Pumpkinhead

For several months now, Charlie has been infatuated with the 1990s television show, Goosebumps. Based on the book series of the same name by R.L. Stine, the TV episodes are low-budget, poorly scripted and completely outdated in both costume and popular reference. It doesn’t matter to Charlie. He found the series on Netflix this past winter and has watched every show available. (There was a fancy movie version released last year and we have seen it but Charlie does not prefer the updated Jack Black version. Too current, too high definition.)

Charlie’s love for Goosebumps was so consuming that it even propelled him to put pen to paper, a task that Charlie finds rather loathsome and tedious. He stayed up late one night earlier this year carefully crafting his own Goosebumps fan fiction starring his favorite show’s characters. I was okay with the moderately scary storylines if the whole thing got Charlie interested in a. writing and b. reading and c. something OTHER THAN fighting with his brother over Nerf bullets.

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Then, on a seemingly unrelated note this past spring, Charlie began talking about planting pumpkin seeds.

“You want to plant a garden?” I asked. “No,” came the reply. “Just pumpkins. I want to plant pumpkins.”

Charlie became laser focused on growing pumpkins. It was all he could talk about.

Since I greatly dislike gardening of any kind I, at first, tried to dissuade Charlie from planting pumpkin seeds. Planting pumpkin seeds seemed like it might be kind of complicated and probably involved soil that was dirty and possibly weeding something and definite contact with bugs and all of that is just simply not my jam. In a last ditch effort at redirecting his endeavor, I may or may not have told him that you needed a permit from the city to plant pumpkins. (I’m not super proud of this but it was the last couple of weeks of school and my head was under water.)

Hitting a roadblock with me, Charlie then approached Bob with his entire pumpkin plan and because Bob is the Fun Parent, the Yes Parent, Bob promptly drove Charlie to the hardware store in town to purchase pumpkin seeds. The two of them carefully chose a window box-like container, added some potting mix, planted the seeds and away we went: Charlie as pumpkin farmer.

Charlie tenderly watered his potted seeds as needed, checking for change daily when he returned home from school. And, honestly, much to my surprise, right before we left for vacation in June, little green shoots appeared. Charlie was ecstatic! I didn’t know it at the time but his plan was taking shape.

We left the window box full of baby pumpkin plants in the trusted care of neighbors for the week we were in South Carolina. Charlie went over the strict care and watering instructions with our friends and with a certain amount of trepidation, he bid his pumpkin plants farewell.

When we returned, we were wholly surprised to see that the pumpkin plants were absolutely BURSTING from the window box. For a brief minute, I entertained the idea that our neighbors had somehow managed to kill the old pumpkin plants in a week’s time and done some kind of panicked switcheroo with much more mature pumpkin plants. Sort of like what you would do if a beloved goldfish belonging to your child died and a direct replacement was proffered before anyone was the wiser. However, (after admitting that they had, indeed, thought of a Plan B in the case of an untimely pumpkin plant demise on their watch), our neighbors assured us that they had not done anything more than follow Charlie’s careful instructions.

With the window box at maximum capacity, it became readily apparent that the pumpkin plants needed more room. They were not thriving in such a small space. So, Bob and Charlie scoped out the perfect spot near our basement steps and went about relocating the pumpkin plants. This involved trips to the local feed store for fencing and stakes and all manner of pumpkin support and protection items. We were all nervous that the trauma of new ground would just be too much for the tender little plants but we really had nothing to fear. The pumpkins did just fine.

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In fact, they did better than just fine. They thrived.

When it became apparent that this venture of Charlie’s might actually prove successful, I asked him what he had planned for his pumpkins. I assumed he had remembered something from school about roasting pumpkin seeds or making pumpkin pies but he instead informed me that he wanted to make a scary jack-o’-lantern.

“Oh, for the front porch, bud? For Halloween?” I asked. “That’s a great idea.”

“Well, yes for Halloween but not for the front porch,” Charlie said. “The jack-o’-lantern is for my head.”

