Jack-O-Lanterns and the Beauty of Temporary Art

Jack o lantern

Easter has its eggs.

Christmas has its sugar cookies.

Halloween has its Jack-O-Lanterns.

All are perishable materials that have potential to go rotten all too quickly. They are holiday treasures that wild rodents would feast on if given the chance. They are mere decorations that take effort and planning to execute, only to be tossed out once they start to smell.

I love it.

I love how fleeting these three are, and that the opportunity to partake in these traditions comes and goes so quickly. Even if you’re a planner, you cannot do these six months ahead of time. If you are a procrastinator you absolutely have a hard and fast deadline for completion. Since I can be both simultaneously, this tiny window of opportunity keeps me in the moment.

The knowledge that these creations will be eaten or thrown away so soon also has the power (however temporary) to stop me from being a perfectionist. I am considerably less worried about making mistakes when I know my artwork isn’t meant to last. I take chances. I take risks. I have fun. I make mistakes and it isn’t the end of the world. The rest of the year crafting -essays, costumes, turkey dinners- can bring out the worst in me. I become a wreck when I miss a detail or when an innocent bystander has gently pointed out a flaw. There have been tears and wailing and gnashing of teeth. The kids have picked up on it. By nature and nurture they are doomed to be perfectionists, too. At least these few guaranteed times a year I can model something different for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I do put a lot of effort into these creations. I spend a lot of time meticulously layering colors and tape to make an Easter egg that looks like a strawberry. For a skunk-inspired Jack-O-Lantern, I made the kids model their best “I smell something nasty” faces. I take time and I put thought into it, but if frosting smudges together, or dye isn’t quite the right shade, or if an idea I thought was clever doesn’t pan out (one year I tried to make a pumpkin who was horrified that his brother pumpkin had been made into a pie and had to explain it to everyone) it doesn’t matter. It will not stand to haunt me for the rest of my days, and it isn’t the only time I’ll ever be allowed to try something new. There is always next year.

And for once (or technically, at least three times a year) I am so not worried about how my stuff is turning out that I can really enjoy what the boys and my husband are making. I am not just watching them make art as a spectator or a member of their audience. I am not trying to carve out quiet time away from them so I can finally concentrate on what I’m doing. We are making things together as a family. The best part, we’re having fun

Sick Days


The weather changed. The air got colder, rain fell for days. Each night this week a little hand would reach out in the dark to find me. My little guys would discover that I was still there sleeping right next to them, and feel comforted enough to know that they could try to fall asleep. I would know, as soon as they did, if their barking cough turned frightening; they wouldn’t have to try to call for me with no breath left.

We kept the window open a crack, a towel sitting right up against the threshold to catch rainwater before it flooded the inside of the house as it had flooded the street. The cool damp air helped us all breathe better.

It was just the three of us for days. Both boys missed a whole week of school. My husband had gotten on a plane for work on Monday. Between the rain and our colds we stayed home doing just the minimum to get by. Watching movies. Taking medicine. Eating food. Sleeping. Cuddling. It was as if we had stepped back in time, when I was a stay-at-home mom with two small children too small for school.

For this one week we didn’t rush anything, not waking or dressing or eating or thinking or deciding or cleaning or bathing or bedtime kisses. When homework and playdates and PTA folders disappeared, other things reappeared. Well-loved toys that had languished in the back of cabinets now spilled out all over the living room floor, useful again. Movies that we had outgrown, at the oh-so-mature ages of five and seven and thirty-five, got new viewings-with popcorn when our scratchy throats could manage it. I got to go back in time, to when coloring with my child was part of my job description, and napping with them was an important part of our daily routine.

When they were so small and helpless before, the isolation of these sorts of days had felt stifling and dangerous. The responsibility for their health and safety weighed so heavily on my every move, and the length of the hours taxed my soul.

Now that these days are a pause from normal life, rather than normal life itself, I am able to see the gifts those long sequestered days had given them and given me.

I know them better than I know almost anyone else on earth.

We had time together to just be, before clocks and schedules ruled our days.

They know that they only need to reach their hands out a little ways for help, and I’ll be there.

Seeing Something of Myself in a “Boy” Disney Movie


Most of my screen time is spent watching shows and movies meant for kids. I am well-versed in the Phineas and Ferb universe. I have strong opinions about there being only one girl puppy in Paw Patrol. I can tell you how the man in the yellow hat exhibits extraordinary patience in Curious George, and that in a fit of frustration with my toddler I wished I could be more like him. I can quote The Lorax, Rio, Despicable Me, Cars and Frozen without trying. I will shut down viewing of any show I think is just rubbish, but I try to see what good there may be. So, when I went to go see Planes: Fire and Rescue in the movie theater, I was glad there was enough I could appreciate.

The protagonist crop-duster, Dusty Crophopper, spent the first Planes movie learning how to believe in himself and become a famous and successful aerial racer. He accomplishes his dream, and presumably will spend the rest of his life as a racer with greater and greater success. However, at the very beginning of the second movie Dusty has discovered that his gearbox is close to complete failure. It cannot be replaced or repaired. This sudden disability will prevent him from ever racing at competitive speeds again.

