I hesitate to bring it up, but because we are friends I am going to lay it all out there. I know there are times when you look around and think, why am I doing all of this? Why am I making five trips to town today so I can farm, work, pick up from practice, go home to do chores and return for a 4-H meeting? Why do I neglect the messes at the farm and home so that I can go watch the game?

I have one important message for you. It is so, so, so very worth it.

You may be tempted to say, “Enough,” and throw your hands in the air. You don’t have the time or the energy to make it all happen. I get it. I’ve been there and I’ll be there again.

But let me tell you, I’ve now been on the other side and I’m starting to see a glimpse of the reward.

Our oldest son started college last week. Our boy, who has only called his mother once in 11 days since we left him at school (not that I’m counting), is ready. And I’m not talking about the kind of ready that has him prepared to dig into a $200 textbook. I’m talking about the kind of ready that means he can find out for himself where and when to buy his own $200 textbooks. He can keep from starving. He can show up in class in clean clothes, although I have serious doubts about them being wrinkle-free.

Our boy is ready—the kind of ready that will set him on the right path. The kind of ready that makes you excited to see what his future holds. And as I looked around his old and new friends with a rural background, I see other kids who are also ready.

These kids didn’t get there overnight. They didn’t wake up one morning ready to take on the world. And they didn’t get there alone. These kids, these 18-year-old balls of fire have drive, determination and sense of purpose, were able to get there because someone took the time to prepare them.

They got there because someone hired them to fix fence and paid them more than they were worth so they could earn their way on a school trip that would show them the world. They got there because one sleepy-eyed, dedicated coach drove them endless miles to workouts and practice to give them successes and failures. They were able to get there because people cared about them and helped them along the way.

Certainly they will stumble. But part of their preparation in making them ready to take on the world is the ability to pick themselves back up, wipe the manure off their jeans and get back at it.

And parents, a few months before they leave, you will frantically be trying to think of everything you need to teach them that you ran out of time to do. But then time will run out and you will have to pray it was enough.

We gave our boy a few simple words of advice: “Make good decisions.”

And then it hits you...all this time, that’s what you’ve been preparing them to do:

The times when they could choose to go work with their livestock or not and see the results of their decision at the show;

The times when a last minute “good enough” gave them less than the purple ribbon they wanted;

The times when they hurried through the last field to get to town for weekend fun, only to find going too fast means repairs and do-overs;

The times when they could choose to shake the hand of their opponent who beat them, or stomp away, angry at the umpire, coach or judge;

And the times when you gave them no decision at all because they couldn’t make the right choice for themselves. You stood over them with a fly swatter until they finished the record book because someday it would pay off. You spent hours with them practicing their speech because they were too shy to even speak in front of people. And then there were the times when you answered the question, “Why?” with a “Because it is a rule in this house.”

To you moms and dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles and community leaders and volunteers—it’s worth it. You may not see it in the incremental steps those kids take, but trust this teary-eyed mom. When you look back and can see the whole picture, it’s then that you will know. It was worth it.

Holly Martin can be reached at 1-800-452-7171, ext. 1806, or hmartin@hpj.com.

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