Confessions of a 4-H mother

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.