.
However you're celebrating this year, here are some suggestions for a safe holiday from the National Safety Council, the American Academy of Pediatrics and parents across the country: