The first sign of trouble came at the pumpkin patch.

As usual, my wife wanted to take 400 pictures of the kids doing the things they do every year: pretending to howl at the moon in front of a big wooden haunted house scene, sticking their faces inside a giant wooden jack-o'-lantern, picking out their pumpkins, riding the choo-choo train with the right amount of squealing glee.

One of our middle schoolers refused to strike her pose. The other stood there, looking bored. She needed some gentle persuading (threats) to get into the spirit of things. A few minutes later, I spotted an eye roll when it was time to get on the choo-choo.

Uh-oh. Not the choo-choo. ...

As children grow up, trick or treating with the parents becomes a thing of the past, a tough change for some parents. (L. Bruner/Bradenton Herald)
As children grow up, trick or treating with the parents becomes a thing of the past, a tough change for some parents. (L. Bruner/Bradenton Herald) ( L. Bruner )

Just a few days earlier, I was looking at some pictures of my 11-year-old girls in the same spot a few years ago, hamming it up and having a great time. This was different. I didn't like this.

I know what you're thinking: This guy is whining about his kids growing up again, like his are the only ones.

Well, yeah, I guess I am. Who else's kids should I be whining about?

Halloween is a holiday that means so much to so many in so many different ways. And much of what it means depends on one's age.

I remember when I was old enough to think that Halloween had gone from being this magical night of real ghosts flying through the sky and people giving out free cavities to a night of street roaming, doing stupid things with my teen compatriots to being a straight party night, during which finding the most offensive costume was a priority to having one's own kids through whom I then had the good fortune of reliving the first stage of Halloween again through their big, smiley eyes.

I loved that first stage. Now, two of my kids are starting to edge toward the next one.

But not yet.

There was talk of trick-or-treating with other friends, minus their 5-year-old sister and any adults. Once I finished laughing, I swiftly and unconditionally vetoed that plan. The small one would be devastated and, as I assured her sisters, they'll have plenty of time to crush her spirit as they get older -- no need to sail that ship before it's time.

And as long as my kids still want to trick-or-treat (I give them another year, maybe two), they will have me in the vicinity, remaining vigilant (possibly armed -- you never know). As wonderful as Halloween is, it's also amateur night for some, even in the suburbs.

Soon after that conversation, I saw the Spirit store Halloween catalog circulating through the house. Fortunately, my girls are still into wearing fun costumes meant for kids; it's a little disconcerting to see models who look about three minutes into adulthood wearing outfits that have nothing to do with scaring people -- unless you're a father. An ax-wielding maniac beating on the front door is tame in comparison to that horror.

We'll get through this one, perhaps another (fingers crossed -- hard), and then they'll be old enough to do what they want -- to a degree. That doesn't mean I still won't be following discreetly from a distance. I'm going to enjoy them while I can.

I'm not even going to start worrying about Christmas and Santa Claus yet. One holiday crisis at a time. ...

Contact Tony Hicks at thicks@bayareanewsgroup.com, Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks or Twitter.com/insertfoot.