Confessions of a 4-H mother

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JoAnn Alumbaugh There is nothing like the county fair to bring out the best – and worst – in both participants and parents. Here is an article I wrote several years ago about my first experience as a 4-H Mom at the county fair. We’d love to hear your experiences!

A new era has begun. Our oldest son, Brent, started 4-H this year. Throughout the summer I shared his enthusiasm, recalling my own experiences as a 4-H member. The friends, the trips to new places, the fair – all the memories came rushing back like a patchwork quilt, lovingly pieced together.

Recently, Brent’s hard work culminated in the county fair. He had anticipated it for months, and I was excited about sharing this special time with him.

We loaded up his projects and headed to the fair. Everything seemed to go well. That is, until the hog show was about to begin.

Then it happened.

Almost unconsciously, I slipped into the role my own parents played so many years ago.

“Do you have your brush? Tuck in your shirt. Get rid of that gum. Now, make sure you keep the pig between you and the judge. And always keep your eye on the judge.”

With each statement, he moved a little further away. The moment there was a break in my staccato-like commands, he scurried off to a far corner of the barn.

That was okay. I knew I’d have another shot before he went into the ring. But time was running out. Only 20 minutes before his class. Should I check to see if his pigs are washed and ready to go? It was almost as if I were possessed – a driven, demonic 4-H mothering machine.

The judge was beginning to make his final sort in the class right before ours (uh, I mean Brent’s). Time for action. I headed down the alley purposefully, impervious to the glances of those around me. Yes, there he was, opening the gate to his pen. He started down the alley at a leisurely pace. “You’d better hurry up,” I urged. “There are already a lot of pigs in the show ring.”

He began moving more quickly. “Now just slow down,” I cautioned. “There’s no need to get in too big a hurry. Stay cool.”

I should have taken my own advice. But I couldn’t help it. I was on automatic pilot.

He finally made it to the ring, but the judge just wasn’t paying attention to his pig. “Brent,” I hissed from the sidelines, while glancing around to see if anyone had noticed my bizarre behavior. “Keep you pig moving, keep your hands off his back – and get rid of that gum!”

Was it this hard for my parents? I wanted to jump over the fence and help, or hit the judge with a spit wad so he would look toward my son’s pig.

My usual mild-mannered, calm demeanor was gone. In its place was a stressed-out bundle of nerves. Yet even a disgusted look from my spouse couldn’t deter me.

One class down, two to go. Before the second class, I cornered Brent like a fight manager in the boxing ring between rounds: “You really did a good job showing your pig.” Then the kicker: “Would you like to know how you could improve?”

Not particularly, I’m sure he said to himself. “I guess so,” he said to me, grudgingly.

All the information I’d been storing up for just this moment came gushing out like machine-gun fire. Brent waited patiently until I got it all out of my system, no doubt letting it go in one ear and out the other.

He didn’t have a champion pig, but he had a really good time as kids should at the fair. And he learned a lot.

I learned a lot too. Mainly, that I should try to keep my mouth shut. But also, that my children are growing up, and need to figure some things out on their own.

Plus, I have a list of helpful hints for next year:

Buy five 4-H shirts, one for each day of the fair. That way, you won’t spend every night washing one dirty, smelly 4-H shirt.

Get extra cash from the bank, and carry lots of ones and fives in your pocket. When your children are not busy, they’re eating fair food.

Don’t arrive at the fair too early on show day. That way you’re prevented from giving all those last minute instructions they don’t want in the first place.

Start preparations early to eliminate that last-minute rush. I know this is a joke, but it sounds good. When I was in 4-H, at least one of the ‘H’s’ stood for “Hurry!” As a mother, another stands for “Help!”

I’m hopeful that I’ll “settle in” to this new role as a 4-H mother. My family certainly hopes I will. Two boys will be in 4-H next year, so that means I’ll need to “counsel” the younger one, and probably hold a “refresher course” for the older one. That is, unless someone has the good sense to stop me.

In honor of this interesting year, I hereby propose a pledge for 4-H mothers: We pledge our head to clearer thinking, to keep from giving all that unsolicited advice; our hears to greater loyalty, to stay out of our children’s way as they learn the good and bad of competition; our hands to larger service, like working in the food stand, or covering our mouths while children show their projects; and our health to better living, which will surely improve if we won’t get so stressed-out at the county fair.

All said and done, our first year of 4-H was a success. Brent says, “I can’t wait to do it again!”

Neither can I.


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Lori S    
MN  |  July, 30, 2013 at 09:51 AM

As a 4-H Mom I can relate to the experiences in the blog. As time goes on, you realize that less is more. The less coaching and "hovering" you do, the more the kids learn to do it themselves. While they might not always do it right, at least they are learning by doing, which is the 4-H way. One thing I always appreciate about fair week is that it teaches my kids and myself how to deal with pressure and to think on your toes and to be ready for plan B. Mmm, that rather sounds like everyday life.

Paul Meers    
Smithville Mo.  |  July, 30, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Our daughter was the oldest our son 3 years younger. When they were both in 4H I made sure they were never in the same class. Daughter showed purebred gilts and crossbred barrows. Son showed crossbred gilts and purebred barrows. Regardless of the outcome young son always told me: "You always give my sister the best pigs!!" He just found it hard to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. I guess Dad's will always have a soft spot for their daughter!

JoAnn    
Iowa  |  July, 30, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Lori, i.e. "less is more," that's so true, though easier said than done. As our children grow up and become adults, the mantra becomes even more evident. Another great saying that fits in this discussion, and one that I try to remember frequently, is this: Life is a balance between holding on and letting go. Letting our kids learn these things on their own, both the good and bad, exposes them to reality and prepares them for life - we discover our "sheltering" or "protecting" them denies them the experience. Probably more than enough philosophy for one day!

