It’s county fair week in my corner of Nebraska. Like many farm (and city!) families, it’s a week of celebrating many months (or years) of hard work on projects such as cooking, sewing, rocket launching and animal raising. I am sharing an article I wrote for Her View From Home a few years ago as a reminder of WHY – why we spend countless evenings mingling with stinky animals on the farm and then use vacation days to watch the kids lead these animals into a show ring to compete for top prize.
Life Lessons Learned at the County Fair
Last Sunday, I was prepared to write a column about why kids shouldn’t participate in 4-H. It was a hot day on the first morning of the Phelps County Fair, and things were not going well.
My daughter had already cried about the fashion show the previous week, and my son had lost his 4-H model rocket in a cornfield during a test launch.
I was not looking forward to a week of watching kids walk around an arena with stinky animals, and for what reason? I didn’t grow up with 4-H animals (except for a few years of showing my large, untamed dog). I am a 4-H outsider, and I often don’t understand it.
While some moms love spending the day in a pig barn visiting with passersby, that’s the last place I would like to be on a hot summer day. There are so many rules and traditions that I don’t yet understand, but here’s what I do know.
By the end of the week, it made more sense. Grandparents and relatives from near and far came to watch the kids show animals and to enjoy the carnival rides, face painting and funnel cakes. It was actually fun! We made memories.
But, most of all, I realized that the fair brought families together. I saw 4-H moms, dads and kids all working together to clean animal pens, serve snow cones and volunteer for just about everything. Many 4-H volunteers, including my husband, take an entire week’s vacation just to volunteer! It’s hard work, but families are working together.
FAMILIES WORKING TOGETHER. Not sitting in separate rooms playing games on the Ipad, watching “The Middle” in the living room and checking email in the office. To truly appreciate the work, you would have to witness the fair clean-up in the hour after the auction ends. While it’s probably everybody’s least favorite part of the fair, it’s kind of cool to see hundreds of 4-H kids and parents grab shovels and brooms and clean sheep barns, pig pens, rabbit cages and the cattle building.
And, while some parts of the fair still seem “unfair” and don’t make sense to me, it ended up being a positive overall experience, and the kids learned a few valuable life lessons throughout the week:
- Enjoy the journey. Yes, my daughter was somewhat disappointed with the blue ribbon she earned on the dress she sewed. But, she did enjoy the 13 hours she spent with grandma this summer making the dress and a matching purse. And, now she has a cute new dress to wear!
- Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Every time a group of kids enters the show ring with their animal, someone is first in class and someone is last. That’s a lot of firsts and lasts and a lot of chances for kids to learn how to win humbly and lose gracefully.
- Learn from your mistakes. After my son and I spent many hours working together on his rocket this summer, it got lost in a 12-foot-tall cornfield on its first test launch before the fair. But, compared to all the work and money put into the Challenger space shuttle and the lives lost when it exploded on its launch, the model rocket was nothing. My son was able to build another rocket and complete his project.
- You grow from being pushed outside your comfort zone. My oldest son earned the opportunity to be in a senior showmanship competition to show pigs, sheep, cattle and goats. He had never shown cattle or goats before and was begging to not be in the competition. But looking back on the fair, he said that was his favorite part. He left with a new sense of confidence.
- It’s not about the trophy or the ribbons. Sure, a purple ribbon or a shiny trophy is a great reward for hard work. But, ribbons and trophies eventually sit in boxes and closets and collect dust. But, the discipline, lessons learned and 4-H fair memories stay with you for a lifetime.