Starting back in August, my daughters began planning their Halloween costumes. At first, my six-year-old told me she wanted to be a vampire. Two hours later, she reconsidered that frightening getup and told me she wanted to be a beautiful princess. An hour after that, she changed her mind again. My oldest daughter is “totally over” cute costumes and pretty consistent when it comes to her yearly ensemble. As long as we have gray makeup available so she can transform her beautiful face into a hideous zombie of some sort, she’s happy. 

As the days began to get cooler and yellow and orange leaves fluttered from the trees, I broke the news to my girls that Halloween — like every other special day since March — was going to be different this year. I watched as their sweet faces clouded over with disappointment when I told them that two of their favorite local events, Carve for the Carillon and the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, had been canceled. Each year, they look forward to carving pumpkins and bundling up to wander the pathways through Washington Park, lined with glowing jack-o-lanterns of all shapes and sizes. Telling them that this wasn’t happening felt like a small betrayal to their childhood. They’ve missed out on so much this year already, and I wanted to be able to give them something to look forward to, but I wasn’t sure what to do. 

Then when I heard that Bomke’s Patch, Prairie Farms Dairy and Springfield Park District had come together with Illinois Times to sponsor a pumpkin carving contest, I couldn’t wait to tell my girls. The news may not have completely erased their sadness, but it definitely lifted their spirits, and when I told them that we had received a special invitation to go pumpkin picking at Bomke’s a few days before it opened to the public, they were thrilled.  

Being fairly new to Springfield, my family had never been to Bomke’s, but as we pulled into the parking lot, it was easy to see why this magical place is the ultimate pumpkin-picking destination. The windswept hills, glorious rows of golden sunflowers and giant patch of ready-to-pick pumpkins gave us an immediate rush of happiness. As we climbed out of the car, we were greeted by Jessica Podamy, one of Bomke’s friendly owners, and her darling daughter, Lena. While Podamy filled me in on the history of Bomke’s, the kids ran off to explore the irresistible play area that is packed with games, play equipment and a legendary bubble-blowing machine. 

Once everyone finished playing, Podamy drove us into the pumpkin patch and we turned the kids loose to choose their pumpkins. It was a perfect fall day, and as we stood back and watched the children dash from giant pumpkin to giant pumpkin, my husband and I couldn’t help but feel hopeful that Halloween wasn’t going to be ruined after all. 

We left Bomke’s loaded down with an array of beautiful pumpkins, a giant bouquet of sunflowers and an acute awareness of the changing of seasons. The long afternoon shadows stretched across the fields and there was a crispness in the air that hadn’t been there a few days before. As we turned to wave at the Podamy family, we were filled with a sense of gratitude for a day well spent. 

A few nights ago, we brought our pumpkins inside and placed them on the kitchen table. While I carefully carved a hole in the top of each pumpkin and began to hollow them out, the kids played a ghoulish playlist on Alexa, setting the mood for the occasion. Traditionally, we are strictly a silly face jack-o-lantern family, but this year, because we’re taking part in an actual contest, I decided to let the girls try their hands at something spooktacular. I watched in amazement as they chose intricate patterns from a pumpkin carving booklet, taped them onto their pumpkins, and carefully carved their gourds into impressive works of art. My two-year-old son was content to watch his sisters work and bob his head along to “The Monster Mash,” but when it was time to place the unlit candles into the jack-o-lanterns, we gave him the honor. 

There’s a saying that if Plan A doesn’t work, there are still 25 more letters in the alphabet.  Yes, traditions are important; they give us a sense of belonging, help keep track of the swift passing time and provide us with cherished memories. Just as important, though, is remembering that like the seasons, life is always changing. Our ability to adapt to these changes is crucial to our happiness and may be the reason our kids develop the confidence to take their pumpkin-carving skills to a whole new level.

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