Autumn has long been my favorite season. Trips to the pumpkin patch have always held a certain charm for me. And although my husband mocks me mercilessly, I still get excited when it’s time to pick out chunky sweaters and thick, hand-knit scarves for the trip.
When the kids were little, it was a pilgrimage. We’d spend the entire day picking apples, drinking cider, eating candy corn, searching for the perfect pumpkin in our Charlie Brown patch. And although in my memory, those days are flawless, idyllic; in reality, they also housed their share of drama and angst. Too many bees, lots of panic, inevitable tears when a fat, yellow one landed drunkenly in a lukewarm cup of cider. Pumpkins that were mushy on one side or too big for one set of tiny twig arms to carry alone. The occasional pick that took a good thirty minutes of intense searching — the one that then rolled off the tractor and splattered on the hard ground on our way back to the barn. Cold mornings that transformed into hot days, sweat running down our backs and dampening the necklines of our flannel shirts as we filled our apple bags.
But those days, even rife with tears and broken pumpkin dreams, were good. They were full and special and heavy with happiness. They were sticky, plump hands in mine; noses red from sun and wind; half-eaten Honey Crisps shoved into pockets; gleeful, triumphant cries of, “Mommy! MOMMY! I found it! THIS ONE!”
This year will, undoubtedly, be different. We, as a family, are different. That happens in families — the growth, the forward-movement, the unstoppable march of time. I noticed when we moved into our new home there were four brick pillars in our front yard, standing about three feet high, anchoring the wrought iron fence that leads to our front door. I said excitedly as we schlepped moving boxes into the entryway, “Look! It’s perfect! There’s a pillar for each of you! One pillar for each of your October pumpkins!” But it was July, so my kids rolled their eyes and wiped the sweat from their brows. Pumpkins were the furthest things from their minds. They wanted Vitamin Water, salt and vinegar chips, a comfy couch, and a gaming system that connected them virtually to the faraway friends they’d just left behind.
This year, it’s safe to assume there won’t be an all-day trip to the pumpkin patch in our well-coordinated autumnal outfits. If I can convince the youngest two to accompany me, it will be a coup. The high schoolers, I’m certain, will have lacrosse games and XBox challenges to conquer instead.
My well-planned and highly-anticipated pumpkin patch trips have become wearisome for my tribe. There are new things for them to focus on now — school dances to look forward to, texts to send, football games to attend, music to discover on Spotify. But the memories of our pumpkin patch extravaganzas? Those will remain. They will abide.
I’ll still go, though. I’ll wait for the coldest morning possible, and I’ll layer up. Cordy — my favorite pumpkin patch shirt of days gone by — has long been retired, but there are others to take her place. I’m sure what I choose will have tones of brown and orange. I’ll find gourds and Indian corn to decorate our home. I’ll pick four perfectly carve-able pumpkins — because no teen or tween can resist the thought of wielding a sharpened knife and digging through pumpkin innards — and I’ll fill the car to bursting with mums in every color imaginable.
Perhaps this year, instead of pumpkins, I’ll use my pillars for those mums instead — mums in lovely shades of red, yellow, and orange. And I’ll look at them every day, a reminder that sometimes, plans change and always, kids grow. And that it’s my job to find a viable Plan B when Plan A has lost its appeal. Those mums will be beautiful in their pillared glory. They won’t be the pumpkins I envisioned, but they’ll be perfect just the same. Mums are not pumpkins. Teens are not toddlers.
I love this phase of my life, these ages of my kids. There’s no desire to keep them little, to relive their childhoods. They are doing what they’re supposed to do — growing, changing, reaching, sprouting wings. It’s just that sometimes — like a fast-paced movie plot with a variety of twists and turns — it all moves a little too quickly for me. And I’m left leaning over to Chris, whispering in his ear, “What just happened? What did I miss?” And he sighs and takes my buttery popcorn hand in his. I know he’ll explain it all to me later while we’re lying side by side, matching reading glasses on, in our king-sized bed. He’s so good at helping me see, at helping me remember. These are not years of regret that are passing so swiftly. They’re just years.
And I have to remind myself that as much as I love autumn and the cool crisp of the evenings, that eventually, winter will arrive. And it will blanket all my beautiful, crunchy, multi-hued leaves with a quiet transcendence. It will creep up in the night, stealthily, silently. I’ll wake up early one morning, unexpected, unknowing into the hush of a white winter darkness. Chris will bring my coffee to me, hot and lightened with just a touch of cream, because after 19 years of marriage, that’s what he still does, every morning. He’ll stand behind me, silently, as we look out the window and anticipate the promise of the coming day. Steam will rise from our mugs and warm our still-waking hands, and I’ll whisper with a hushed reverence as I rest the back of my head on his pajamaed chest, “Look. Snow.”