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Charlie’s plan had come full circle.

Charlie explained that, for Halloween, he intended to dress up as a scary jack-o’-lantern just like a character found in one of his favorite Goosebumps stories and the pumpkins he was growing were meant to complete his costume. He would wait patiently while a pumpkin grew on the vine, then he would pick it, clean it out, carve out the scary face and terrorize the neighborhood.

I absolutely commend his foresight and am incredibly impressed with his ability to plan.

I, however, have doubts about if these pumpkins can grow to a useful size.

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Hand for scale.

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Hand for scale.

If these little pumpkins don’t get a move-on, we might still yet have to pull a switcheroo, come the end of October, with something of a more suitable size.

And, in the ultimate Goosebumps-like finale to this tale, the pumpkin plants appear to be taking over our yard, our railing and our basement steps, reaching their long tendrils and big leaves straight for the house. This is the current view from my bedroom window. It’s only a matter of time before our house is consumed. It’s like something straight out of a horror show.

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That’s a Wrap

And, just like that, another school year has come to a close.

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That’s a rising second grader on the left, a rising fifth grader on the right and a never-misses-a-good-party Pre-K’er in the middle (at least she’s consistent).

These last six weeks of school were especially busy. There were just SO MANY details to keep track of. It seemed like a race to fit in as many activities and outings and meetings before the big summer break. Here, I made you a handy chart that summarizes what it all looked like:

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This chart fails to show my cookie consumption and how it closely follows the trajectory of blue and red lines.

I am relieved that we are on the other side of school and that our schedules will be, well, less scheduled for the summer months.

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Not shown: last day of school coonskin cap.

Look, I know it’s in poor taste to brag but take a seat, because I’m going to brag about Henry for a minute. As part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) for fourth grade students, Henry took part in a “Race to the Governor’s House,” a nine-week intensive study of Virginia state history. Each week, Henry would study a new set of flash cards covering topics ranging from geography to trade to persons of historical significance. Then, he would take a test on those topics. His performance was pitted against the performance of his classmates in the race.

The competition amongst the fourth graders was intense, this we knew. Henry would update us weekly on his position in the race and explained that the whole thing was coming down to him and two other friends. When we headed to the school for the special Race to the Governor’s House awards ceremony, we were a little anxious since we knew how excited he was for the final results. When Henry took home first place, we were elated.

Now, here’s where I admit that, overall, Bob and I were pretty hands-off with this race stuff. We tend to focus a lot of our homework completion laser eyes on Charlie so Henry runs mostly on auto-pilot. I signed the slip giving Henry permission to participate in the race (probably because that was all the way back in March), I saw the flash cards that Henry would bring home and I occasionally quizzed him on the topics covered. But, we really didn’t realize just how hard he was studying for this or just how diligent he was in taking the tests. Because, to our complete surprise, Henry won the Race to the Governor’s House by correctly answering 31 questions each on 9 separate exams. He answered 279 questions out of 279 questions correctly. His teacher pointed out that they weren’t multiple choice questions, either. Most questions were open-ended where he had to write in the answers from, like, his own brain. He had to really, really know a lot about Virginia history. He aced the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING.

We are so proud of his accomplishment. Henry is, too.

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I posit that nerd trophies are WAY better than sports trophies.

We have a lot of fun plans for this summer and I’m enjoying how much easier it is to explore and investigate and travel now that the kids are a bit older. Our adventures are more enjoyable with each passing year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still settle an innumerable amount of sibling arguments each day, spend a good portion of the time wondering how much screen time is really too much screen time and count down the August days until they return to their classrooms but, until then, you’ll find me lazily sleeping in until 6:30 in the morning. I know, YAY SUMMERTIME!

The Big City

When I moved to the Washington metro area in 2002, I was determined to live in the city proper. Not over the state line in Maryland, nor across the Potomac River in Virginia. I wanted to live in the District of Columbia. I had accepted a new job that would have me working at the U.S. Department of State’s main building close to the National Mall and I had it fixed in my mind that I should be able to walk to work. I remember thinking at the time that if I was going to work in the city, I should live there, too.

