Halloween is approaching, and we have yet to stock up on treats.
I’m not as fired up as usual about the whole fall-decorating/Halloween thing this year — maybe because our street remains a construction zone.
But it’s one of our favorite holidays, when children can wear crazy outfits with no arguments from Mom, neighbors don’t think you’re weird for prowling around their yard after dark and people give your kids great stuff for free. Or at least stuff.
My children are old enough now to do the Halloween “sort.” There are prized candies, so-so candies and the ones I end up taking to work. (People there eat anything. It’s kind of scary.)
My son plans his trick-or-treat route carefully, mapping out the houses that give out giant boxes of Mike and Ikes or extra-large Reese’s.
Last year, he heard from friends about a particular block that gave away king-sized Snickers and other ginormous treats, and that’s all he talked about for months.
“Mom, have you heard of Armory Street?” he asked in a voice full of wonder, imagining his nirvana.
But we also noticed an unusual number of odd treats. In an unscientific survey of family and friends, we logged: pudding, juice boxes, a toy cannon, glow sticks, ramen noodles (“We ran out of candy — quick, check the pantry!”), recycled restaurant toys and some sort of Japanese candy that is actually freeze-dried fish. I kid you not.
And, of course, bicycle helmets.
Yes, one very generous and apparently safety-conscious Mahomet resident gave a full-size bicycle helmet to every trick-or-treater, including Abigail Jones, then 12. She was trick-or-treating with her best friend, Hannah Olsen, and didn’t know the house but saw the owner give out helmets to every child who walked up.
“She came home, and I was like, ‘What is this?’” said Abigail’s mom, Ann Jones. “It was just one of those random weird things.”
(Abigail was dressed as the Tree of Knowledge, with brown tights, green shirt, fake vines and foam leaves with mathematical formulas written on them. And a pink helmet.)
Jones likened it to dentists who give out toothbrushes or floss or even buy back candy to promote healthy gums.
Her daughter thought it was cool. Jones said her kids don’t really like candy anyway.
“They’ll eat two or three things and say, ‘OK, we’re done,’” she said. “She just goes for the fun of it.”
Her husband, a junior high math teacher in Mahomet, ends up using their candy as incentives for his students.
“It’s amazing what junior high kids will do for a Twizzler,” Jones said.
I’m sorry to say we are all candy lovers in our family, although we fall into two camps — generally, chocolate vs. sour/fruity. (No contest, in my opinion.)
But given the pounds of sugar my kids end up hauling home, I am thankful for houses that give out health-conscious treats — bags of pretzels, stickers, organic fruit snacks (those usually end up in the newsroom) and the like.
Renique Kersh, a Champaign mom and a University of Illinois assistant dean involved in the C-U Fit Families program, decided last year to do a “social experiment.” During a trunk-or-treat event at her church, she gave each child a piece of candy and an apple.
Kersh fully expected kids to turn up their noses at the fruit, and she did get some “strange looks.” But she was also pleasantly surprised.
“A lot of kids started coming over to our car saying, ‘Are you the lady giving out apples?’” said Kersh, who blogged about the experience at www.cufitfamilies.blogspot.com .
Apples used to be a staple treat at Halloween, before the days of razor blades and other scares. Kersh felt it was safe to give them out at trunk-or-treats, where everyone usually knows each other.
This year, she plans to hand out small bags of pretzels, temporary tattoos and stickers along with the candy.
Though she tries to keep junk food out of the house and encourages healthy eating habits, she is not “freakish” about it. She lets her two sons, 6-year-old BJ and 3-year-old Jayden, pick out the candy they really like at Halloween — and then tosses the rest.
“Everything in moderation,” Kersh said.
To help other families maintain their sanity this Halloween, Kersh put together a flyer with advice from KidsHealth.org and distributed copies at church and her sons’ school.
It quotes a survey that found 82 percent of parents set limits to keep kids from going bonkers on Halloween treats. Some let their children indulge that day, then put the stash out of sight unless they ask for it. One mom put the candy in the refrigerator and required her kids to drink a glass of milk or water with every piece. They tended to lose interest quickly — or just get full.
Other ideas: Consider buying back your child’s candy, which gives them a little spending money (presumably not to buy more candy). Be a role model by eating candy in moderation yourself (note to self: Tell spouse). Buy your own candy at the last minute to avoid temptation.
So we procrastinators are on the right track. And I may consider that buy-back option this year. My son likes money almost as much as candy. Unless it’s from Armory Street.
Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her family column appears in the paper every other Tuesday. Leave a comment below, contact Julie at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org  or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth
Hannah Olsen, left, dressed as a lacrosse player, and her friend, Abigail Jones, a princess, show off the bike helmets they received from a generous Mahomet resident while trick-or-treating last year. Heather Coit/The News-Gazette
John Kersh with his two sons, Jayden and BJ, at their church's 2010 Halloween trunk-or-treat. Kersh family photo