When I was but a wee tot, I came up with my own vocabulary for the world around me, as children are wont to do, whether through mispronunciation, misunderstanding, or just the notion that I had a better term than the one that was already in place. Thus, the jack-o-monster was born. Growing up, my parents shied away from Halloweeny things, but they did allow us to carve pumpkins. I remember that being so fun, so of course I would want my children to share in that experience, too.
Well, somewhere between when I was a kid and the births of my own children, jack-o-monsters gave way to all manner of detailed and artsy pumpkin carving. The pros of that are that 1) it’s amazing to see what can be done with a large squash and 2) it allows for greater personal and artistic expression. I’m all for those things. (And for a prime example of both of those reasons, check out my friend Elle’s pumpkin display!) But the con, Good Gourd, is that the kids can’t do it themselves anymore.
In previous years, we let the kids choose any design they wanted and then Mr. Gren and I would painstakingly cut out their picture of choice. The kids were always thrilled with the results, but the only part of the whole process in which they could participate was the pumpkin gutting. And if you have a kid with texture issues who would rather die a fiery death than touch slimy pumpkin guts, then that means that you, the parent, are doing that part, too, while the child sits by
hounding you to just finish already so that they can please light it patiently, offering up encouraging words like, “Ewww! Dear God, what is that thing?!” “It’s looking really good, Maman.” So, if you had any hope of doing a pumpkin for yourself or even getting done before the kids’ bedtime, that just went right out the window. And really, just the thought of spending the whole evening carving pumpkins made me tired. It had ceased to be fun.
This year, Rana insisted that she be allowed to carve her My Little Pony pumpkin all by herself. She is 9, you know. And I thought, “Yeah! She is 9! I know I was carving my own jack-o-monsters when I was 9. But, the knives, oh gosh, the knives… I’m going to be picking up fingers off the floor and those reattachment surgeries don’t always go so well, plus if we have to go to the ER, who’s going to watch the other kids? Oh, no… they’ll probably be with us. I just hope we can tell their fingers apart…”
Then I came to my senses: when I was 9, I was not carving cartoon equines; I was carving triangle eyes and toothy grins. And I sho nuff did that all by myself. But there was still the question of knives. Granota had given herself a pretty good slice a couple of months ago trying to cut potatoes (her idea, not mine) and I couldn’t believe that her manual dexterity had improved all that much. Rana, being older, of course is a little better, but still… Then Mr. Gren picked up one of those pumpkin carving kits with the little spade-shaped gut scoopers and the chintzy little carving tools that seem like they’ll snap the instant you look at them wrong. The little tools are sharp enough to cut through pumpkin, but the ends are rounded and they’re tiny; they just don’t have the deadly aura that knives do. So I broached the subject with the girls (because, Granota, having heard Rana’s plea, had chimed in with one of her own): I would allow them to carve their own pumpkins, but, because this was their first time (their first time? At 7 and 9?! Shameful), they needed to do something simple. Say, a face. With triangle eyes. And a toothy grin.
“Oh, yes, Maman! Yes, yes! That’s what we’ll do!” And if angels sing at Halloween, they did at that moment. I was freed from the oppression of intricate pumpkin carving! My soul rebounded, there was joy and light in my life again! I still managed to keep myself sufficiently busy cooking dinner that I couldn’t be called upon for assistance. I was present, just not “available.”
We gave the girls Sharpies and told them to draw on their jack-o-monster faces first before just diving in all willy-nilly. A little planning never hurt anyone. Mr. Gren cut off the tops of their pumpkins and the girls set to work scooping guts — yes, even Granota, with only a few whimpers. Their first carving experience was not without a few bumps in the road — Mr. Gren had to help them (at their request) even out a few cuts that had gone awry , but overall, it was so much more fun. The girls enjoyed it and they were so proud of their very own honest-to-goodness jack-o-monsters.
Now, Konik in all of this had decided that he was not ready to carve his own pumpkin, nor was he ready to give up the enticing thought of seeing Lightning McQueen glowing by candlelight. Props to Mr. Gren for patiently and carefully making his little son’s dream come true.
Next, Mr. Gren carved his own pumpkin — an homage to former Mariner right fielder, Jay Buhner.
This year’s carving party was a success! We had a nice family evening, the kids were thrilled with the outcome, none of the little tools broke, and all fingers remained intact. Who knows? Next year, I might even be persuaded to carve one of my own again.