If you've got a teenager or recently raised one, of either sex, it really doesn't matter, the problems are different, but they're challenging all the same, then this story likely will shock you. If you don't have teenagers yet but have younger kids who will become teenagers, then this story might give you hope.
Each year our local FFA chapter, Franklin FFA, sends a dozen kids a day for five days to the Hoosier Beef Congress to work. It's one of the largest cattle preview shows anywhere, with over 1,500 head shown or sold this past week. In fact, Bob Bishop, show chairman, says entries were actually up this year.
The first day the kids mulch four gigantic show rings and two sale rings, going about 6 to 8 inches deep. The best motivator is knowing how to drive a skid-steer loader. If you know how, or can convince me you know how, or bug me enough if you're a guy or smile just right if you're a girl, you will likely get a shot at running the skid steer loader. After all, FFA is about education, right? The better drivers who master how to dump the bucket so the mulch spreads out and takes less manual labor to put it in place get to drive the longest.
A cattleman who is also involved in the show, Doug Abney, and myself usually supervise this first day, when setting up the ring is job number one, two, three and, well, you get it. Nothing happens unless the ring is set up properly.
We had 12 students, with three running skid steers and the rest raking mulch with the weapon of their choice - either a shovel, metal rake, plastic rake or broom. Two people are assigned to do the smoothing work after the 'rough finish 'crew moves on. Then someone takes a 3,000-foot hose - okay, 150 feet- but it seems that long, and wets down the ring.
Along about noontime you get the first indications that not everyone, including me, is used to doing this much physical activity everyday. They start asking if it's lunch time about 11:15. When noon arrives, the whistle blows, so to speak. The kids and adults, including a few adults on the show crew, eat in a tiny lunchroom attached to the show pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
We ate Tacos in a Bag one of the mothers provided. Naturally, I needed a second helping. About 12:30, the kids left. Obviously, they had experienced enough adult time. Doug and I finished eating and chatting with the other adults for 10 or 15 minutes. Finally, I figured I better get them back to work. "I don't know what they're doing…" I started. "But it's sure not spreading mulch," another finished. "I was a kid once too."
"Yeah, and there a re a couple boyfriend/girlfriend pairs out there too," I said. That brought out hoots and hollers. "You better get out there then," one laughed.
I walked through the hallway and into the big pavilion. First I couldn't believe my ears. It certainly sounded like a motor running. It was three motors - three skid steers, back in full action. And raking and smoothing and watering were 9 kids, most decked out in their bright orange FFA T-shirts. They'd gone straight to work, without being told, without an adult in sight!
I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. You know, teenagers can be frustrating. They don't' always remember to do everything you ask them to do. And they seldom agree with you, or you with them. But somewhere along the line, if you've got teenagers like our crew that day, the world may not turn out so bad after all!