When my 10-year-old son, Jesse, spotted the orange Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF boxes on a table at our church, he snatched one. He had trick-or-treated for UNICEF the previous year and had been proud of the $20 he had collected.
But as he stood in his wicked-court-jester costume at our back door on Halloween night, candy bag in hand, he suddenly grumbled, "I don't want to trick or treat for UNICEF."
"Why?" I exclaimed, straightening up and leaving my shoe half tied. "Why would you not want to help needy kids get food and clean water and medicine?"
Jesse's chin – and voice – dropped. "Because it'll slow me down."
"Slow you down! We're talking about kids who don't have enough to eat, and all you can think about is candy."
"Fine, then. I'll do it." Jesse grabbed his collection box off the table and went outside, letting the door slam behind him.
I sighed and silently hurried after him.
Jesse approached our first neighbor's house, adjusting the rubber mask that hid all but his eyes. "Trick or treat," came his muffled voice when the door opened. He waited for his candy and then added in a small voice, "Trick or treat for UNICEF." He lifted his box a few inches.
"What? Oh. Let me look." Our neighbor's voice was flat, and I cringed. She disappeared back in her house for several minutes, and Jesse stood staring at the door, shifting from foot to foot until she reappeared with a donation.
At the next house our neighbor Wadi opened the door booming, "Hello, hello!"
"Trick or treat – and trick...."
"Look at you," Wadi laughed. "Scary." He shivered and handed Jesse his mounded candy bowl.
"And trick or treat for...."
"You can take more than that. Take two. There you go. Have fun now."
Jesse looked up at me.
"We will," I answered Wadi, nudging Jesse along.
"Mom, do I have to?" Jesse pleaded as we headed toward the next house.
I put an arm around his shoulder. "No. You don't have to."
The rest of the block was dark except for porch lights. Jesse hustled from house to house collecting candy from bowlfuls left on front steps.
"Feel this," he said, holding up his bag.
"Whoa. Bust my arm off," I grinned back.
"How's my mask? Anything sticking out?"
I tucked a brown curl under his hood. "Nope. You look great."
Finally, a house was lit up and Jesse rang the door bell. "Trick or treat – and trick or treat for UNICEF." He held out his orange box, and not his candy bag.
"Trick or treat for UNICEF? How wonderful," my neighbor's voice sang. "Just a minute." As she disappeared into the house I glanced at Jesse. He didn't return my gaze, but he bounced up and down on his toes. At the next house, he held out his box again.
"UNICEF? I used to trick or treat for UNICEF. Help yourself to candy, and I'll be right back."
And at the next house, Jesse handed me his candy bag and pulled off his mask. He stood tall and his voice rang out as he smiled up at the man in the doorway.
"UNICEF, huh? Aren't you taking any candy?"
"You get extra."
As we continued on, Jesse's smile grew to a grin that he flashed right at me while we waited for people to find their wallets. And he began to tell the neighbors what he knew about UNICEF. "The money's all for kids. Like kids from Africa. Kids who need food and shots and school supplies."
Jesse's orange box filled with money until people had difficulty stuffing in anymore. Jesse shoved the dollar bills down with his pinky finger and kept on cramming. And as we scurried from house to house, he barely mentioned the candy. Instead he said, "Mom, everybody's giving something ... Mom, I think they put in a five ... Mom, my box is starting to rip."
Finally, we headed for home and Jesse left his candy bag lie while he helped me count the money.
"Fifty-five dollars and 96 cents," I announced. I wrote the total on the front of the box, and Jesse studied it.
"Just a minute," he said, and then ran upstairs to his room. When he returned, he handed me $4.04 – more than a week's worth of allowance. "I want an even amount. Now I have 60 dollars."
I didn't say anything as I crossed out the previous total and wrote in the new amount. And I watched in silence as Jesse neatly rolled up the paper money and fitted it back in the box with all the change. Then together we found UNICEF's website, and Jesse took out paper and pencil to calculate what UNICEF could do with $60. "Two dollars is food for three hungry kids, so 60 dollars is food for 90 kids. One dollar is a shot for measles, so 60 shots. Six cents gives water to a thirsty kid...."
Finally, Jesse finished with his figures and returned to his candy. He dumped his bag all over the family-room rug and scooped up handfuls of treats, letting them rain down between his fingers. Typical kid, I thought, smiling and leaning back to watch him.
Then Jesse spotted a favorite candy and pounced: "Yummy – dark chocolate with nuts! Mine, mine, mine." He pounced again. "Ooh. Ooh. Malted milk balls for Dad." He pawed through his pile. "Licorice for you, Mom. And banana taffy. And chocolate with almonds." He jumped up with a handful of candy and plopped it beside me.
Ripping off a wrapper and popping a chocolate in my mouth, I gazed at my child and nodded my head. Yep. Typical kid, all right. Typical, good-hearted and loving child.