Confessions of a less than enthusiastic horse show Mom

Confession: I never wanted to be a horse show Mom. Don’t tell my daughter.

I showed horses in 4-H for close to ten years. It was never something I loved but I didn’t hate it either (most the time). 4-H, specifically horses, was just what you did in my family, every summer from the age of nine through eighteen or until you got bored with it.

And it wasn’t bad. Sure show days were long (so so long!), often stressful and always exhausting, horses are hard work, but showing through 4-H taught me a lot about myself and about life. I gained skills and made friendships that are still going strong twenty years later. I built relationships with amazing adults who volunteered their time to keep our county’s 4-H program running. Some of them didn’t even have kids in 4-H. I had the opportunity to learn about work ethic, responsibility, and community in a hands on, concrete way.

Showing horses and being in 4-H was a big and influential part of my childhood. But when my daughter was turning nine and my sister, who never got out of horses and 4-H, asked if my daughter was interested in showing I hesitated. I wanted to say no. I remembered the time and the stress and the cost, the way showing took over our lives from May through August. I thought about the danger, the inherent risk of riding and managing a large beast.

And yet here I am. Five years later sitting in a camper after the first full day of fair. Thirteen straight hours of showing in the heat and the dust and the sun surrounded by cranky younger siblings who have been drug along for ride and a gaggle of stressed and exhausted parents and club leaders. What happened?

I remembered my daughter’s innate love of horses.

I thought about the value of responsibility and community: two things inherent in any 4-H animal project that seem to be disappearing in this crazy, chaotic world where anything goes as long as it makes you “happy”.

I wondered how many other opportunities my daughter would have to set goals and work towards achieving them in a safe, supportive environment.

And I said yes to 4-H and showing horses (okay maybe I said a skeptical “I guess” to 4-H).

I’d be lying if I said I’ve enjoyed every moment of the past five years as a 4-H horse show parent. Of course there have been fun, exciting, and rewarding times. There has also been tension and stress, long days at horse shows when I have five other things I’d rather be doing, and more emotional ups and downs than a TV reality show. In end I consider it an investment and hope that 4-H will help shape my girl, my young woman really, into a responsible, kind and hard working individual.

So when you happen to catch barrel racing on ESPN 15 or whatever or you see Olympic three day eventing or come across a social media post with a video of a high level dressage performance set to music and they all make it look easy, know it’s not. That athlete working with their amazing four-legged partner probably started out as a tiny 4-H kid. Their parent stood ringside and watched with their hearts in their throat as that kid rode a bucking pony across the ring or took on a jump at a seemingly reckless pace. And know that for every elite rider there are a hundred, maybe a thousand, kids who spent their summers at the fairgrounds in show rings and went on to use what they learned there to become a successful adult. So even though I didn’t want to be a horse show Mom, I never planned to come back to this, I’m here. Investing in my kids through 4-H.

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Ripples

Three years post divorce (and almost one year post disastrous change of custody hearing) life is generally calm. Okay, calm does not even come near to describing my life as a divorced mom of five kids who is trying to finish a degree while doing all the other things too. Nope, life is not calm…but it’s got a certain pattern of functionality and (usually) fun to it, a day-to-day relative calm that makes it easy to forget how tumultuous our lives have been over the past four years. But every so often there’s a bump in the road, a blip on the relative calm radar, that is reminiscent of the disruption of life that your family has been through.

Getting a divorce is a bit like throwing a giant rock into the peaceful pond that is your child’s life so far. It disrupts their stable, serene state of being with a dramatic splash that’s followed by ripples extending outward through time and space even after the rock has reached the bottom of the pond. It doesn’t matter how old your kids are, this is always true.

Yesterday was a reminder that, even years after the rock crashed through the surface, ripples are still extending outward. Divorce is still affecting my kids’ lives in profound, albeit more subtle, ways. (Subtly profound might be something of an an oxymoron.)

First, on the way to swim class, my seven year old informed me that his school Valentines Day party was not very fun because I didn’t go. “Mom, you could have come to my Valentine’s day party, almost everyone had a parent there but I didn’t.” he told me.  Valentine’s Day didn’t fall on my parenting time and I hadn’t volunteered to help in the classroom, really there’s no reason I would go. This year the responsibility and fun of celebrating Valentine’s Day with the kids wasn’t mine; that’s just the way it goes. I said something along these lines and then mentioned that I thought maybe his dad or step-mom would be going to his class party. His matter of fact response caught me off guard. “Dad and Miss D don’t go to things at my school anymore because people think Miss D is a homewrecker.”

Turns out my diplomatic response skills are not what they should be. I should have said something about that being their, his dad and step-mom’s, loss; they’re missing out on fun and important things. That’s not what I said. I did not, however, say any swear words so it could have been worse. (But seriously, WTF?!? How are these words coming from my seven year old???)

After swim my little guy told me that I should stop going to school….he saw me doing homework on my laptop in the bleachers during his lesson and felt like I should have been paying attention to him. I reassured him that I was, I was watching over the top of my computer screen as he back stroked across the pool and then later when he got to jump off the diving board. I think that appeased him for the moment.

And then later, at bedtime, we had the 100th day of school meltdown.

The 100th day of school snuck up on me like so many of these little big deals do. It was not on my radar at all; I had noticed it in the class newsletter weeks earlier but it fell on their dad’s parenting time so I didn’t add it to my long list of things to be aware of. But then at some point my ex asked if the kids could stay the night at my house tonight. They would already be here for the evening anyway, of course I said yes. I made sure I had enough school lunch food, milk, and cereal for breakfast. Good to go.

Yeah, not so much. As I was getting the little guy to bed (late) he started crying. It took a good few minutes to get him to tell me what was wrong but finally he said “I’m supposed to dress up as an old person but now I can’t.” And this is how I became aware that the 100th day of school was tomorrow. At 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night, an hour after bedtime (when I still had my own homework to get to, six lunches to pack, and a fair amount of cleaning up to do before I could even think about my own bedtime). I reassured my son that I could get an old person costume ready for him while he slept but he was not appeased by this.

Then,  suddenly, he jumped out of bed and started rummaging around his room. “What are you doing?”I asked.

“I’m looking for my markers.”

“Umm, why? You need to get to sleep!”

“To make a 100th day of school shirt.” he responded triumphantly.

While he was not happy with the option of me throwing together old person wear, the idea of making a shirt (also an option to commemorate the occasion) satisfied him.

Pay no attention to the stains on the shirt, undershirts are a scarcity right now.

I knew where exactly two sharpies where, luckily they were different colors. After drawing 50 smiley faces each my emotional little guy was satisfied…until the next morning when he decided there should be a hundred aliens on his shirt. Agh!

This is why I can never be on time for anything. Aliens.

Even after the tears and chaos of the night before he went to school happy. Some days the ripples make for choppy waters but we ride the waves and move forward. Throughout the upheaval of getting divorced the mantra “Fake it until you make it” helped get me through my day-to-day life but, with this chaotic crazy life we have, I’m pretty sure we’re actually making it now.