Courage to be old-school

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We have hung calendars. I have ceased baking cookies by the dozen. This is not to say we don’t have plenty of cookies left rattling around in the tins on the porch, only to note I’m not adding any more to the available sugar rations. We have celebrated Christmas a few times over, and now that it’s all unwrapped, it’s time to reflect and resolve.

Which cookie tins emptied fastest? Which Christmas traditions will my children remember for years to come? How many books will we try to read this year? How am I doing with the parenting gig I have? How do Keith and I raise children who share our values in such a fast-paced world of technology?

The answers come easy for some of these ponderings. 

Linzer cookies always win. From the time the tin was filled to the last crumb being snatched up, it was less than two days. They are a delicious favorite of all entrants to the house. I also tried a new lemon cookie recipe, with ricotta cheese as an ingredient, and they were fabulous.

Two girlfriends and I accomplished our tradition of taking the kids caroling. Our list of houses to visit gets longer every year. We stick to singing “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” As always, it was such a wonderful success, on both the parts of the children loving it and the people we visited. Those we caroled greeted us with such surprised, appreciative grins. It is a simple, old-school activity that is worth every ounce of effort.

When Ira and Dane were young, I wrote every book we read on a slip of construction paper and built an elaborate paper-chain that stretched back and forth across our kitchen by the end of the year. Realizing that I had never done this with Henry and Cora, we discussed doing so again. One look at Ira and Dane and their surging growth in height made me realize this would not be a great plan. We will be writing them all down in a notebook instead. Dane and I also pondered the goal of reading our bookshelves — as in reading every picture book we have on a shelf in Henry’s and Cora’s bedrooms.

One of my biggest resolutions, that I make and fail at each year, is to get home early each night from the farm. Eight o’clock is my bewitching hour, which means after that, all things go south. I have less and less patience, less energy to read aloud, and absolutely no humor left in me; and if you have ever tried to get four tired children ready for bed at night, those things are crucial. Working on my patience is an exercise I engage in daily. Some days I do far better than others, and then there are the days when I’m certain that I should not be allowed to parent because my fuse is so short.

The last question I ask myself is the toughest one to answer. If you are a long-time reader of my column, you know that I’m a tad bit nostalgic and often wish I could go back in time. This carries over into our child-rearing logic. We happen to be fans of the low-tech, high-nature type of upbringing we were raised in, and we battle to give that to our children. 

As children, my siblings and I were not involved in every extracurricular activity that was available, and we turned out fine (I think). We played outside, we created games, we disappeared for hours on end in the woods, and we did chores. Keith told the boys that he went through a bucket of .22 bullets in the span of a few months when he was young, wandering the woods in search of small game. We had active imaginations and probably made our mothers crazy with our antics, but we had a childhood worth remembering.

I read an article that mentioned you should “take charge and have courage to be the odd parent out.” The author wasn’t exaggerating when he said it would take courage. I tell myself that being the odd parent out who doesn’t involve their children in everything is teaching them how to fight peer pressure. It is a struggle for me not to be overwhelmed by all of the activities and think that our children will be deficient in something due to their lack of involvement. Our children are in the minority due to their lack of access to gadgets and because they are of a handful of kids who are associated with a farm and the work that comes with it. Even then, our kids are spared a fair dose of farm chores because of how our farm operates.

Our society doesn’t do much to support this stance on parenting. It seems most people agree that the addition of a phone in the hand of a young teenager (or younger) isn’t doing much to connect them to the world; rather, it is helping them disconnect. Few dare to stop it from happening. Ira has a phone, and he drives. He works, and it is quite helpful in tracking him down to run errands. Dane, a freshman, is begging for one. I don’t think he would even care, if not for the fact that every teacher and coach automatically assumes he has one.

I want our children to be able to converse at family parties without a phone attached to their hand. I want them to look back at their childhood as I do: recalling the afternoons spent playing basketball in the shop, going sledding, disappearing to the creek to check for ice and just being kids. I want them to tell their children all of those magical memories that they are making for themselves with their family and friends — all of those in which technology plays the supporting role, not the major one. 

Jacqui Davison and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres in northeastern Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.

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