By the time you read this, I’ll be hiding.

It’s not too hard to find me. In Chelan, Washington, there is a winery called Karma Vineyards. They claim they didn’t name it after me. We all know the truth. It’s always all about me.

I’ll need the wine. As I write this, I’m headed into fair week. As an FFA and 4-H Mom and leader, fair week is one of those weeks I look forward to and dread the most. I love the fair! I hate the drama that comes with tired kids, frustrated parents and Southern Idaho’s late-July heat.

This year, I’m a barn superintendent, something I’ve never done. I’m in charge of the dairy barn and the 20 kids and the animals that will be staying there the last week of July. I’ve met most of the kids and adore them already. The program here is relatively small, so there’s plenty of room to grow and learn. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the kids.

The kid’s record books are due a couple of weeks before the fair and are then judged by folks outside the county. The record books are always the subject of much discontent around here, and often it’s with reason. Each year, as my kids struggle to meet the book deadline, I swear on a stack of 4-H curriculum “we will NEVER do this again.”  But truly, I get it. Record-keeping is important. Can we improve our system? Absolutely.

Each year, parents complain about the books. Usually the parents complain more than the kids. I’m far more inclined to listen to kids than parents. We had some problems with the structure of our books this year, and I was just as frustrated as the other parents. But here’s the thing. Sometimes things don’t make sense. Bank loan applications, grants, tax returns, financial aid packets – there are all sorts of things we have to fill out in life and they often require the same information four different ways, in triplicate, upside-down and backward.  The bottom line is you still have to fill it out, the best you can.

There is always the battle over the “blues” – the coveted blue ribbons. There are always the families who spend a ton of money on their animals and essentially buy the blue ribbons. There are the families in which the kids work really hard and do their very best and still never see blue. Somewhere in the middle are the rest of us – just doing the best we can.

County fairs can bring out that ugly side of us. The side that wants the blue ribbons to hang on the wall – I’m guilty of it. But 4-H is not supposed to be about the blue ribbons. It’s supposed to be about growing good human beings.

A few years ago, my friend, a sports psychologist, reminded me of something that changed my attitude about my kids’ activities. I am pretty competitive and was always asking how the kids “did.”

They’d come off the basketball court or the show ring, and I’d say, “How did you do?” or “Did you win?”

My friend, Greg “Trinidad” Sun, had just finished interviewing Olympic athletes about what they have in common in their self-talk and goal-setting. He told me the goals they set are process-oriented, not outcome-oriented.

“You can’t control outcome,” Trinidad told me. “You can do everything right and then still lose. All you can control is yourself and how you react.”

From then on, I started asking the kids if they had fun in the game. Did they enjoy their time in the show ring? Guess what? We’re all a lot happier – and frankly, more successful.

4-H, FFA and similar programs aren’t about profit and loss, and they’re not about winning a ribbon. Really. I’ve read the bylaws. They’re not – even though it sure feels like they are.

It’s supposed to be about setting a goal and making it. It is supposed to about learning something new.

My son didn’t win a blue ribbon on his book this year. My instinct is to be disappointed and mad. But when I stopped to remember Trinidad’s advice, I calmed down. My son’s book could have been neater and better-organized. He could have kept better records. But he did the book by himself. I didn’t help him with much – a date here and there, a lot of whiteout. Last year, it took me days and the help of a pretty teen leader to get it done. He didn’t complain much this year. He did it and got his books done with days to spare. Victory? Absolutely. Better than a blue ribbon any day.


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