This summer was a lot like any other for my family with most of July and the first week of August focused on preparing for and attending county fair and state fair.
But unlike other years, this was the last county fair and state fair my sons will show at. My twins, Matthew and Nathan, are 19 and will turn 20 in November, so their 4-H and showing careers have come to an end.
They began showing registered Holstein dairy calves at the Fond du Lac County Fair in 1998 when they were 4 years old and they've been showing dairy animals and lots of other projects at the fair ever since. In 2006, they started showing dairy calves and heifers at state fair.
A few days before county fair, my twins were sitting on the front porch putting on their work boots to go lead their heifers. I overheard one of them say to the other, "This is Mom's last county fair!" At first I thought that was a strange comment – it's their last county fair, but I realized they were right. For the past 26 years, since 1987, one or more of our four sons has shown dairy cattle, and dozens of other projects, at the county fair. That's 26 years of kids showing at county fairs and nearly half my life! For state fair, it's a few less years. My oldest son Josh started showing Holstein heifers at state fair in 1989 and showed until 1998. There was a six-year hiatus before Ryan started showing at state fair in 2004. Our family's love affair with state fair hasn't been quite as intense as it has been with county fair, but my sons have always loved both fairs.
Before county fair, I felt pretty excited about this being the last summer spent at the fairs. I was celebrating that we would have more freedom next year and more time and money to do other things like go on a family vacation! I estimate that we spend about $1,000 between county fair and state fair each year. Anyone involved in the dairy project knows the costs for bedding, feed, hoof trimming, showing supplies, gas, clipper blades, entry fees, dorm fees and food at the fairs, really add up, especially when you have more than one kid showing. I'm convinced our whole family, including our dog Scooter, can spend a week at a cabin up north next summer for less than what it costs us to show at the fairs.
I thought "my" last county fair would be a celebration. Not so much. The finality of it all didn't sink in until I was sitting there in the dairy barn each day helping my kids pick up poop from their five dairy heifers. I must have teared up at least a dozen times during fair week over silly little stuff I had forgotten about or things I saw that triggered a memory. Like when a young woman was pushing a twin Graco stroller through the dairy barn that looked like the one Nathan and Matthew had 19 years ago. It reminded me how fast they went from wearing diapers to being 6 foot 1 and sophomores in college. My kids all literally grew up at the fair.
I also realized there are many people my husband and I know who we only see once a year at the fair who we likely won't see after this year.
I teared up again at the 4-H graduation ceremony held on the last day of the fair and was proud they each took home a 4-H scholarship.
The twins had a good county fair – 11 blues and one red on their photography projects and they both won a first blue and reserve junior champion honors with their calves – one in the registered Holstein show, the other in the registered Ayrshire show. This was the least number of 4-H projects I can remember my kids showing at the fair in years. Four or five years ago when Ryan was still in 4-H, they had a combined 99 projects at the fair! They finished most of these projects right before the fair. We were always taping on entry tags and hanging their projects out the car windows hoping they would dry on the way to the fair!
While I admit I'll miss some of the calamity of helping them get all their projects to the fairs, overall I think I am ready for the next phase in our lives.