Life lessons learned at a young age

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When I was 8 years old, I was required to get up shortly after 5 a.m. to do chores on my parents 52-cow dairy operation.

I didn’t necessarily like it all the time, but it was an established rule for all 11 of us kids. For me, it was tough to get out of a bed that early and make my trek to the barn, especially on the bitter cold days.

In my late teens, the early rise didn’t get any easier. I enjoyed nightlife, playing softball and spending time with friends too much. Getting home at 1 a.m. and awaking in a short four hours later was challenging.

Besides morning chores, my siblings and I were required to help with chores after school and then again after supper and on the weekends.

We were really busy and would often sandwich 5-6 hours of chores around school.

In retrospect, it taught me a lot.

I learned discipline, work ethic, toughness, time management and teamwork; after all, at most times, there were eight to 10 of us working together. 

Even though there were times I didn’t want to do chores, there was no option. The work had to be done.

Fast forward to my family and our three children.

Last year, my middle child, 15-year-old Mason, started working for one of his uncles.

During the summer, he helped with milking, fed calves, picked rock, stacked bales and did other necessary jobs on the farm.

The experience has helped him develop into an even better kid than I thought he was. 

He doesn’t complain about the work and takes on his job with an eagerness I admire.

When school started in September, Mason was asked to choose one day a week where he could help in the morning. He would have to get up shortly after 4 a.m. and help for about 2.5 hours.

He chose Monday. He also works most Saturdays. Plus, he has the chores that go with raising a small herd of fainting goats at our home. This combined with his involvement in football, basketball and track leads to full weeks.

But I can see that the traits I listed above are being absorbed by him.

There have been several times when Mason’s friends wanted him to come over and he said he can’t until he is done farming. This past fall, we were at an afternoon football game. Mason looked at me after the third quarter and told me that we had to leave; he had chores to do.

Christmas and New Year’s Day both landed on Mondays last year. Instead of trying to get those days off, Mason met the work head on.

He didn’t gripe at all. He went to bed early and caught up with sleep with a nap the next day.

Mason enjoys his job because of the freedom he has and the variety of work he partakes in. My wife and I enjoy it because of the continued maturity and confidence it’s brought out in Mason.

He likes telling his friends what he has to do on the farm and that he can’t come over until he finishes chores. He is disciplined, and his work ethic is terrific.

There are probably many kids who dread the early morning alarm clock and the demands of farm chores every day. They would rather be doing something else.

But looking back at my childhood, and now watching my son, I firmly believe the routine of a dairy farm engrains extremely desirable traits in the person carrying out the work. Those traits will benefit a person at any point in their life, both tomorrow and well into the future.

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