It's Halloween, so I thought I'd introduce myself to you with a horror story: I have six kids.
The rest of the story isn't as scary as that, promise.
Most of my kids consider Halloween to be the premier holiday of the year -- yes, trumping even Christmas. So we put a lot of effort into it.
There's the costume planning, the shopping, the sometimes months-long hair-growing, the last-minute sewing projects and the sometimes hours-long face-painting and hair-styling.
It used to be that my favorite part of Halloween was when I loosed my costumed crusaders on the public.
After all, thanks to the face paint, it was the one night of the year I knew no one would recognize them as my kids.
The year we moved to Merced, all that changed.
That was the year the older kids decided they were "so over" trick-or-treating.
At 8 years old, No. 5 was too young to go without supervision, so we adults decided to make the best of it.
We left the older kids home to hand out candy, dressed up and headed out to see what sort of trouble we could get into. I figured at the very least it was a cheap way to feed my Snickers addiction.
That first year, without his brothers, No. 5 was at a loss as to how the whole candy-hunting custom worked. It had been so long since we trick-or-treated, we adults weren't much help.
No. 5 kept walking up to houses and walking back to us empty-handed.
Since we were new to Merced, I thought perhaps Mercedians simply weren't friendly on Halloween. This seemed reasonable to me.
I had just moved from the Deep South, and Halloween had fallen on a Sunday while we were living there. Let me tell you, Halloween on a Sunday in the Deep South is like trying to trick-or-treat in the zombie apocalypse, in a ghost town.
You get the picture.
So I thought maybe we had found ourselves in the Bible Belt of California.
Maybe masked robbers -- regardless of their age, size or superhero pajamas -- simply were unwelcome here.
About a half-hour into The Great Candy Hunt, I got the brilliant idea I'd follow No. 5 up to the front door and, well, ask somebody: "Do you guys celebrate Halloween around here or what?"
So, at the next porch-lit house, I shadowed my son who stopped at the curb and just stood there perplexed.
"What's wrong, No. 5?" I asked, exasperated.
"There's no sidewalk," he said.
I had to give him that. The lack of sidewalks, streetlights and stop signs in our East 21st Street neighborhood had me flummoxed on more than one occasion myself.
So I helped him out. I steered him across the lawn and onto the porch. He stood on that porch and said, "Trick or treat!"
Then he turned to stone. And waited. And waited.
Finally, he said: "See Mom? No one ever gives me any candy."
"Don't you knock?" I asked him.
He shook his head.
"I don't know how. They don't have a doorbell," he answered.
Now, I thought that the ability to ferret sugar out of strangers was something that every kid was born with -- like the instinct to suckle or to rip the crust off of PB&Js.
Obviously not. In this day and age, that's not such a bad thing.
Fast forward a few years and No. 5 is now a confident older brother who shows No. 6 the ropes when it comes to trick-or-treating. We have since moved to a neighborhood where sidewalks and doorbells are on most of the houses, and that helps.
Just this week No. 5 announced he thought he might be getting too old to trick-or-treat. We adults implored him to go out with us just one more year, while he is still short enough to get away with it. And because we've grown accustomed to the practice ourselves.
But when he does decide he's "so over" trick-or-treating, we still have No. 6 to slake our Snickers addiction. And that's just one reason why I love having six kids. See, it's not so scary after all.
Heidi Britt is a grant writer and co-founder of Parent Resource Association of Merced (PRAM). Six kids and counting call her variations of the word Mom.