Illustration by James Callahan
I was raised a city kid — skateboarding on asphalt, biking through alleys and hanging out on the playground on hot summer days. The Boy is a city kid too, born and bred. He knows his way around a blacktop, and he's always up for some alley exploring. But he and Tad both have a yearning for nature that draws them toward the greener parts of the city.
When The Boy was just a baby, I knew that if I loaded him into a backpack and sent the two of them off to Forest Hill Park, I would have a blissful block of time in which to do whatever I wanted (usually sleeping). They would come back sparkly-eyed and breathless, having hiked and explored to their hearts' content.
Last month, I heard that a 4-H group for home-schoolers was starting in Chesterfield County. I knew practically nothing about 4-H outside of what I see at the State Fair. I knew animals were involved, and agriculture, and that 4-H, at least in my mind, was something that country kids did. But this group was operating pretty close to town, just over the county line, and some of his friends were doing it, so why not?
Since we home-schooling parents are special snowflakes ourselves, getting together for a group activity is like herding cats. On 4-H day, I sent up a sincere prayer that somebody would show up. Imagine my surprise when we arrived to find the meeting room packed to capacity, and then some! Apparently, 4-H is a hot ticket! Who knew?
To make room for actual children, Tad and I retired to the lobby, where I proceeded to eavesdrop. It was a typical orientation meeting: rules and regulations and lists of things to bring. Every time I peeked in the door to make sure that The Boy was behaving, he was busily scratching at his notebook. As usual, I thought, off in his own world. Probably drawing robot battles. I consoled myself by noting that at least he wasn't being loud and disruptive.
After the orientation portion, they took a break. The Boy scribbled away. I came into the room, intending to firmly remind him to at least try and look like he was paying attention. Then I glanced at his notebook.
He had taken notes. Extensive, detailed notes about supplies they would need and projects that were in store. Just about every word was misspelled, but the concepts were clear. They were better than the notes I took at William & Mary most days. I felt like a jerk for ever doubting his sincerity.
On the way home, he babbled excitedly about the pictures in the 4-H brochures. "Did you know there are going to be bunnies, real actual bunnies and not stuffed?" he squealed. As I marveled at his dedication later to a friend, she looked concerned. "He does know why they are raising the bunnies, doesn't he?"
Why no, and neither did I until she mentioned it. A little online research taught me that 4-H breeders are encouraged to sell the rabbits they raise for slaughter. One website referred to the mature, saleable bunnies as "fryers." Another offered a "quick and humane" harvesting machine called the Rabbit Wringer. There was a video. I couldn't watch. I wondered how long I could keep this information from The Boy.
Fortunately, 4-H had other fish to fry. Elections were set for the next meeting. I didn't encourage The Boy to run, figuring it was more of a teenager job. Work commitments kept me from attending, but Tad gave me the recap when I got home. "One kid had a total meltdown when he didn't win," he reported.
"That's part of the reason I'm glad certain people didn't run for anything," I said in a hushed voice, motioning toward The Boy, who was in the next room.
"Oh, I did run for something," he called cheerfully. "I ran for vice-president! But I didn't win." He stuck his head in the door and shrugged. "Maybe next time."
This city kid is awfully glad to be a 4-H mom. I may not know exactly what they'll teach The Boy, but so far, they've taught me a lot about him.