When Mom Gets Out of the Way, Great Things

I have always subscribed to the idea that children should sometimes be left to (safely) fend for themselves. But I don't know that I've been very good at following through with the ideal. And then sometimes life intervenes to prove that mom should just get out of the way.

Last night I had a somewhat fussy dinner planned. (By which I mean fussy to prep and cook--not fancy on the plate.) But my first grader had other plans. "Can we carve a pumpkin?" It's a fair question. We have 30 of them piled up from this summer's garden, including volunteers from the compost pile.

But I really couldn't say yes. "Not now. I have to dice. I have to sauté." 

"Can I do it?"

Pause. "You can start. But really--that doesn't mean I can jump in and fix it if you have trouble."


We have a $4 set of plasticky pumpkin carving tools that I never would have bought had I not tried them at someone else's house, so this was a safe enough endeavor. I put his pumpkin on the counter and drew a circle around the top. Then I went back to my unpeeled garlic, my broccoli, the filleting of a turkey breast, a hot pan...

Over in the corner he labored. I sort of registered that he'd got the top off successfully. He found the compost can and began scooping pumpkin guts into it. (Therefore seeding next year's crop in the compost pile.)

"I'm going to do one of these designs," he said, holding a pumpkin face stencil book. 

"Uh huh." Sure you are. With dinner late, I thought the likelier scenario would be frustration and a meltdown. But I was busy. I'd forgotten to boil the water. I hadn't measured out my orzo. He had produced some scotch tape and scissors. He was taping bits of paper to the pumpkin. Can't hurt himself that way, I thought. But it will never work.

There were milks to pour, a pan sauce to make, and a side dish to season. Finally, I yelled "dinner's ready." And I looked at his pumpkin.

He'd done it.

He had traced around the shapes he'd cut out of the book. I don't know how he got around the tape. I don't know how he fit them all into that little space. I don't know how he cut out those eyes without tearing through to the rim. But by the time dinner hit the table, he had the eyes and nose cut out already.

"I'll do the mouth after," he said. And he did.

Without any help at all, the little man made this Jack-o-lantern. And his feelings of victory--at doing even this modest project from start to finish--were evident. "Nobody helped me," he said. "Now can I light the candle?"

Yes, honey. Yes you can. I will try not to interfere.