Sunday, October 12, 2008

Halloween, Vegan Style...

So we had our annual Chicago Vegan Family Network (CVFN) Halloween party on Saturday and it was the typical bacchanalian affair we've come to expect, like, if we had rafters, the children would've been totally hanging from them. Instead, rafter-less, the children - there were twenty-five, plus all the parents and an odd honorary uncle and grandmother - were running up and down the stairs, running outside to play, grabbing the cat and running with her, running up to the food table and grabbing yet another cupcake. Everything seemed to involve running in their various Halloween ensembles, princess hats and magic wands and hockey sticks akimbo. John and I have come to expect the CVFN Halloween potluck to be a major event in our year given the preparation involved, which includes cleaning, cooking and baking, craft-making, goody bag construction and assembly, and every year, at around ten in the evening immediately following the party, we are faced with the aftermath (including but not limited to: plates, bowls and cups on every available surface; sticky substances of unknown origin on the floor; a melange of crushed crumbs like New Year's Eve confetti; a collapsed bed upstairs; assorted left-behinds - hats, accessories, toys) and every year, somehow, we are grateful to have done it. I am willing to accept that this is proof positive that we are deranged, hoping that if I ever need to use the insanity defense - which, really, I hope my life is not on that particular trajectory - but at the very least, I can point to our continued enjoyment of an event that threatens to destroy our home. But you would love it too, unless you happen to be a cranky Republican hunter. In which case, like I really care what you think.

A little background might be useful here. My friend Lisa and I started CVFN four years ago - this was our fourth anniversary, actually - to create a community of vegan peers for our children. At the time, my son was two and Lisa had three- and one-year-old boys. Our mutual friend, a fellow who goes by an adopted name I will not mention here and the odd honorary uncle I mentioned above, connected us. At first, before we met or spoke, we were a little wary of one another because this mutual friend keeps some rather colorful company. Let's just say that he is essentially homeless (by choice), has a long, white beard (some might say scraggly) and is inclined to wearing multiple layers of clothing at a time regardless of temperature. He is also among the best groomed of his social circle, positively buttoned-down in comparison. When he told me about this vegan mother in Evanston he wanted me to meet, I was pretty much expecting a Dumpster-diving, VW-living, hanging-for-a-bit-before-we-leave-for-the-Phish-tour kind of person, which, while perfectly lovely for another time in my life, was not exactly what I was seeking at this particular time. Lisa, apparently, was expecting the same person with the same sort of feeling of dread with me, so we were both pleasantly surprised to find that neither was shilling 'shrooms or bootlegged cassettes from the show in '93 out of our cars. Whew!

Anyway, once we were mutually assured that neither was subsidizing the patchouli incense industry nearly single-handedly, we determined that, yes, we would very much like to start a local vegan family network, and, thus, the Chicago Vegan Family Network was born. We started with five families the first month and each month or two it seems to get a little bigger. Now we have, I think, forty families on our list, but it's generally ten to twelve families each month at our gatherings. Things slow down in the summer months with traveling and busyness but pick up again in October. It is such a joy for me to look around the room each month and see this robust and diverse group of people. The children, too, get along spectacularly well. In our four years, I do not recall a single fight. That's almost stretching the bounds of reality when you get that many children together.

Anyway, back to the party. We always start out trying to be organized, trying to pace ourselves well by starting a week early with preparations, but we always wind up windmilling our arms around like some jacked-up cartoon characters in a desperate attempt to complete everything by five o'clock, when the first guests begin to arrive. Saturday, I was making peanut butter cups (yeah, they were amazing) in the kitchen when I stepped on a splinter - barefoot in the kitchen, just as God intended - and I called John over to get the damn shard out. I didn't even have time to stop for three seconds. So I lifted my foot, rinsed it in the sink and I did not skip a beat in my chocolate making while John got the splinter out. Later, John was cleaning our son's room with him, in other words, shoveling piles of assorted dinosaur bones and game pieces into sundry boxes, when, as he was putting away a puzzle, about ten more wooden puzzles went crashing on his head. Again, without skipping a beat in my duties, I laughed, correctly guessing at what occurred and moved on, dipping pretzels in chocolate. This is our life when the annual Halloween party is upon us. It doesn't matter how early I start with getting things done as there is just that much to do. If I have time left over, I'm going to find something else to do (more cookies? Paper bats? Skeleton rock skulls?) to make our party that much cooler. And, yes, I already admitted that I am crazy.

I think that I am partially motivated to overcompensate because of the perception that vegan parents are causing our children to miss out. My child deprived? Hell, no. I am going to make frosted pumpkin and bat cookies because that's what little omni kids eat this time of year. I am also going to raise them that and throw in some chocolate covered pretzel rods (magic wands) and cupcakes with gummy worms. Yes, I found vegan gummy worms because, you know, the lack of them creates a gaping hole in the vegan diet. So they exist now, perhaps this is their inaugural year, and our kids got to have them at our Halloween party. So nya nya nya, omni haters: anything you can do, we can do better! (I do see how crazy this is, really, and maybe some day I'll be content just to know in my heart that vegan children are not deprived, but for now I am inspired to prove it to the world. Is that so bad? They get feted once in a while? Believe me, my son goes back to his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like every other kid come Monday.)

So it was an orgy of vegan celebration and conviviality. We are tired but thankful and gratified. Halloween was celebrated, vegan-style.

Shalom, everyone.

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