First time fair mom shares insecurities and wisdom

Mandie Tilderquist

The old building was stifling, thanks to no central air conditioning and a sticky June
Midwestern day. The air was thick with humidity and suffocating my already low self-confidence. My stress level was through the roof and I could literally hear my own heart beating even though the room was crowded.

The Tilderquist children, Maggie, Max, Hank and Jack practice leading their fair calves.

I was completely out of my element and could no longer deny it. Usually, I can wing it, but this time, I couldn’t even pretend I knew what I was doing. I had four pairs of little eyes looking at me with the same bewildered look on their sweaty faces that must have mirrored mine.

They were like miniature soldiers looking to their overly confident general in the heat of battle and waiting with bated breath for the commands.

Usually, this is how it works in our family. However, this time, I was at a complete loss. We were in the familiar 4-H building, but only this time, as members. Finally, a kind fair worker came to my rescue and helped us out.

As I hurriedly filled out the registration papers, I wondered why I had this many children and why I had let my daughter bring what felt like 50 projects. Okay, so it was only three, but it felt like a lot more!

Next year we will pre-register and my former 4-H president husband will do this. And why isn’t he doing this for a former city girl who used to believe brown cows give chocolate milk? Maybe because he’s working 18 hours in this sweltering heat so we can all eat.

Fine. I suppose I can deal with this although I admit that being in a hot milking parlor with the body heat of 16 relatively quiet cows didn’t sound all that bad to this overwhelmed mama.

I had to trust them

Even though it was their first time, I let my children give their presentations to the judges as I stood outside. They didn’t need me hovering. I probably would have corrected my daughter (without even thinking) resulting in her embarrassment. Or I may have clapped at the conclusion of my son’s soybean presentation, making him want to crawl under the table.

I had to trust them, they knew their stuff.

My girl came out disappointed. She had gotten two red ribbons and some “harsh” (to a budding artist) words from the judge. However, it was Chex Mix for the win and that got a blue. Of course, my natural public speaker and born farmer got a blue for his beans. My two Cloverbuds got their participation ribbons and were pretty happy.

We then moseyed on down to the “hotel” where our calves would be staying for their holiday getaway. The barn was all ready for the animals to move in the next day. Some had already prepared their bovine’s bed and breakfast with clean straw and each had their own water pail. It looked great and was decorated nicely!

We looked across at the rusty gate where our little calves would be tied up. Our hearts dropped. Instead of looking at the positives (my sweet friend saved us a spot by her so our calves would be right across the way and they could look after them while we were gone), the negative hit us right between the eyes.

The Tilderquist family's calves rest in their exhibit at the local fair.

Hold the pitchfork! It doesn’t just come all set up and move in ready? Like we have to get the straw and stuff? How are the calves going to walk around? This is like an episode of Fixer Upper:Farm Edition.

My husband, again, lovingly informed his clueless wife that fair animals are tied up and don’t move around like they do in their hutches. And we have to bring the straw and pretty much everything else. Oh, makes sense. So, the rusty gate isn’t so bad. I’ll put up a little Fourth of July decor, just to set the mood for the calves, and we’ll be okay. After all, this is a learning experience for us and we’ll probably look back and laugh.

My wonderful friend will be there to show me the ropes as well. She’s an amazing preschool teacher, so I should be able to understand what she tells me.

So, I may have a lot to learn as far as a 4-H mom goes, but I do know this and I tell my children often—I love you enough to let you fail. I love you enough to let you get last place if you deserve it because you didn’t work with your animal enough.

Max Tilderquist watches over the calves while sitting on his father's fair box on show day.

I love you enough to make you do YOUR project on your own because I won’t be there to always bail you out. Your name’s attached to it, not mine. Make yourself proud.

I love you enough to allow you to learn from your mistakes now, so that when you get out in the real world, you won’t make them again.

I love you enough to let you hear a judge telling you that you’re not perfect because guess what, you’re not. And the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.

I love you enough to let you stand in that show ring and feel like an absolute failure with a cow that won’t move because you didn’t put in the effort when you had the chance.

I love you enough to teach you these life lessons in your youth, so that you won’t have to learn them as an adult, when it’s a hundred times worse.

4-H really is a great teacher and life coach. Maybe I’m not as out of place as I thought.