3+Me: Pumpkins, ghost stories and growing up

Being a stepmom, I wasn’t around for my stepkids’ “baby” phase.

I met them when they were 8 and 4, and while that’s still little in the grand scheme of life, they already had a decent amount of independence.

But that independence evaporated when it came to pumpkins. Sure, they were kinda into the whole jack-o-lantern concept, but the process went something like this:

  • They pick pumpkins (with some guidance)
  • Their dad and I carry pumpkins (they’re heavy)
  • They draw jack-o-lantern faces (for five minutes)
  • Their dad and I carve said faces (for much longer than five minutes)
  • Everyone checks out the lit-up pumpkins (for about a minute)

And that was perfectly fine. They did the easy stuff, we did the hard stuff. But this year (my fourth time through this tradition with them), some things changed.

For starters, the kids carried their own pumpkins. Both of them, on their own, each carried their own massive orange blobs from the field to the hayride, then to the car, then to the house. I hadn’t paid much attention to how significant that was, until later, when it was time to get carving.

We all sat in the garage, slicing open pumpkin tops and scooping out the slimy guts. The kids were pretty hands-on for that step, but I still wasn’t paying too much attention because I was working on my own pumpkin (well, my husband’s, but he let me carve it! That’s love, right there).

It wasn’t until the designs were drawn on, that I started taking notice.

Because as we swapped our pencils for sharper tools, they didn’t ask for help.

It wasn’t that I would have opposed helping. It’s that, with only one exception (when the 7-year-old asked her dad for a bit of assistance), the need wasn’t there.

That’s what caught my attention. I looked up to see two little people happily crafting away at their two giant pumpkins. By themselves.

Somehow, in that moment, both kids grew up just a little more, in my mind.

Usually, the thought of them growing up makes me sad. But maybe this was a point in which I grew up just a little more, too, because for the first time, the idea of them growing up made me excited.

They’re learning new things, I realized. They can do more on their own, and actually, it’s kind of fun to watch. I hadn’t expected that.

Like a few days later, when my stepson made us an offer.

“Hey, I wrote a suspense story for school,” he told us over dinner. “Would you want to read it?”

We enthusiastically agreed. I expected a terse paragraph or two, about a ghost or something.

I was right about the ghost. I was wrong about everything else.

He handed me a full page and a half, which he typed himself, and as I read it aloud, I couldn’t stop smiling.

“The second I saw it, I instantly regret coming here.”

“The wind sounded like a chorus of zombies.”

“The legends were true, the ghost of the graveyard was real.”

Sure, it had spelling errors and disagreement in verb tense. But the story itself, the structure, the descriptions were beyond anything I would have expected from the kid. He reads a lot, and has a hugely detailed imagination, but he doesn’t usually like to write.

He’s learning new things, I realized. He can do more than he used to, and it’s kind of fun to watch. I hadn’t expected that.

I’m usually scared thinking of the kids becoming teenagers and beyond. The older they get, the more difficult the obstacles that they (and by extension, we) will have to face — scraped knees and nightmares exchanged for more intricate social and emotional complications. That’s what I tend to focus on about their growing up: The things that freak me out.

I forget there’s an upside, too. Watching them expand their knowledge, abilities and experiences — it’s kind of mind-blowing.

Of course I expect them to learn and improve as they get older. But I expect the progress to be slow, barely noticeable — then times like these happen when I do notice, and it surprises me.

They’re amazing little people to be around. They’ll likely turn in to amazing bigger people, too.

And I get a front-row seat to watching it happen.

Originally published in The Herald News on Nov. 4, 2108.

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