Cathy Beach    
Benton County  |  July, 30, 2013 at 02:43 PM

All I can say is "did you have a camera pointed at me" all I could do was laugh as I was shaking my head up & down!!! This is our 3rd year, our daughter Chelsie Mae knows its just mom in mom mood & she has learned or should I say her goats have learned that I'm a true "stage mom" & it's just part of them learning to love me FAULTS & ALL!!!! Thank you for sharing

Glen    
Iowa  |  July, 30, 2013 at 03:16 PM

Sure brings back good thoughts thats why the parents want there children to have the same. Our time and our children's time at fair's proved to be educational and also rewarding. Know mater how it was planed the youngest often came out on top but age prevailed in showmanship. Our two girls and our son made Mom and Dad proud every year, some times for being good hard working caretakers . The older they where the less Mom and Dad did and that was good for them, and for us to see. Proud to say life is good raising children on the farm , with daily chores .

Glen    
Iowa  |  July, 30, 2013 at 03:16 PM

Sure brings back good thoughts thats why the parents want there children to have the same. Our time and our children's time at fair's proved to be educational and also rewarding. Know mater how it was planed the youngest often came out on top but age prevailed in showmanship. Our two girls and our son made Mom and Dad proud every year, some times for being good hard working caretakers . The older they where the less Mom and Dad did and that was good for them, and for us to see. Proud to say life is good raising children on the farm , with daily chores .

Justine K    
Timber Lake, SD  |  July, 30, 2013 at 05:15 PM

I loved this entire article. I have children of my own now and they aren't quite able to be a part of 4-H yet but I can totally relate to this whole article. I hope and pray that the South Dakota 4-H program is able to continue after the major cuts it has experienced over the past 3 years. 4-H'ers and 4-H mom's are one of a kind and communities need these programs! Thanks for the great laughs today!

Sue    
August, 01, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Great...made me laugh. I could watch my kids play sports all day long without a peep but a livestock or horse show makes me a bundle of nerves. I have learned I sometimes can't even watch, I have to walk away to keep my mouth shut. Maybe because on a sports team they have a coach...with livestock we are their coach. I think there should be a special viewing area just for livestock show moms.... with soundproof glass!

Amy    
Washtenaw county, mi  |  August, 01, 2013 at 11:11 AM

So true. First yr. mom and I was doing the same thing. My girl to me to step back and she can do it. And she did. My boy still lets me help, so one day he'll do the same. We are here to support our kids in 4-H or FFA. If we give them the skills, they will use them.

Amy    
Washtenaw county, mi  |  August, 01, 2013 at 11:11 AM

So true. First yr. mom and I was doing the same thing. My girl to me to step back and she can do it. And she did. My boy still lets me help, so one day he'll do the same. We are here to support our kids in 4-H or FFA. If we give them the skills, they will use them.

Joyce    
Iowa  |  August, 01, 2013 at 11:14 PM

You forgot to add: What was your goal? How did you go about accomplishing your goal? What did you learn as a result of your goal? What ideas or plans do you have for the future based on what you have learned or discovered? In Iowa, they are the summer guidelines for creative writing! They should be printed and framed along with the snapshot of my kitchen sink piled high with bowls, beaters, spoons, baking pans, etc. Evidently the goal was not to leave the kitchen in the same condition it was when the foods exhibits were being prepared!!

Susan S    
Kiowa, Colorado  |  December, 30, 2013 at 09:48 AM

This 4H mom is entering her last year in 4H. I have watched three children pack those show boxes for the last 14 years. Being a "city" girl, I hardly knew what 4H was when we began. Was I always the model 4H mom? No, I must confess I had my moments where it became my competition rather than theirs, but I learned eventually. What I remember the most was all the time I was able to spend with my children, all the happy moments and the disappointments. We learned and grew together. It is time that can never be taken away from us. We ran the gamut of projects - market steer, hog and sheep, breeding poultry, and swine, horse, shooting sports, range management, financial champions, decorate your duds, fashion revue, woodworking, cake decorating, livestock quiz bowl, livestock judging, and prepared and impromptu speech. What did my children get out of 4H? They learned responsibility, priority, respect, commitment, communication skills, leadership, service, and they gained a lifetime of friendship. 4H has taken my children across the United States and through Europe. It has literally provided one of them with a college education and the other two with many financial gifts towards their education. 4H has kept them grounded and focused on "the prize". One of the main lessons I hope they have learned is that they were given so much by so many through this program, that I hope in their lifetimes they too give back even more. Am I sad to see it all end? Of course. I won't lie and say that I am not a tired 4H mom, but hopefully I am not done in this organization that has given my family so much. I would travel the world touting the gifts that 4H brings to families. I'm not ready to close that barn door quite yet.

JoAnn    
Iowa  |  December, 30, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Susan, thanks so much for your response - it is appreciated. I have to say that 4-H played a role in getting me to where I am today as well, in addition to offering wonderful opportunities for my children. The "responsibility, respect and commitment" are particularly meaningful as life skills to be valued. Have a wonderful holiday season and thank you again.

Cyndie    
Tillamook, OR  |  January, 19, 2014 at 03:37 PM

Thank you for this post I to laughed out loud and had to share it with my husband. Who has to experience this with me each and every year at fair. See not only am I the fair mom ... I am the 4-H leader of a livestock group. Who with each new member runs the whole gambit their first time going into the ring. I grew up doing 4-H then all 4 of my sons have been in 4-H and FFA and for the last 8 years I have been their 4-H leader. I am at ring side with each member as they show, in the pens before hand checking animals and members a like. I plan on sharing this post with the parents of my new/first time members when they ask what to expect at fair. Thank You.


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