I didn’t expect to see that.

Dusty, reeling from being told he has limitations he needs to accept, defies medical advice and ends up seriously injuring himself. He keeps holding out hope that someone will be able to fix his gearbox, or find a new one, only to have his hopes dashed again and again. When he decides that he will go through training to become his town’s second certified fire fighter, he is stifled by his new limitations again and cannot keep himself from being distracted by his disability. Trying to find a new purpose in his life, adjusting his expectations of what his life will be and finding he might not be able to do this new job adequately, either, is overwhelming.

I don’t ever remember seeing a kids’ movie or show that explored what a person coping with a new diagnosis or medical problem might be feeling, or the mistakes they might make.

I have gone through nearly all of the emotions that Dusty has gone through, since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I have, in the past, decided to ignore medical advice and have pretended I was okay only to crash and burn. I have held out hope that maybe I actually had some other illness that could be somehow “fixed” or that there would be some miracle cure that would make me feel normal again. I’ve been unsure if I would ever be well enough to teach again. When I set my sights lower, thinking perhaps I could be a teacher’s aide, I felt unsure if I would be capable enough even for that. My boys have seen me go through it, though they wouldn’t be able to articulate it. Now they have a character and a movie I can refer back to when I need them to understand where I am coming from.

By the end of the movie, Dusty does get a custom-built, better-than-before gearbox. He is able, then, to fight epic fires and race, doing both jobs very successfully. I was a little disappointed that the writers didn’t trust that Dusty could still have a happy ending with a faulty gearbox. But, that they showed a character struggle with the new reality that a medical problem can bring, I was happy with that. I could probably be easily convinced to watch it again.

What is fair?


My oldest is complaining again, “It isn’t fair!”

Okay, I’ll bite. I ask back, “What isn’t fair?”

“You tell me ‘no’ all the time.”

“Well, of course you get told ‘no’ all the time. You ask for hundreds of things every week. If I said ‘yes’ to everything you ask for nothing else, literally nothing, would get done.”

“You never say yes.”

“Wait a minute-did we go bowling two weeks ago? Did we go fishing this week? Did we read the book you wanted to read? Did we put the Lego set together? Did we play poker? How did we do all those things, things that you wanted to do, if I never tell you ‘yes’?”

“But you never say ‘no’ to my brother.”

“That’s because he barely ever asks for ANYTHING! I say ‘yes’ to about three requests from each of you every week. Just because he only asks for three things a week and you ask for a hundred does not mean I am unfair. The percentage of time that I tell you ‘no’ is higher, but the actual number of times I say yes is exactly the same.”

His face softens and he tells me, “I guess…I guess I just feel disappointed.” His shoulders slump. I would have never argued with his younger brother this way, and I’m ashamed that I debated him until he had to admit that I was right and he was wrong. Whatever equations I’ve created in my mind to prove how fair I really am-how we spend equal measures of time, energy or money on each kid-I was totally unfair in how I responded to him. He is only seven, after all, and if he were his five-year-old brother I would have asked him gently why he felt the way he did. I wouldn’t have tried to crush him with statistics, ignoring his feelings.

But, I tell myself, they are different creatures. My oldest is the squeaky wheel, persistent about expressing his needs and not afraid to be argumentative when he is shut down. Eventually he can be persuaded by logic and resigns himself to reality. My youngest is silent about his thoughts and needs most of the time. When he finally does express himself it is a loud tantrum that he refuses to explain unless you gently, subtly try to coax a reason out of him. At least, that is how they normally operate.

I was talking to the boys the other day about how beautiful our trees have become this fall. We talked about the purple-red edged giants, the flaming orange stunners. The year before, when I drove my youngest to preschool, there was a whole street on our route that was lined with a particular type of tree. These trees had yellow-golden, tiny, tiny leaves that shook down like confetti. I asked if he remembered them. I then started going on and on about how red some bushes were by my oldest kid’s elementary school, and how they were so vivid I had to take a picture of them.

My youngest sighed then, and I asked him gently what led to that sigh. He looked resigned and sad and his brother and I were quiet enough that he actually spoke up.

“You must have liked the red leaves better.”


“No, sweetie, of course not. I like all of them. Why would you think I like them better?”

“Well, you never took a picture of my trees. They must not have been good enough.”

Here was my youngest, quietly speaking up for himself, quietly presenting me with evidence I couldn’t argue with (though if it had been my oldest, I surely would have tried). Me taking the time to record one tree, and not record the other, was the same as valuing the experiences I shared with his brother more than the experiences I shared with him. This was a way of being unfair I had never thought about, never accounted for, though it instantly made sense. Sharing the things we love, making sure we don’t forget them, making and preserving those memories together is very important.

I stalked those trees for weeks, working to get a picture of them fully golden with their glittering leaves shaking down. I wanted to make it right.

I apologized to my oldest for arguing with him so much.

I am trying, very hard, to be fair.

golden trees