I have a recurring anxiety dream. Actually, I have several, as well as an assortment of terror dreams, adventure dreams, and prize-winningly weird dreams like the one last night about the angry bankers in the UAE. But the dream I'm thinking of right now is a pretty typical exam anxiety dream. Lots of people have this dream, where they show up at the exam without some necessary clothing, or without the right pencils, or the right information. I rarely even get to the exam. For me, the dream starts at the beginning of the semester. I am back at school and looking forward to finding out what classes I'll be taking, doing the book shopping, and really buckling down and getting the whole studying thing right this time. I'm going to go to all the classes and complete all the assignments and finally be a really good student. And then the dream fast-forwards a few weeks (assuming it is not the version of the dream in which I can't even get my registration information or am inexplicably barred from the campus book store) and I suddenly look at my calendar and realize that I have not been to any of the classes in weeks, or that I don't even know where or when they meet, or have fallen so far behind in the reading that I actually know less than when I started. Forget the performance anxiety about the final exam; in the dream, I'm not even in the game.
Which is not so different from real life, as it turns out. A few days before Halloween, Matty's school hosted a "Trunk or Treat." The idea is that we decorate the trunks of our cars in some kind of theme and, at the end of the last school day before Halloween, the kids march around the parking lot in their costumes collecting loot from the trunks. To be fair, we were warned about this in August, so there was plenty of time to prepare for those so inclined. At that time, it was stated that the level of decoration was up to us. Some people liked to go all out and some didn't decorate at all. No biggie either way. Really, it all sounded so fun and carefree that I wasn't concerned at all. Fine, I figured, I can handle this. I'll toss a Halloween quilt in the back of the van and hand out some fun stuff.
Or not. My first hint should have been the sign up sheets. They were posted weeks in advance of Halloween. They also had a spot in which you could note -- or perhaps I should say stake your claim to and thereby forever prevent anyone from stealing --your intended decorating theme. Clue two: the sheet was half filled by the end of September. By mid-October, when I caved to the pressure and added my name, we were down to the bottom of the list. And most of the people already knew what theme they were going to use. Theme! As if they already knew what costume they would be whipping up for their little trick-or-treater and were ready to tailor everything around it. Pile of parenting overachievers.
The final hint came the day of the Trunk or Treat. Matty and I spent the morning tying up our goodies (two funky mini-Twistable crayons and a glow stick) in Halloween ribbon and then, late in the morning, I had a spasm of trunk decorating anxiety. I developed a suspicion that a quilt and a couple of spools of ribbon would not really do, and I ran around the house gathering every teddy bear I could find. We tracked down the wicker picnic basket and added a stuffed chicken and one small buffalo for good measure, then did our best to set up the trunk in the style of a teddy bear picnic. I felt much more prepared, and I was particularly pleased that, on this cold and drizzly day, I had done all the set up in the relative comfort of my garage and would not have much fiddling to do when we got to school.
The kids were invited to come to school in costume. Matty, as I have noted before, loves to dress up in his Power Ranger costume. It is actually an old Halloween costume of Nate's, dating back to the first year that I didn't sew anybody a damned thing for Halloween. Matty has been wearing the costume for over a year and he particularly admires his bulging muscles in this suit of power. But, despite his great love for this costume and forgetting-- as he clearly had-- the fact that he wore it to school for two weeks straight last year, he was a little unsure about wearing it to his new school on Trunk or Treat day. He would put it on after school, but not during school. We stuffed it in his school bag and off we went. My plan was to drop him off, then go home and get a little more work done, then come back 15 minutes before the festivities were scheduled to start AS CLEARLY STATED IN THE TRUNK OR TREAT MEMO CIRCULATED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE WEEK.
Evidently, however, there was a secret memo for overachieving parents to which I was not privy. We got to school, and there they all were. At the beginning of school. Jamming their vans and SUVs into the parking lot and jockeying for the best parking spots for Trunk or Treat. TWO HOURS EARLY. And their kids, of course, were all decked out in creative and complete costumes. All the masks, accessories, and decorative foot coverings securely attached. No second hand super hero costumes with busted zippers and missing face masks for this lot.
I must also have missed the memo that said this would be a competitive trunk decoration and treat distribution event, with a grand prize trip to Tahiti for the winner. When I got back to school AT THE END LIKE I WAS SUPPOSED TO and squeezed my dusty, old, and amateurishly decorated van into the last parking spot, most of the trunks were open and the riches within revealed. There were streamers and balloons and PAINTED BACKDROPS cleverly arranged to conceal the fact that you were looking into a van. Princess themes, complete with castles and My Little Ponies (TM). Batman caves, with more batman figures than I knew existed. One kid was dressed as a mad scientist and had a lab set up in the back of his truck, with equipment and experiments. People had buckets of candy and kids could choose more than one thing if they wanted. Three or four of the parents had put together entire Halloween goody bags for the kids to take: candy, puzzles, mini notebooks, little plastic eyeballs with bubble stuff and wands inside.
Matty's little pumpkin bag wasn't even big enough to stow all the loot that he got.
And all we had to offer was a motley collection of beat up stuffed animals and some crayons.
What's a slacker like me supposed to do against all this enthusiasm? All these people who actually planned, instead of throwing something together at the last minute and hoping it would work? Needless to say, we haven't been back to school since. They may think it's because Matty has a cold, but I'm just giving them time to forget that there are subversives in their midst who refuse to keep up.