I thought long and hard before registering Monika for the seven-week gymnastics class she's taking this summer. This is the first official activity any of our kids has participated in, other than swimming lessons - but that's only one week. (In the spirit of fairness, I did ask Dan if he wanted to play baseball this summer, but he said he didn't. We went to a bug hunting presentation instead.)
My hesitation comes from my desire to protect my children's childhood and, especially, their summers. Kids should spend their summers swinging on the swingset, catching critters, riding their bikes, and climbing on hay bales. Their fun should be unorganized.
I do want my kids to participate in organized fun and someday, they will. But I don't want to them to start an activity so early that they get burned out or overwhelmed. I also don't want their mom to get burned out, because she's already overwhelmed 99 percent of the time.
So, why did I let Monika start gymnastics? Mostly, because she showed an interest. She's always hanging on pipes in the barn and flipping over the chairs in the livingroom. Partly, it was a vicarious decision. I loved gymnastics as a girl, but the closest gymnastics classes were a half-hour away. My mom took me for a while, but it got to be too much traveling. I would have given anything to continue.
Our decision to let Dan and Monika start showing calves had some of the same elements. Part of me wishes I had started showing earlier (I didn't start showing until I was in high school). And Dan and Monika both love cattle.
I wondered if we were starting them too young, but after finishing our third summer of showing, I know now that we made the right decision. In addition to the pride and sense of accomplishment showing gives them, training calves is a way for us to spend one-on-one time together. Working with their calves has also helped them learn responsibility and accept chores. (If they want me to help them walk their calves, they need to help me by taking care of some of my chores.)
Dan and Monika's first fair calves are milking cows now, but their relationships have not changed. And it is really nice to have a couple extra tame, extra gentle cows in the barn for the kids to milk and climb on. It's kind of like taming kittens before they turn into spitting, hissing fur-balls. Now, we have cows that rub up against your leg out in the yard.
It's also fun to see their interest in showing grow. Dan and Monika had their fair calves picked out this year before the cows even had them licked off.
Monika has no less than six prospective fair calves in the calf pen at any given time. She asked me why I was holding Sparkle's extra neck skin during practice. I explained that holding it up would make Sparkle look prettier. She said that should be her job, so while we walked around the ring, she held Sparkle's neck up.
Dan wants to take two calves to the fair next year so that he can increase his chances of having a calf that the judge likes best. He's the one who likes to count his ribbons, so he was disappointed when he didn't get the same number of ribbons as his sister at the fair this year. That's one of the great lessons learned in showing - not everybody wins.
Next year, Dan and Monika will be 4-Hers and I know they'll learn even more lessons. Our calves will be at the fair for all five days, instead of just coming in for the open class show. There will be more lessons in responsibility, teamwork and herdsmanship. They'll have older 4-Hers to look up to and learn from in the dairy barn.
Beyond showing, 4-H will provide even more experiences. Glen and I both agree that 4-H provided some of our best formative experiences as youth and did the most to foster our interest in dairy.
Dan could have joined 4-H two years ago, but I held off. I wanted a little more time for him to just be a kid. Plus, I figured it would be easier to join when Monika could join at the same time.
But I'm looking forward to the organized fun that 4-H will provide. We walked through the 4-H building at the fair this year to get ideas for next year. Dan and Monika couldn't believe how many different projects there are in 4-H. I guess that's one of 4-H's greatest strengths - there's something for everyone. I can't wait to see which projects, besides dairy, that Dan and Monika fall in love with.