Growing up in the country, I felt that I was blessed to be able to get my hands dirty and learn many of life’s lessons at a young age. I knew when it came time to raise my children, I wanted them to be able to experience and learn important lessons with the same hands on approach as I had! For me, this meant nothing less than raising them on a ranch! Since moving here, it has been my great pleasure to watch our girls thrive. Here are a few of the lessons kids learn from ranch life!
Dirt Don’t Hurt
Most kids are not afraid of getting a little bit dirty, especially when it is on their terms. Painting, playing in the mud and making a mess is all a part of having a great childhood! My girls have always been right with the rest of kids throughout history that enjoyed getting a little dirty. But, until we moved to the ranch, I never realized how much they wanted to control the mess. The night before our final walk-through before purchasing our place, there had been a massive rainstorm. The girls and I were taking a walk through the pastures and getting a little mud on our rain boots. To my surprise, both girls started panicking about getting dirty. I, on the other hand, had tapped into my inner child and was loving the sloshing of my boots in the mud and enjoying the peace of it all.
After we moved in, it all changed for the girls. They have come to realize that mud and dirt are some of the best parts of ranch living. And I am more frequently finding myself hollering out the window to make sure they hose themselves off before they stomp that mud through the house. They make mud dolls with sticks and feathers and paint their faces with the wet soil, trying to camouflage themselves (learned from their Daddy, of course!) A mantra I have taught them, and now only slightly regret is the old saying from my childhood, “God made dirt, so dirt don’t hurt.” I might need to remember that from time to time when little feet carry that dirt to my carpet under dirty boots!
To Be Brave
I’ve always been proud of how brave my girls are. Vivien, as the oldest, has always been especially brave. Perhaps due to a scary surgery she had at just three days old, so now nothing scares her? Or maybe she was just born fearless. Either way, I have never considered my girls to be scaredy cats. To my surprise, moving to the ranch has increased their bravery. In the past, any noise in the darkness would have them hiding behind me for protection as the three of us investigated the bumps in the night. This is no longer the case. Both girls will now run out the door and into the night to see what sounds are. They are just too excited to see which animal is making the sound, though it is usually a bullfrog or cricket and nothing to be afraid of. They also seem to lead the charge when going on a new adventure. In the past they would leave it to my husband or I to go first. It has been incredible to watch the growth in this aspect.
Where Their Food Comes From
One of the best things about country living for me is, no matter where we drive, we pass orchards and fields of vegetables. It was only a short time after moving that Vivien started asking, “ooh mama what’s that?! What are they growing?!” Bell peppers, apricots, artichokes, strawberries…whatever the crop was. She would get really excited and say how it was her favorite fruit or vegetable. The first time we went to the Farmer’s Market after moving here, she was so excited to learn that the produce she was seeing at the fruit stands was grown right here in town, or close by. She loves spotting the crops she sees at the market along side of the road. She has also noticed all of the phases of crop production as well, watching the work, water and energy put into raising the food we eat. She is learning from a young age to not take our food for granted and how important farming and ranching is in our day to day lives.
To Try New Fruits and Veggies
Due to the discovery of how our produce is grown and how it is so local, Vivien is enthusiastic about trying a variety of new fruits and vegetables. Picking the vegetables and fruit herself is one automatic way to get her to eat it, as it comes directly off the plant and into her mouth. But, she also is excited when we bring items home from the market that she has never had, or has had and loves. She loves hearing the story about how each vegetable is grown, whether in a tree or in the ground. Don’t get me wrong, she still has picky moments where all she wants is a quesadilla, and she doesn’t like raw tomatoes, but she is interested and tries everything.
To Love All Creatures
Truth be told, I try like heck to love all of the creatures on the planet, but as many of us know, that can be hard to do. I will never be ok with snakes or spiders, although I do my best. My girls however, have quickly learned the beauty in all things in nature. Like me when I was a kid, they love letting tarantulas crawl over them! This, of course, is something I grew out because spiders are terrifying and evil, but I am happy that they love it.
The other day, Vivien screamed from outside, “Mama, come look! A Praying Mantis! Isn’t he beautiful?! He is my most favoritest insect of all the insects.” First of all, I had no idea she knew what a Praying Mantis was. Second, how cool is it that she had such passion for such a crazy looking bug. Although I have to admit, I think the little ninja warrior insects are pretty cool myself! I asked her if she ever came across a creature she doesn’t like. She thought about it for a second and said, “Nope! They are all cool and important in their own way.” When my 4 year old talks like that it blows me away. I love that not only is she already wiser than me, she has such a strong appreciation for Mother Earth and all her creatures.
The Importance of Rain
Since we live in California, we have the luxury and reputation for having gorgeous weather and sunshine for most of our days. Although with that constant sunshine and lack of rainy days there comes the high possibility of drought. For many of us, over the last few years, we have all witnessed first hand what a drought means. We have all had to cut back on our water usage. Water costs went up and lawns went brown. This, of course, applies at the ranch. We are on a system called “Blue Valve”, which means we can purchase extra water for our crops and fields on years that there is enough rainwater during the winter to supply the demand. Watching the lawns and grass turn brown has made the girls ask questions about why people are not watering their lawns and crops. Through these discussions, Vivien has learned that water is a valuable commodity and tries to do her best to cut down water use, even going so far as to try and convince me that she no longer needs to wash her hands, because she’s cutting back on water waste. Good try, kid!
The Vastness of the Universe
This year has been a great year to teach little ones about the solar system, especially with the solar eclipse in August. Since we left suburbia behind, we now have access to the incredible darkness of the nighttime sky, providing us the ability to actually see the stars at night. Sitting on our front porch with the lights off, we have a whole show each night with the constellations are on full display. Through a telescope, my girls have been able to learn about the shadows on the moon, see the Milky Way, and understand that we on Earth are only a small part of the vastness that surrounds us. It is so fun to watch their little minds try to grasp the concept of how tiny we are compared to the world around us. They also get a kick of howling at the moon at the top of their lungs!
