So, what do we do with the kids? The wife and I packed the smaller ones up and moved them to the bucolic tranquility of rural life. It took a while to wean them from the computer. Not that it matters as they are now quite adept at piling wood or putting away dishes while texting.
And we are always enticing the older ones to come and visit. You know how adult kids visit today. They drop by, pull out their cell phones and begin engaging with everyone but you. The other day I came into the living room to find three of them and the wife all on the couch merrily texting and tweeting-other people. Modern day family time I guess.
But as parents we have a responsibility to engage our kids. Whether they are 3 or 27, we feel guilty if we can’t interfere with their daily existence.
Now, when I met Marie my kids had gone through the urban life, soccer, dance and the like. So did hers and they were younger. But she had them in horse 4H also. I had an inkling of what 4H was. A bunch of kids going around in circles on horses, petting bunnies and poking at a 1300 lb. steer with a stick.
Marie was the 4H mom personified. Assistant horse leader in the club, she was the no nonsense organizer. She became President of the district senior council. I’m sure that went to her head. Marie wears a 4H label like a proud veteran waiting to pounce with a story.
So, 4H was part of the package deal with Marie. I dutifully drove the 1979 motorhome to the gatherings, set it up then went home to my list and some peace and quiet.
But 4H is a swirling vortex that sucks you in. One weekend I ended up at a 4H banquet and awards ceremony. All the kids get some kind of award; part of the program. Now, I can assure you I was not prepared for this evening. All I had in mind was free food with lots of desserts. I like free desserts.
It began innocuous enough. There were tables and tables full of food. But wait. Some of the senior kids were milling about the head table. It was about to begin.
We were all ushered up to sing the national anthem. Promote God and country; good stuff here I thought. Then things got serious.
Next on the itinerary was the 4H motto. Everyone got up. Is this chanting? The lights went out and the single candle lit seemed to illuminate the faces of the senior leaders as one. What have I got these kids into? The room exuded awe and reverence. Was this a liturgy? A secret incantation designed to promote a following? Am I seeing groupthink?
The young leaders seemed all powerful out in front. Scanning the large room I noted everyone was serious; hanging on to every word of the chant like it presented the salvation usually reserved for an Amway convention. Even Billy Graham could learn a thing or two from a 4H gathering.
Again scanning the candlelit room I became aware of other things. Not really noticeable with the bright lights of the Hall I now noted a large display case backlit with soft lighting exuding a hum from a compressor hidden beneath. Are those animal carcasses?
Yes they are. Dear Stevie the steer, or rather parts of him were hanging in the display for all to gather and behold. Jeez, I just saw a kid poking him with a stick the other day. He sacrificed his life for the higher goals of 4H. Is that Fluffy, Mary’s little lamb up there? Did Fluffy rear up her life for that vision of a better world?
Now what? A feast begins. Everyone joins with hearty appetite in the communion of food and drink, even if the drink was orange-ade.
Alright, let’s summarize here. We have leaders held in awe and reverence by young adults known to be swayed by simplistic visions of a better world, chanting of a liturgy, secret incantations, candlelight vigils secreted from the general public, a communion of feasting, and animal sacrifice.
Best thing for the kids.
Did I mention I teach at the local university? In class I can spot the 4H kids in a minute. The young ladies exude confidence and genuine warmth. The young men go out of their way to introduce themselves, looking you in the eye with hand extended out. That’s leader material.
But it’s not only 4H. There are all sorts of groups out there for the kids in the rural environment. I would argue that the rural lifestyle is more social, even personal than what is offered in the city. Whether it’s 4H, a pony club, Young Farmers of America down south or Fall Fairs we have the opportunities to engage our kids with the community. These kids ride the bus together, see each other at the pony club, and get dragged along for a Saturday barbeque at the neighbours where they have to amuse each other. The city compartmentalizes kids in their daily activities with the only connection between activities, whether school or dance is the headphone laden ride in the minivan.
Another neat thing about the rural organizations for kids is that you, yes you have to be part of it. You take them to a meeting or club event, a fair; you get to stay and chat with the other parents, your neighbours. There is no drop off in the minivan with a vague promise to pick them up in two hours. You have to connect. No way out of it. You become a steward of your child’s development. Just try being the hands on parent in a city dance or karate class. Nope, you have to give up that stewardship for the compartmentalized hour or so.
Get your kids into a program. Talk to the neighbours, the local storekeeper for opportunities. Just remember, you don’t get to drive off for that secret skinny caramel macchiato with non-fat milk and an hour of peace and quiet any more.
It’s for the kids.