Our daughter Josephine was born on October 30, the day before Halloween, arguably the second most popular holiday on the American calendar. She didn't particularly mind that her birthday party theme was pretty much forced upon her, and as she go older our annual birthday bash grew each year, culminating in a 6th grade costume dance party for 60+ of her friends. That was the year I turned our lawn into a graveyard featuring tombstone-party favors personalized with the death of each of our guests.
But the true glory of these parties -- in my humble opinion -- were the dozens of jack-o-lanterns I would carve each year. It started when she turned 2 with 10 cute little sugar pumpkins lined up on our mantle piece, each with a unique facial expression, an annual menagerie that grew over the years to some 40 squash that came to litter the lawn, line the driveway, crowd onto the balcony, and even nestle in the branches of trees.
My jack carving carried over into the classroom where I've typically taken a knife to 10 pumpkins each year, letting the children chose the faces (e.g., sad, happy, angry) and the shapes of the facial features (e.g., triangle, circle, square). I'm a fast carver, capable of producing a completed jack at a pace of about one every 10 minutes during my assembly line efforts. I'm a big fan of those cheap little pumpkin saws they sell in the supermarkets around this time of year.
They really hasten things along, although they're not the sturdiest of tools, the blades often snapping off inside the pumpkins when I got carried away with my need for speed. I'd typically go through a half dozen or so during each carving season.
But in class we took our time, considering what might be inside, handling the seeds and pith, and generally carrying on a conversation. It's one of my favorite annual activities, carving those jacks for the kids, which were then displayed, fully lit, in our garden during the Halloween party.
I got started last week with the Pre-3 class. They speculated that we would find popcorn inside. As I carved, however, I found myself noticing just how dull the blades on those saws are. They cut the pumpkins just fine, but try as I might, I was unable to break my own skin with them. That's when I realized that this was something the children ought to be doing themselves.
That poor jack is getting stabbed repeatedly. I've done that
before -- very gratifying.
For the last two days, the 3-5's have turned our workbench into a pumpkin carving station. Most of them have needed some adult assistance, but they were all able to achieve some level of competence, and no one hurt herself, even when more than one kid was working on the same jack. As Violet said, "I got cut a little, but it didn't even hurt or bleed."
We then fed our pith and seeds to the worms. Charlotte said, "The pumpkin will be their dessert."
A few of the kids also tried out hammering 4" nails into a pumpkin.
But the real excitement was around the carving. Many of our 8 jacks wound up with multiple faces.
I'm particularly fond of this tiny face, one that clearly needed no adult assistance.
Josephine hasn't celebrated her birthday with a Halloween party for the last two years, and because of the way our house is situated, we won't even get any trick-or-treaters, so there has been no call for me to employ by prodigious carving skills. Last year I employed them exclusively at the preschool.
This year, I've turned even that job over to the kids, although I saved one last one for myself which I will carve today for the 2-year-olds. At least they still need me.