The Importance of Neighbor Support
We are blessed with having incredible neighbors living on our road. Even luckier, our closest neighbor in proximity has three little boys for our daughters to play with. I know, I know, this might be a curse when they become teenagers! Living in the country, it is hard to express the importance of having neighbors you can depend on. It is important in the city too, but in the country sometimes your closest support come from those who live around you.
On the 4th of July this year, our well stopped working. For anyone unfamiliar, the well is how we get our water; it is not provided through the city. If you have a water issue when living on a well, it is completely up to you to fix (or hire someone to fix)! It completely stopped working, and we did not have the parts to fix it. Of course it was on a holiday, when everything is closed. There was also no one to call, as everyone was out celebrating. We were in luck though, our neighbor down the road was home, and not only did he have the parts to fix the problem, he knew how to do it. He drove down on his quad and fixed the problem that night. My daughters have watched time and time again of the importance of having supportive neighbors, and this is just one example of the many times they have stepped in to help us on the ranch. The girls are learning the importance of leaning on others, and in turn, being there for their neighbors when they need help.
Being Outside is Cooler Than TV
Kids will always love cartoons, and how can we blame them? Turning off your brain for a second and watching something silly on tv is one way that our modern society knows how to escape. The beauty of living in the country though, is that my daughters have found that the best way to escape is to go outside and explore. The sights, sounds and textures of the real world will always surpass that of what is on tv. Being able to experience life in the present is so much more exciting to them and, I have found, that since moving out here the tv is on way less than it used to be, thank goodness. It is so much easier to encourage them to get up and get outside now that they have so much they want to see and do.
Cowgirls are Strong
My girls love to help around the ranch when they see me working on projects. They love stealing the shovel from me to try and dig holes. Same goes for the clippers when I am pruning the roses or tree branches. After a while of trying for themselves, they get tuckered out and want to watch instead. Vivien typically says something along the lines of, “that is too hard” or “that is so heavy”, as she sits down to watch.
Lately, we have begun discussing the importance of having a strong body. One of my biggest goals in life is to encourage my daughters to be happy with their figures. I have this secret mission of making them into girls who are in awe of what their bodies can do, something that I feel my generation was not encouraged to do. In raising them around the ranch, they are realizing it takes a strong body to do the chores around the house. I try to point out that cowgirls can’t just be skinny, though many of them are from working so hard. Cowgirls, I tell them, have to be strong, not only in spirit and mind, but in their bodies. They have to load hay, dig holes, lift and carry animals and this can’t be done with weak arms, legs and backs. Since she realized that she wants to be a cowgirl, Vivien has begun a “workout” routine, which includes her version of a pull-up, “runs” around the yard and proper stretching. Watching her learn the importance of strength as it relates to her overall health, is something I am hoping will continue throughout the rest of her life.
The Importance of Peace and Reflection
As I have grown older, I have realized that many of us are striving to have a bit of peace and quiet in our lives. With all the chaos in the world today, the constant barrage of information and technology, though beneficial, can leave us feeling disconnected and in need of a break. The problem is, many of us do not know how to find it, nor do we think we have the time to take for it. I think it is vital to teach our children from a young age the importance of taking time away from the noise of life to have a little peace. This way, later in life, they will have a foundation to lean on.
For my girls, especially Vivien due to her age, I try as much as possible to give the opportunity to go outside for some quiet time for herself. If you are thinking this is a ploy for mama to get a bit of quiet time too, you would be correct, win-win right?! But really though, what started out as an exercise for my daughter to reflect on her emotions, has now become something she looks forward to. I no longer have to prompt her, as she enjoys going out by herself to sit on the fence and gaze at the pastures and sky. When she returns, I try to make a point and ask her what she was thinking about, and usually it’s about a dream for the future; the horse she wants or the kind of tree she thinks we should plant. She ponders how eagles fly and why snakes don’t have feet. I love that she is learning this quiet reflection time at such a young age, and adore the questions and conversations we have as a result of this downtime.
Although I have tried to teach the girls empathy basically since birth, they seem to have really gained an understanding of empathy from life on the ranch. Being surrounded by so many pets and plants, the girls have quickly learned that they have to act on behalf of those who cannot speak up for themselves, and understand what someone or something besides themselves is feeling. Both girls are very aware of what our pets might be experiencing; cold, heat, thirst or hunger. They are learning to provide for their animals and take responsibility of their needs. Vivien came to my room one night after bedtime, upset because it was cold outside and she wanted to make sure the chickens would be warm enough. She is understanding that we each play a large role in each others life, and it only takes a moment to think about what someone else might be feeling. This journey and these lessons in empathy is extremely humbling and gratifying, and it causes me to stop and think if I am doing my very best in being empathetic to those around me as well.
The Circle of Life
Before we moved to the Ranch, my oldest daughter never really had to understand what death was. We have been fortunate not lose any family members in her young life, so she never understood the impact of passing away. When we first arrived to the ranch, we purchased baby chicks which quickly became her pets. After they grew, we moved them into their outdoor chicken coop. Somehow, one of the chickens escaped. Needless to say, chickens and Chocolate Labrador’s (aka bird dogs) do not mix. We did not witness the incident, thank goodness, but we did come home to the loss. When Vivien saw her chicken, we had to explain what happened to Henny Penny. Although it is difficult for a child to understand, she now grasps the general concept that Henny Penny is gone and we don’t get to see her anymore. This has taught Vivien how fragile life is, which in turn has made her more empathetic and appreciative of the time spent with her pets.