In the world of extension, county educators wear many hats. I am no stranger to this fact. My wardrobe is as vast and ever-changing as the constituencies I work with. On any given day, you might find me operating in one of the following capacities: Junior Fair Board director, quality assurance instructor, camp director, office fiscal steward, adult volunteer coordinator, teacher, researcher, fundraiser, activist, columnist … the list goes on. But my favorite title is one word made up of three letters: mom.
I love the word mom for two reasons. First, because the 50-plus teen leaders who make up the Junior Fair Board and Camp Counselor teams call me by the moniker regularly. I guess they consider it an appropriate nickname after spending more than 100 hours a year listening to my “momisms.” “I am not your maid,” “Drive safe,” and “Don’t forget about (enter task here),” play on repeat in our office, especially in the summer when the teens are out of school and our office becomes the local social quarters. And I’ll admit, it’s fitting, given the amount I fret about those teens from time to time. My heart drops when I hear about local tragedies. I don’t want it to be anyone’s kid, but I certainly don’t want it to be one of “mine.”
The second reason I love the word mom is because I am one to two super special little human beings. If you’ve spent much time around our office or fair, you have probably seen Gavin or Eloise (aka Ellie) at one point or another. Gavin is nine and Ellie is seven.
One of the more interesting experiences I have had since becoming a 4-H educator is being director in one county and 4-H mom in another. While I administer the program here in Shelby County, we reside in Champaign County. 4-H uses a county-based enrollment system; therefore, by default, Gavin and Ellie are Champaign County 4-H members.
As a result of this dual-experience with 4-H, our family spends nearly one month camped out at a county fair. I have two sets of rules and requirements in my head and my planner is color-coded so I know whether the impending deadline is for Shelby County or Champaign County. After spending 2 to 3 evenings a week at meetings here in Shelby County, I attend yet more meetings and fundraisers and clinics in Champaign County. Challenging as it may be, I have appreciated being on both sides of the coin. It has helped me to discover opportunities for improvement here in Shelby County while also exposing how blessed we are in many arenas. Most importantly, I get to experience the value of 4-H programming through the eyes of my own children. Take yesterday, for example.
Champaign County’s fairgrounds has a flea market the first weekend of the month year around. The fair board gives a donation to 4-H clubs in exchange for them providing members to work the admission gate, where they charge $2 per adult for access to the grounds. Our club adviser texted me earlier this week and asked if we could help with said gate on Sunday because she was shorthanded. We didn’t have anything on the books Sunday, so I told her yes. In full disclosure, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I work with volunteers who tell me regularly that the most challenging part of their role is getting families to step up for service activities and fundraisers. Therefore, I knew I should practice what I preach, which meant spending my Sunday doing the very thing I had a day off from: 4-H. Ironic, right?
Whether it was mysterious ways or a higher power, my attitude was quickly adjusted upon arriving at the fairgrounds Sunday. Gavin and Ellie, whom I anticipated resisting in these efforts, jumped right into their assigned duties. They were money-taking fools! While they occasionally needed help with “counting back,” they did a great job adding up the adults in the car and wishing people a good day as they pulled away. They fully engaged in the learning opportunity presented to them and even did some “flossing” in between cars. I stood back, intently observing the way they became little adults right before my eyes. It’s sometimes hard to imagine a future for my children in today’s frightening, chaotic world. But yesterday, a future existed. And it was bright.
I have always believed that 4-H is powerful, but on Sunday, I felt it. Witnessing “learn by doing” while wearing my mom hat changed the game. My heart grew in size as I realized that the very thing I sometimes run from is the very thing I need to run to. In a world full of color-coded planners and sticky notes, momisms and meetings, there is hope.
The writer can be reached at the OSU Extension office (937-498-7239) or by email at email@example.com.