Last weekend Steve and I lost 17 pounds at the fair. No brand of underarm armor could protect me from the serious perspiration predicament I was in. Even my ears were sweating. OK, so it wasn't really 17 pounds. Actually, I wouldn't even know, because our scale has needed batteries since 2002. But, it felt like 17 pounds, because it was a sweltering 17,000 degrees outside, and that ferocious Fahrenheit would definitely melt 17 pounds of beer and chip chub.
The heat was not completely unbearable, thanks to the consolations of joy and enthusiasm we all experienced while coming alongside Benedict and Andrew with their bucket calf entries.
Even George and Henry didn't mind just hanging out with Rosemary and Dolly.
It's amazing how the promise of a snow cone can inspire a little patience and good behavior!
There was so much to do on the day of judging, from grooming the calves and washing them up for the showmanship to studying questions for the judges interview.
Typically, each 4-H project has a leader to help prepare the kids for the fair. We didn't have a leader for bucket calves, so we were kind of "winging it." We asked a lot of questions to more experienced 4-Hers and their parents, who were all so kind and generous with their time and advice.
The president of our 4-H club helped trim the calves up for showing. His care and attentiveness to the animals was a great example for the boys!
There is even a proper way to brush them after they are bathed so that their hair is fluffy. Who knew? Some of the older participants even went to great lengths to prepare their livestock for judging, such as using special hair dryers, conditioners and combs. I had never seen anything like it!
Taking on the bucket calves has given the boys an opportunity to learn about the animals, assume the responsibility for their care, ask questions, seek out answers and to rise to the challenges that come with entering a new sphere of learning. It's a rewarding experience for us as parents to watch them grow in this arena of life, and to work at it with dedicated hearts, determined minds and zealous spirits.
Prior to the fair, we did not discuss with the boys the fact that awards would be given to the top contenders in showmanship and confirmation. But, as they began to stroll through the various livestock barns, some of the animals had already been judged and awarded ribbons. Their little faces instantly lit up when they discovered that they too could possibly receive an award for their efforts.
Both boys entered and returned from the judges interview with enthusiasm and confidence. We loved watching them have so much fun! The two eagerly returned to their calves to wash and groom them for their presentation in the arena.
They did a great job leading their calves around the arena, keeping eye contact with the judges and patiently awaiting the outcome.
When it came time for the judges to hand out the awards, both Ben and Andrew received blue ribbons, not the Grand or Reserve Champion that they were shooting for.
I immediately saw the expression of disappointment sweep across their sweaty little faces. For an instant, I empathized with their lowly state, but soon embraced all of the good that had come from their journey, and hoped that I could help them to find satisfaction in their accomplishments and a firm resolve to try again next year.
WARNING: SOAP BOX ALERT!!
It's funny, but while America is toted as an overly competitive country, I argue that while we may be competitive, we have lost an authentic understanding of the purpose that pure, honest competition serves. Thankfully, 4-H is still one of the few organizations that fosters both teamwork and competition. There is no "everyone gets a participation award" and "every one's a winner, so let's celebrate with pizza" mentality.
We all have images of moms and dads yelling at their kids, pushing them to their limits in various sports or activities. That is not healthy competition. But, swinging so far to the other side of non-competitive, "kumbaya" activities isn't healthy either.
Life is full of measuring sticks and standards, respect to be earned and recognition to be awarded. Why not allow your kids to experience it in an arena that is safe and guided by your parental care and instruction?? No competitive situation is perfect. That where we as parents come in. We can help them celebrate victory with good sportsmanship, thanksgiving to God for their talents, and encourage them to persevere through losses and failures with humility, knowing that deep within them lies the courage to try again. Aren't we still learning these lessons as adults? What a gift to prepare our kiddos for the real world by putting our fears of failure aside and letting them enter a race or two, come what may.
Last year when George found out that his t-ball team didn't keep score, his drive took as serious dive, like off a cliff. Despite the rules, the kids were trying to keep score anyway! Competitiveness - it's in us, folks. It's instinctive. It's a gift from God. Let's face, it, competition is that necessary spark that ignites our desires, our ambitions, our drive and our determination. It's what helps motivate us to press on, to aspire toward greatness and accomplish things we never thought possible. We watch the Olympics, not just to see incredible demonstrations of athleticism, but to see who wins!
St. Paul says in Corinthians:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
So, what's the prize? Heaven. That's the big one. The one that I want my boys to strive for, to endure for, to live for. Because, if everyone just gets the prize, then why, may I ask is there a hell? It's the big and little challenges, the contests that cause us to exercise character and virtue that strengthen our focus on the ultimate prize.
Maybe it's sports or 4-H or music or chess...whatever it be....let them go for it! You never know the good that may come from a little healthy competition, or the appetite that may result. An appetite for a prize - perhaps even a heavenly one.
Thank you Grandpa, for giving us our calves, and for showing us how much fun they could be!