The first two Halloweens of our son’s life were complete busts. The first one because he was hospitalized because of feeding tube complications. The second because he freaked out whenever he saw a kid wearing a mask. And he saw lots of them.
Because I was an elementary teacher in a very small town.
Where all my students rang our doorbell and said, “Trick or treat!”
Right after I invited them into our kitchen where Allen sat in his high chair.
Right before he began crying and screaming in terror.
It was not a good night for any of us. Allen was distraught. My students were mortified because they had scared a baby. I felt guilty about my son’s emotional pain and about hurting my students’ feelings. My soft-hearted husband felt bad because he could do nothing to calm down our baby.
Before another Halloween rolled around, we wised up and gave Allen a mask to play with.
He wore it…reluctantly…and took it off.
We wore it and took it of.
He talked about it.
We talked about it.
By October 31, everything was copasetic. Our toddler donned his costume, without a mask, and went trick-or-treating with gusto that year. And every year thereafter.
I didn’t give the subject of Halloween masks another thought. Until decades later, when I was talking to Allen, then in his early twenties, on the phone. He described what happened when he was four, before the first surgery he could remember.*
“Did you know I freaked out when they wheeled me into the operating room?” he asked.
“No,” I replied slowly. “Though I’m not really surprised considering how you went ballistic after the surgery when the anesthetic wore off.”
“I was so scared,” he went on. “I was laying on a big cart, being rolled down a hall by people I couldn’t see. Huge doors opened, and I was in a room that was glaringly bright, too white, and freezing cold. I started thrashing around. A stranger without a face leaned over and said, ‘You’re okay.'”
“Mom,” he said. “None of the people in that room had faces. It was terrifying.”
My heart broke.
I envisioned my baby in his high chair.
Crying and screaming as people without faces entered his safe place.
Invaded his home.
“You have to tell people, Mom,” my adult son insisted. “You have to tell hospitals what they’re doing to kids. You have to tell hospitals to let parents stay with their children until they are anesthetized. And to leave the masks off until then, too.”
Today, I’m honoring my son’s request.
I’m asking hospital personnel to look at their world through the eyes of a child.
To do all they can to make hospitalized children feel safe.
To engage with them face to face whenever they can.
To love our children when we can’t be with them.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child;
when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face;
now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:11–13
*Between birth and age 3, he’d had 6 other surgeries and dozens of invasive medical procedures he couldn’t consciously recall.