“This is so not how I pictured it going in my head.” Have you ever been in the middle of an epic mom fail moment, shaking your head and saying this to yourself?
Oh, I sure have, and I don’t know about you, but the holiday season seems to bring on a next-level expectation and drive to produce some perfectly Instagrammable moments for my family. You know, the kind where festive music is playing, holiday projects are finished, and everyone is smiling and happy so you snap a picture to post on social media so everyone will rise up to praise you and call you blessed. Which is all fine and well when things go as planned, but when it doesn’t, look out, because the mom-fail blues are a real holiday buzz kill.
Now, before I tell you about the Great Jack-O-Lantern Fail of 2013, I have a confession to make. I love the holiday season. I go just a teensy-weensy overboard with decorating and planning. When the first cold snap of fall hits, something awakens in me and I get busy transforming our space into all things cozy and pumpkin-y! My family takes it all in with wide-eyed wonder, except for my snarky teenage daughter, who usually remarks, “It looks like Hobby Lobby exploded in here,” to which I shrug and happily reply, “Well, thank you!”
Once all the decorating is done, my mind fills with ways we can enjoy the fall season as I picture happy moments with my kids: hiking, sitting around the bonfire drinking hot cocoa and making s’mores, carving pumpkins, and trick-or-treating! This particular year, I decided that our first Halloween to-do was creating the perfect Jack-O-Lanterns for our front porch. I could just picture it—my darling kids proudly sitting on the steps next to the pumpkins they carved with their matching toothy grins and happy glimmer in their eyes. Oh yes, that is the moment I was going for, but it is so not the moment I got.
Listen, if I’m going to bare all here and tell this story, you might as well learn a few things from it. I think we can all agree that removing pumpkin guts is not very glamorous, but once you get past the drama of orange mush and sticky hands, the end result is totally worth it. In this case, my first mistake was not doing away with those lovely pumpkin innards. So, put down your pumpkin spice latte and listen very carefully: throw the guts away. Quickly! Do not leave them sitting in the pan on the table, because the temptation is real.
My second mistake was in thinking that the flimsy little knives in the kit I bought at the dollar store would actually work. Which leads me directly to my third mistake: assuming my nine-year-old daughter and six-year-old son would sit like perfect little angels while I slipped inside to grab a few real knives. Oh, how naïve I was…
Put down your pumpkin spice latte and listen very carefully: holiday plans never go as planned. It’s not just you.
I came back outside just in time to duck and miss a handful of pumpkin guts soaring through the air. In less than two minutes, my little darlings discovered that it was real fun to see what surfaces the mush and seeds would stick to. I tried to stay calm and get them refocused on the task of slicing and carving our way back into holiday bliss until my son quickly lost interest. I took over while he skipped around scooping up more pumpkin guts and tossing them around. My daughter started squealing, the dogs started barking, and my neighbor came over to see what in the world was going on.
It was escalating quickly, but I kept trying to remain focused on the end goal. “You’ll love to see your Jack-O-Lantern all lit up on Halloween! Keep going!” I encouraged them.
All My Holiday Expectations Came Crumbling Down Around Me
My daughter took a hit of orange mush to the hair, and she was officially done. Thankfully, I convinced her to drop the knife before she ran after her brother.
Y’all, I was feverishly carving away and my kids were having the time of their lives! There were pumpkin guts everywhere. More squealing, more barking, and my poor neighbor stared shifting back and forth on her feet looking like she was debating between staying to watch this train wreck or making a quick escape…yeah, me too, lady. Me too.
At one point, in the middle of the chaos, I felt a tear roll down my cheek (or was that pumpkin goo?) and I had that sobering realization: “This is not at all how I pictured it going.”
But listen, I am not a quitter and still had the goal of picture-worthy Jack-O-Lanterns, so I wiped the goo from my eye, channeled my inner pumpkin surgeon, and finished my son’s pumpkin. And you know what? It turned out pretty well, despite all the craziness around me. I’m one eye into my daughter’s pumpkin when a glorious thing happened. The guts stopped flying, the heavens opened, and the angels sang as I savored the moment of watching my son oo’ing and ahh’ing over how his pumpkin had turned out.
This Is What I Wish I Could Say to My Younger Self
My heart quickly soared, and I started thinking maybe this wasn’t going to be such a mom-fail after all.
I didn’t even have time to whip out my phone and snap a pic of this happy moment because he decided that he loved his Jack-O-Lantern so much he wanted to give it hug—and not just a cute, little, soft squeeze. Oh no, he went into full send, bear-hug mode and smooshed the perfectly carved face in. Happy giggles turned into distraught wails (from both of us) as we grieved the loss of his beloved pumpkin, effectively laying to rest all hopes of what I had wanted this perfect Halloween moment to be.
No longer finding a pulse on this project, I put down my knife and called the time of death. The neighbor lady made a quiet exit, the dogs no longer had anything to bark at, and I just couldn’t bring myself to finish the other pumpkin. So I scooped up my gooey, sobbing boy and went inside to make supper. I remember being so grumpy and short-fused with my kids because all I had was Smoosh-faced Willy and One-eyed Jack with their guts sprinkled all over my front porch and sidewalk for the next couple of weeks to remind me of what a failure I was at this holiday fun thing.
So here I am now, seven years later with teenagers who are too cool for carving pumpkins, and I can’t help but wish I could sit down with that young Mom I was then to share a pumpkin spice latte and some heartfelt advice.
Let’s Remind One Another That Present Is Better Than Perfect
Sister, as the holidays draw closer and the expectations rise, focus more on being present in the moment and less on perfection for the picture. Check your intentions—as I recall this story, it’s clear that I went into this with a “Hey, look at me!” motivation when all my kids wanted was, “Hey Mom! Come play with me!” I have learned that my kids don’t remember the pictures I post on Facebook as much as they remember the laughter and joy in the moments that we abandon all plans or expectations and just enjoy being together.
Put down the knife, scoop up a handful of goo, and join in the fun! Savor the crazy moments because your kids will grow up all too quickly. I would also encourage you to proudly display the failed holiday attempts as much as the perfect ones because you never know, there may be another Momma out there who needs to see that she’s not the only one who feels like she doesn’t measure up to the Insta-worthy holiday posts.
Oh, and if you carve your kid a Jack-O-Lantern, just don’t let him hug it.
Motherhood isn’t perfect, but you can still enjoy it. Here are the things to treasure, and the things you can let go of: Rest Easy Moms, Here Are the Things That Matter – 102