Learning to let go
He was a puppy in Russia and a bird in Armenia, back when he was too young to choose his own costume. He was Bob the Builder in Kazakhstan, and he refused to take the costume off for a full week after Halloween. Back home again in America, he discovered superheroes and Star Wars, so he struggled with the choices before finally settling on Batman.
We’ve celebrated Halloween all across the globe, but nowhere is the holiday quite as popular as right here in Shunyi. Last year, on our first Chinese Halloween, we ran out of candy within an hour. Witches, skeletons and other frightening creatures overran our neighborhood, proffering goody bags in tiny hands as they darted from house to house.
My husband stayed home to oversee candy distribution while I took the three kids out into the dark night. Now, I’m a rather attentive mother, especially where dark streets, cars and galloping kids are concerned. So within minutes I felt frazzled and overwhelmed. There were simply too many children, all dressed in black. I couldn’t keep track of my own kids. My eldest, Batman for the second year running, blended into the crowd of sugared-up boys surging in the roadway. Every so often I’d spot him, running with a group of his superhero pals, and I’d call out for him: “Slow down! Wait up! Stop right there!” He’d slow, reluctantly, for a moment, then hurry to catch up with his pals the moment I averted my gaze.
I had two other children to watch, and we were new enough to the neighborhood for me to worry that none of them could find their way home in the dark. So I chased after all three of them, shouting myself hoarse as I tried to keep up, elbowing my way through hordes of small vampires and teensy ballerinas.
Finally, though, I lost my eldest despite my efforts. He was out there somewhere on the dark street, wandering from house to stranger-filled house. He might be darting in front of cars, or even – gasp – eating candy without waiting to bring it home for the traditional parental wrapper check. He could be anywhere. My mind raced with the possibilities.
I pushed on through the crowd, asking of every familiar face, “Have you seen my son? Is my son up ahead?” But, of course, no one knew. They were all too busy chasing down their own small ghouls and fairies.
After a few frantic minutes of dragging my 4-year-old and my 1-year-old down the street, ignoring their pleas to knock on doors along the way, I stopped.
What’s the worst that could happen? I was ruining Halloween with my worries. What’s the best that could happen? I thought back to the grin I’d seen on my 7-year-old son’s face as he darted down the street with his friends. He’d been so unhappy when we moved to Beijing, yet here he was, with friends, knocking on doors and racing down streets, happy at last. There were guards at the exits to the compound – this I knew for sure. So even if he disappeared for hours, I was certain he’d eventually find his way home. He might have consumed more candy than I’d like. He might have skinned knees from tripping over a curb. He might have a torn costume. But he would come home.
He’s not content to be a puppy or a bird anymore. We’re in the superhero years, and he’s testing the limits to his powers. As his mom, it’s my job to keep him safe from harm. But sometimes it’s also my job to simply get out of his way. I stood there in the street, grasping other little hands in mine and peering into the darkness, hoping for one last glimpse of my superhero. Then I wished him well, and I let him go.
“C’mon,” I said to my other kids. “Let’s go get some candy.”
Donna Scaramastra Gorman is a freelance writer and mother of four who has lived in Beijing for one year. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor.