Nov 4 • 14M

Our Final Candy Haul

Newsletter 2022-11-03

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James Breakwell
Family comedy one disaster at a time.
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The four minute mile. The .400 batting average. The forty pound candy haul.

Each was a record once believed to be unattainable. Now, elite high school milers regularly break the four minute mark, and forty-two baseball players have bested a .400 batting average for a season. (I had to do actual research for this intro, and by that, I mean I Googled two things. It was still too much.) The forty pound candy haul, however, has never been achieved in all of recorded history. I can say that with certainty because Wikipedia doesn’t have a page for it. If some kid had attained such a heroic milestone, it no doubt would have been the subject of websites, books, and multiple mini series. There’s no way HBO would pass on those rights. This Halloween, my daughters and I set out to do the impossible and clear forty pounds of candy. Did we need that much sugar? Absolutely not. At those quantities, it could be fatal. But we intended to set a new milestone for excellence, consequences be damned. Sometimes the quest for greatness requires you to gain a few pounds and also be hyper into the next millennia.

Before I sat down to write this, I thought we came a lot closer in previous years than we actually had. I believed our former best attempt was thirty-eight pounds, a fact I apparently based on absolutely nothing. To verify it, I scrolled through Twitter, the official archive of my family’s history. It turns out my annual candy weigh-in post isn’t annual at all. I first did it in 2013. That year, my oldest, Betsy, was three, and Mae was one. The other two girls didn’t exist yet. I was basically childless. At those ages, Betsy and Mae had no idea why random people were handing out candy. Not that they asked any questions. A good rule of thumb in life is shut up and eat the chocolate. At that stage, Betsy and Mae weren’t concerned with the forty pound record. I doubt they could count past ten. Here’s the tweet from our first ever candy weigh in. It might just be the cringiest thing I’ve ever posted on the internet.

I was proud of “almost” ten pounds. First of all, that’s not how rounding works. Nine point four should round down to nine, not ten. Second, that’s the kind of number you make your kids promise never to tell anyone. It’s certainly not one you should brag about on the internet. I’m lucky CPS didn’t see that tweet and take my children away.

We did better the next year—I assume. It was practically impossible to do worse. Unfortunately, I can’t say for sure because there’s no record of it. There’s a mysterious five-year gap in our weigh-in history. I suspect that’s because I finally developed enough self-awareness to be ashamed of the numbers we were pulling in. One year, I know we ended up with zero. On Halloween night, one kid got rushed to immediate care with a UTI and the other kid threw a three-hour temper tantrum because she didn’t want to put on a coat. I can’t explain toddlers, but I respect their unwavering commitment to being completely unreasonable in all circumstances.

I don’t know what happened in the other years of the gap. We added a third kid in 2014, but having an infant wouldn’t have stopped me. Babies are the perfect trick-or-treating partners since they get their own candy bucket but can’t eat anything in it, at least not without some additional processing. Technically, my wife Lola turned all those extra Butterfingers into milk. I just turned mine into fat. Women really are amazing. This is all just conjecture, though. Without an official tweet, it never happened. For Halloween 2015, Lola was just nine days away from giving birth to our youngest, Waffle. That wouldn’t have stopped me from going out, either. If you’re a man and you have any survival instinct at all, you want to spend as little time as possible with heavily pregnant women. Again, I didn’t post anything about it. What was I doing? Certainly not living in the moment and enjoying time with my family.

The Dark Ages ended in 2019, when I emerged from hiding to tweet out another candy weigh-in. To be clear, I tweeted daily during all those years. Just not about junk food weigh-ins, the one thing that truly mattered. After so much time away, surely my 2019 scale tweet was one for the record books. Dear reader, it was not. After five years of plotting and planning, all I could come up with was this.

[Upon further further review, it was actually a newsletter, so there’s not even a tweet about it. In short, the email shamefully bragged that we collected twenty pounds.]

That’s actually worse than my first candy weigh-in post. Per child, it was the same amount we got in 2013, but with much older kids. I managed to amass ten pounds with three and one-year-olds. Years later, with nine, seven, five, and four-year-olds, I could only muster twice that haul. I was poorly utilizing my human capital. They should have fired me and gone with another Halloween captain. Fortunately, kids don’t know how to unionize. Also, it’s not like I earned this position by merit. I got here by sleeping with my wife.

Amazingly, 2020 was even worse. Instead of five pounds of candy per kid, we ended up with a null set. Betsy got covid a few days before Halloween, and we all spent the big night quarantined. Physically, she was fine. Mentally, she may never recover. It cuts deep when you miss out on a candy bonanza. Afterwards, I bought twenty-something pounds of candy, but it wasn’t the same. It’s kind of like going to a sushi restaurant and calling yourself a master fisherman. The kids wanted the thrill of the hunt—or of the gather, I guess. If you have to kill a Tootsie Roll, something has gone horribly wrong.

