Pumpkin Quest 2006 (a little late I realize)

November 15, 2006

Inexplicably, I have been elected to be the Cookie Mom for my daughter’s Brownie troop. That’ll teach me to be two – count ’em two – minutes late to the meeting. Now this might not seem like a cause for alarm to you, but to anyone who knows me at all it is the equivalent of Girl Scout Armageddon. Yes, I believe that I could single-handedly bring down the entire scouting organization simply by being placed in this role.

Because, you see, me as Brownie-mom is something of a metaphor for all the various ways in which I fail at parenting. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I feed my children. I clothe them. I read to them, pray with them, listen to them, advise them, hug them, and so on. But I have this small problem with…accomplishing may be the right word.

I am the mother who always confused the quarter hour times (they varied from day to day, I kid you not) at which to pick my twins up from Pre-K. I am the mother who forgets that Thursday is for some unknown, possibly communist, reason “Red Day.” Sure as anything, my kids show up outfitted in every other color of the rainbow. I am the mother who sometimes confuses which park and what time my kids have soccer practice.

And today I am the mother who waited – gasp – the day before Halloween to purchase pumpkins for carving. Now, I knew I would never get them to a pumpkin patch or anything, but I thought that I could take the kids to the local grocery store to pick out a few pumpkins.

Do you know what it is like to be shamed by the grocery store produce teenager? To have him sneer that “We’ve been out for a couple of days,”? To have him point to the decorative gourds in the front of the store and say, “Well, we have those.” Gourds? Really? Do you think my kids will be fooled by having to perform microsurgery procedures on gourds instead of the annual carving of pumpkins? Kids are very discerning when it comes to squash, bucko.

But at the third grocery store, we hit a patch of good luck.

“Hey,” I hear a whisper. It’s coming from a woman with enormous breasts stuffed into a too-tight witch costume.

Is she a real witch, I wonder to myself.

“I know where you can score some pumpkins.” (Okay, she didn’t really say it exactly that way, but you get the point.)

She proceeds to tell me that the Evil Empire Store That Shall Not Be Named had “like 18 bins of pumpkins just yesterday.”

I drag the kids back to the car and pull out the cell phone to dial information to connect me to the Evil Empire Store That Shall Not Be Named. I am assured that my call will be monitored for quality purposes, and when a live person gets on the phone she tells me to “hold on” while she checks. In those intervening seconds, I ponder what I will have to do to make it up to my kids for this recent maternal screw-up. A kitten, maybe.

“Well, honey, we have one bin left,” the voice says coming back on the phone. I am thrown into a mental frenzy. One bin? Down from 18 yesterday. I barely have time to say goodbye before I’ve thrown the car into reserve and set out pell mell hell on wheels to the store. Which is like 15 minutes away. I quietly panic as I think of each and every last pumpkin being snatched up by mothers quicker on the uptake than I.

We arrive and I park. I assess the competition. Many of them seem to be younger mothers with younger kids. I fear that they may have the advantage of the cart, which can be pushed with great dispatch, but I pull my kids out of the car and like a drill sergeant shout, “Go, go go!”

We race in and the elderly gentleman welcomes us to the Evil Empire Store That Shall Not Be Named, but I have no time for such frivolities as greetings.

“Pumpkins?” I gasp.

“Pardon?” he murmurs.

“Where are the PUMPKINS?”

“Over there on the right by the produce.”

I momentarily worry that this will be another gourd debacle, but we round the corner and see not one, but two – two – bins labeled pumpkins. “Victory!” I nearly shout.

But then I see her. As God as my witness, I am not making this up. A woman, too old to have young kids, but too young to have grandchildren, has a cart brimming with pumpkins. Like 20 of them. Who does she think she is? Sara Lee making pumpkin pie for the freezer section? At this point I don’t care if she’s collecting pumpkins for the homeless, who really don’t need pumpkins anyway. Okay, homeless kids maybe. But still.

My kids clamber over to the massive cardboard bins and look in. Way in. Because these two bins are not exactly chock-full of our little orange friends. I now know the origin of the expression “bottom of the barrel.”

“Are these really pumpkins?” one of my sons says.

“How come we didn’t get to go to the pumpkin patch?” asks the other, for perhaps the fifteenth time in the last hour.

The side of the box comes up to about my waist. But I am not faint of heart, so I dive – literally – into the box to cull the remaining pumpkins. Surely we will find three measly pumpkins to call our own.

Word to the wise: pumpkins piled on top of each other rot in peculiar and horrifying ways. But I refuse to be daunted. “Here’s one that’s okay,” I say to the kids, my voice muffled by the cardboard and well, the rotting pumpkins. I pull it up and hold it aloft like a trophy. So it’s a little lopsided. So it has no stem (apparently stems must rot first because stemlessness seems to be universal among these pumpkins). It’s a pumpkin, dammit. And where there is one, there must be more.

I continue to roll rotten pumpkins off one another, as I stand on tiptoe, nearly toppling into the now-bending box.

“Hey, Mom, this one’s not too rotten,” says my son. Nothing like setting your kid up for low expectations. Other kids pick the size and shape and hue; my kid simply picks the one that’s not rotting. I mean, not rotting too badly.

We manage to find a few more less-than-rotted-through pumpkins, which we place gently into the cart to head for the line, which takes about forty minutes. While in line I have time to ponder my inadequacies and I come to a very profound conclusion: my best parenting moments happen in private – when I help a frustrated kindergartener make yet another row of letters; when I cuddle my third grade daughter and scratch her back before sleep; when I hold the barf bucket for assorted folks; when I get silly in the car and move my head to the music and am pronounced a “bobble-head” by my son.

But it’s the public parenting that has the built-in feedback. Don’t turn the Brownie cookie money in? The Brownie leader calls you and uses her extra patient voice to explain why YOUR daughter’s lack of money is holding up the whole troop. Don’t fold the basket of laundry quick enough? Morning comes and everyone’s digging and throwing around pieces to find a missing sock. Don’t get to soccer practice on time? Every parent in his/her canvas-carry-a-chair looks over his/her shoulder as you trudge toward the field with angry boys in tow.

And you know what the drumbeat of all that is? Failure, failure, failure.

Truly, I am not a person who is used to failing at life. I succeeded at school and in pretty much every employment situation in my past (the one notable exception being when I was a cashier at a hardware store– a story for another day, but apparently my mind wanders a bit too much to work with money). I received good feedback. Good job reviews. Good student evaluations when I taught. But this whole Mommy deal? It’s different, I tell you.

So this is what I realized: I don’t think we parents get feedback on all the important stuff for a long long time. Like maybe when my daughter is a mother and she calls me to ask how I did something. Or one son becomes president (okay, maybe of his company?) and leads by good example. Or another son’s future wife thanks me for raising such a sweet guy. Probably feedback comes in all sorts of ways I haven’t even imagined yet. I don’t think I’m a failure at the Big Stuff of Parenting — at least not most of the time.

Thank God, we have no need for a kitten. At least today. But it’s something I can keep in my back pocket, so to speak. And tonight? My kids get to play with knives and get their fingers gooey-sticky-gross. Oh yeah, it’s going to be a great Halloween.

Just don’t look too closely at the backs of our pumpkins.

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One Response to “Pumpkin Quest 2006 (a little late I realize)”

  1. DenzelWM said

    Hey everybody, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! A little late..!!

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