The jack-o’-lantern originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. (More JoL history here).
A few centuries later in Henderson, Nevada, Stingy Sarah relays her account of the origin of jack-o’-lanterns…at least as it pertains to the one on her mantle this Halloween.
Look, Desiree, a scarecrow!”
Curious to see if my daughter’s new Halloween vocabulary included “scarecrows”, I guide her over to the collection of fall items marked 50% off in front of Michaels. I pat myself on the back for my Jewish shrewdness to go shopping the day before Halloween. Surely, what I’m looking for will be heavily discounted…
Not spotting it in the outdoor clearance, I head into the store with Desiree. She’s happily dragging her new scarecrow friend in one hand and clutching my hand in the other. I exhale. With a blend of anxiety and discomfort, I look around at the crafter’s paradise. The décor, the silk flowers, the vast array of craft projects, and women with children pushing overflowing shopping carts nearly evoke a panic attack. Not a man in sight, I observe.
Not a woman like me in sight either, I gulp and move forward.
Feigning confidence, I guide Desiree down the main pathway peering down each aisle in search of anything Halloween-related. Christmas, Thanksgiving…wait! Spotting another clearance display, I stop and pretend to admire the hodge-podge of Halloween candles, autumn wreaths, and crafty knick-knacks. We must be looking in the wrong department, but…I’m not even sure what it looks like…is it in a box? Would it be with the painting supplies? Holiday decorations? My stubbornness to ask for help finally bowed to my growing impatience.
Excuse me, ma’am, where do we find the umm…do you carry like kits for making jack-o’-lanterns?”
Peering over her glasses with a mix of astonishment and disdain, the older saleswoman states condescendingly,
Oh dear, those are long gone.”
Of course, what mother who passes muster would ever contemplate carving a jack-o’-lantern on Sunday afternoon, October 30th?!
I shrug my shoulders and glance at my happy toddler who has no idea what this conversation means or why the old mean lady disapproves of her mother. I sweep up Desiree realizing we can escape the store and bypass the herd of crafters assembled at check-out. Tossing our scarecrow friend back in the forlorn clearance box, we head for the car and I cross my fingers “Dada” can work some jack-o’-lantern magic.
Hours later, he bounds through the garage door into the kitchen with a dozen grocery bags over each arm and a large pumpkin in his hands.
Tada!” he proclaims.
Tada!” I proclaim with nothing in my hands.
He looks at me quizzically and shakes his head. He had already informed me he had never carved a jack-o’-lantern before. A short while later…
I gave it a smirk so it would look like me.”
Desiree and I squeal in delight.
Pumpkin Patch!” she says.
Ooh, nice job!” I say nodding with approval.
Later, after Desi’s tucked in, he and I collapse onto the couch to watch the rest of the football game. I point to his Halloween masterpiece on the mantle with a nudge and a grin. He shakes his head,
C’mon, it’s not very good! Look, there are marker outlines around his mouth.”
I love it! It’s perfect.”
Seriously, did you see our neighbor’s front step? Every day, a new freakin’ jack-o’-lantern! Each one better than the previous. Does a professional carver live over there?”
Shrugging my shoulders, we share a laugh. Like the Twelve Days of Christmas, our neighbors seemed to celebrate the Twelve Days of Halloween. I imagined the interior of their house was just as impeccably decorated as the exterior — despite both parents working and having two small children. Meanwhile, as I type away here in the wee hours of the morning, my slippers stick to the floor underneath me. Seems that Desiree dropped one too many half-eaten Skittles below the kitchen table last night…ugh, mother fail. Maybe, next time, instead of Michaels, I should just ring my neighbor’s doorbell and see if I could outsource the jack-o’-lantern project to them… As I start to dwell on all of my imperfections as a mother and homemaker, I stop myself and realize:
Doesn’t that miss the point?
How expertly stenciled or carved a pumpkin is doesn’t make it perfect. Perfect in Desi’s eyes (and mine, too) is the one Dada drew free-hand (and sacrificed his thumb in the process of carving!) Perfect are the pumpkin seeds that I neglected to spray or season, cooking them in the toaster oven for “until they seemed done” number of minutes.
Beyond the notion of “it’s the thought that counts” is the laughter we get in the making of our perfectly imperfect memories…
Seriously, Stella, you need to stay OUT of the kitchen!”
(…and Michaels, Home Goods, or activities involving sharp knives!)
Be the parent you are. Perfectly imperfect. Perfectly quirky. Perfectly flawed. Embrace it all…so your children learn to, too.