We returned to the scene with a bang in 2021. That year, we hauled in thirty-three pounds of candy, which my aging brain later conflated to thirty-eight. It was impressive but hardly world beating. People only respect big, round numbers. We were still seven pounds from greatness. Was it even physically possible to improve by that much to reach forty pounds? The trick-or-treating window wasn’t getting any longer. For 2022, it was once again fixed at three hours. By rule, this was also Betsy’s last year. The age limit is twelve, which she hit in May. If she wants to go out again, she’ll have to wait till she has her own kids. That’s the only reason I reproduced. This year was our final shot with a full crew of four. It was now or never. The kids understood the pressure as they put on their dresses and tiaras for one last attempt at the record books.

For once, we were helped by the weather. It was terrible like usual. This year, though, it was so bad that I decided to drive. The sky was gray and cloudy with intermittent showers throughout the day. I didn’t want to get caught in the rain three miles from home with four kids and (hopefully) forty pounds of candy. We’d have to abandon our loot and run home like Napoleon fleeing Moscow. Still, going with a vehicle had risks of its own. With two kids still in booster seats, mounting and dismounting would waste huge amounts of time. Also, it made it easier for the girls to quit. If they were bored or cold, home was just a two minute ride away. The temptation to bail on our noble endeavor would grow stronger as the hour grew late. As our unfireable leader, I had my work cut out for me. I put the van in gear and hit the road.

We practiced ingress and egress at the first few houses. My first call was to abandon assigned seats. We were getting traffic jams in the middle aisle at each stop. For the rest of the night, the first kids in moved to the back of the van, regardless of where they would normally sit. That meant we sometimes had big kids in booster seats, but all is fair in love and trick-or-treating. My next call was to set a walking range. I settled on a one block span in either direction. Anything more than that and I’d have the kids pile in for mechanized transport. With our process streamlined, we began to cover huge amounts of ground. This town wasn’t ready for the four of us.

Our church was hosting a trunk-or-treat half an hour into the trick-or-treating window. We spent the thirty minutes beforehand clearing out the streets around our house. We even stumbled across an extra trunk-or-treat two blocks from home that we hadn’t heard anything about. That was ten houses worth of candy at one stop. Then, we hit the church parking lot without slowing down. We had momentum on our side, but the minutes were ticking by. Waffle was the first to break. Trick-or-treating started at 6 p.m. sharp. A little after seven, she threw in the towel. When I stopped at home to deposit our weakest link, Lucy decided to stay home, too. Rather than running around for the next two hours carrying heavy bags, they just wanted to sit down and eat what they’d already collected. There was wisdom in their modest ambitions. Candy is candy, no matter how much of it you have. You can’t eat a record. Still, I was crushed by their betrayal. I lost half my collection force with two-thirds of the trick-or-treat window left to go. We were doomed.

That’s when Betsy went into hero mode. At our next stop, she ran. “Stop running!” Mae yelled. “I’m not going to run.” Five seconds later, she was running, too. Betsy is a state-qualifying cross country runner, and Mae was the top female finisher for her entire elementary school. I knew the two of them were fast, but I’d never seen them sprint in dresses and tiaras. If beauty pageants scrapped the swimsuit portion and added a foot race, they’d both be Miss America. They darted across lawns in the dark, candy bags bouncing as they went. They divided and conquered. If it wasn’t clear if two houses were really giving out candy or if they accidentally left their porch lights on, they’d each take one to save time, and then, if there was candy, switch. Every few houses, they jumped in the van and dumped out their bags to lighten the load. We finished off our neighborhood and two more after that. Soon, we found ourselves on the other side of town in territory we’d never dared enter before. This was virgin trick-or-treating ground.

The girls went hard right up to the buzzer. Everyone knows that’s when you have the best luck. Their greatest hope was that someone didn’t want the candy in their house, so they’d pour out the whole bowl for the last trick-or-treater who stopped by. Betsy and Mae referred to this as “a dump,” and their desire for one knew no bounds. “Did you get a dump?” they’d ask each other eagerly when they stopped by the van before darting off into the darkness again. At the final stops, people gave them two handfuls of candy each, but no one tipped over the whole bowl. Without that kind of last minute boost, I wasn’t sure if we could break forty. Finally, the clock struck nine. The girls loaded into the van for a final time, and we headed home.

Once we got all the candy in one place, my spirits lifted again. When you combined what Betsy and Mae got on their own with what they left at home with Lucy and Waffle, it was truly an impressive haul. But was it forty pounds? This was going to be close. Glory hung in the balance. The candy filled a five gallon bucket plus two large, square reusable canvas totes from Lola’s favorite discount grocery store. Betsy could barely lift it all. That was a problem. It was time for the weigh-in. She stood on the scale to weigh herself. Then, she stood on it again with all the candy. Her sisters had to help her put a tote bag on each shoulder as she struggled against the massive load. She held perfectly still, straining against the weight on her arms, and waited for the scale to stabilize. A moment later, it did. We all looked down at the final number and gasped. Here's the scene I saw.

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