My housing search landed me a studio apartment on Massachusetts Avenue, right off of Scott Circle. Rent for my new space took one entire paycheck, of the two I received each month, and the apartment building was in desperate need of both a renovation and an expert exterminator. But, I was living in the city! I had done it! I had somehow navigated my way from northern Indiana to downtown Washington, D.C. I was twenty-seven years old.

I really enjoyed living in the city, too. Everything was convenient. Most things were within walking distance. There was a sidewalk cafe where I could sit and read, a little mart where I could buy a few groceries, a book store close by where I took on a part-time job. It was charming being a part of the constant hum of such a storied city like the nation’s capital. Very Mary-Tyler-Moore-with-the-hat-toss kind of a thing.

Sure, there were less savory aspects of city life. Like my neighbor that I’m pretty sure hadn’t left the confines of our apartment building in decades, relying on mysterious, oddly-timed deliveries for subsistence. Or, that one time I was talking with my friend on my cell phone while hoofing it to my job at the book store and a random guy started hitting me over the head with his umbrella. That was definitely a bit off-putting. Hey, it’s the city. People are ECCENTRIC in the city.

But, I loved walking to work. My thirty minute commute home from Foggy Bottom took me through parts of George Washington University, past the World Bank and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where I would cut over past Blair House through Lafayette Square Park to walk north on 16th Street to my apartment building.

Lafayette Square Park fronts the north side of the White House which, without the three story facade of the south side and sweeping South Lawn and Ellipse, is probably the less iconic side of the historic building. In fact, it looks rather unimposing when viewed from H Street, which runs past Lafayette Square. It just looks like another old house with a really nice fence and beefed up security. I always found it sort of otherworldly to walk right past this compact epicenter of American politics, all casual like on a daily basis. It’s odd to find yourself living in a place that previously had only existed in your mind in scenes from television or pictures in textbooks, the scale abruptly adjusted from your imagination.

Other people were just as surprised at the modesty of the White House from that vantage point, too. I remember standing at the corner of H Street and Lafayette Square, waiting to cross at the light when an SUV with Michigan plates pulled up and stopped right in front of me. The passenger rolled down their window and said, “Excuse me. Is that… the White House? Right there?” I replied, “Yes, it is,” and watched as the small scale of such a huge place registered. “Wow. It’s so… tiny,” they exclaimed before driving away.

The entirety of Washington seems a lot like that. All of these amazing places and historic buildings and important people that are also just places and buildings and people.

Four months after moving into my apartment in the city, I fell in love with Bob and not too much longer after that, I unceremoniously relocated to the suburbs, far away from the White House.

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I had a chance last month to show Charlie the White House when he won a ticket to the Easter Egg Roll through his elementary school. I was excited to head back to the big city and so was Charlie. Obviously.

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We arrived at the White House to find extra long wait times since the festivities were closed for a bit while they sorted out an active shooter situation near the U.S. Capital (this is America in 2016). We eventually made our way through the lines and the crowds and found ourselves on the South Lawn. Charlie wore a button down shirt and tie (clip-on, of course) for the occasion.

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After wandering the grounds for a bit, just relishing where we were, we made our way to the main event, the Easter Egg Roll. Charlie came in last place but I would argue that there are no losers when you’re playing a lawn game with the White House in the background.

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By the time we headed to the bus for the drive back west, it was dusky outside. Traffic was lighter and our drive down Constitution Avenue took us along the National Mall where the monuments were lit up for the night. That’s the best time to visit them, in the evening. It was great fun to point out the same places to Charlie that I found so awe-inspiring when I lived in the city.

More time in D.C. is planned for our upcoming summer adventures. Fifty miles from here to there is far but not that far. Maybe I’ll take the kids to Lafayette Square Park and marvel at just how much my life has changed in the past fourteen years.