Our dear friend Erin Smallwood Wathen is back for another gorgeous essay about life, faith, and family. As I prep for the holidays, realizing that I sure would like a new Dutch oven in which to cook Thanksgiving dinner and that I don't quite know where I'll put all of my Christmas trees, Erin's wise words certainly hit home. As always, you can follow along with Erin's blog Irreverin or on her Facebook page. -- HCW
The calendar says it’s Thanksgiving week, and the stores say it’s Christmas already…but what I’m thinking of at the moment is Halloween. Halloween 2 years ago, to be exact.
I followed a sparkly red lady bug and a plush green dragon down the street.
Nevermind it was October 31. It was about 100 degrees outside, and the plush, fuzzy, cozy costume—which would have been just swell in some chilly autumn Midwestern burrow—was utterly ridiculous in the desert. But dang, he was adorable.
We’d just moved from one desert suburb to another… just a few miles apart, but worlds away. The place we’d been the previous year—with a two-year-old witch and a newborn, who went dressed as a newborn—had proved a little disappointing on Halloween. We only knocked on about 8 doors, and of those, only two actually opened and produced candy.
We were in a new neighborhood, expecting more of the same non-Hallow-happenings. But nossir, on our new block, trick-or-treat was an EVENT. We had a potluck on the cul-de-sac, took group pics of the kids, and then went trick-or-treating en masse. Our group had about 8 kids and twice as many parents. And every street we went down, we encountered another mob of kids and their chaperones. Nearly every house was decorated, every porch light on, every resident proffering a giant bowl of tiny treats.
About 12 houses in, my furry monster was burning up, and both of their buckets were full. The little lady bug could no longer carry her load, and I was picking up the trail of M&M packets accumulating behind her. I announced that, since the buckets were full, we were calling it a night.
That’s when one of the other moms said, “oh, this always happens, so we come prepared.” And she pulled out a handful of empty plastic grocery bags and started handing them around.
So…we did another block of houses.
Don’t get me wrong. It was great fun. And I like digging through the buckets, post-bedtime, and hijacking all the Snickers as much as the next mom. But, come on…at some point, you’ve got to acknowledge that the daggone bucket is FULL, and go home already.
This fear of ‘not enough’ whispers anxiety in our ear at every turn. It is the real goblin that haunts us, all the year around; maybe, even especially, into the holiday season. It snatches our happiest moments from us and fills us with dread. Sometimes, it even tries to take hold of our children.
Maybe I should explain a bit about why our old neighborhood was such a –pardon me—ghost town, the year before. It was 2010. And in Phoenix—one of the hardest hit housing markets in the country– that meant that every third house on the block was in foreclosure, pre-foreclosure, short sale process, or just plain empty. That’s why we, along with half the city, found ourselves in a different house the following year.
I couldn’t help but feel that, had the big banks just gone home when their daggone bucket was full, there would not have been quite such an exodus situation. But…the mythic voice of scarcity just keeps pulling at people. And really, the more you have, the more vulnerable you are to the voice that keeps whispering “you need more.” In very real ways, investors gambled with real people’s livelihood and equity. Eventually, the handle on that bucket broke, and every last gumball rolled out into the street. That was 2008, of course.
Some of us are just coming back, while the big kids who broke the buckets went home with extra treat bags.
Ok, that metaphor has played out. Sorry.
Still, when I think about what it means to practice gratitude, I think of trick-or-treating with young kids, and teaching them to say ‘enough,’ even as the world says, ‘here’s an extra bag so you can carry more stuff.’ That was an important transitional time in our lives, and I learned a lot about simply breathing it all in, and being grateful for what is. Now that I’m in transition again—from one church call to another; from the desert to the prairie; from parenting babies to parenting big(ish) kids— it all seems like a timely liturgy of thanksgiving.
On that Halloween night, 2 years ago, I hauled a loaded bucket, a full-to-breaking plastic bag, and an exhausted toddler home. I was grateful for my new neighborhood; for doors that actually opened in welcome, for a roof over my family’s head, for healthy kids who could eat candy…and for these fleeting years of glitter and wings and magic.
Out of the overflow, I handed my kid two pieces of candy and I said,
Repeat after me: this is enough. This is all we need.