Friday, September 16, 2016

All That Matters

Little One and Blaze
Last night I was scurrying around the kitchen, trying to get dinner on the table—late as usual. The intensity of the childrens’ nagging was escalating by the minute. Three children were talking at me at once, and I was only half listening to the myriad of conversations raining down on me, when I heard one comment that stopped me in my tracks.

Katherine was divulging more details about last weekend’s goat show.  She had driven all by herself with her trailer heavily loaded with 25 goats to a show five hours away (as a side note – I refer you to the 11/20/2015 blog post "Looking Back", which tells the story of how we got lost going to this show last year…but I digress…).
Until that moment, the details had been mundane. Over the weekend Katherine sent me a steady stream of text messages with the play-by-play of The Goat Show: how each of her goats placed in their classes, who was at the show, who’s goats won, how many goats each person brought, who got a new truck, who said what to whom, etc.  All normal stuff.
Her goats did well enough, with one of her favorite bottle-babies winning Reserve Junior Doe (which translates to 2nd place for female goats under the age of 2). Another group of them won their classes and generally made the top 5 goats in many classes.
Woohoo! I call that success. Statistically, lets think about this. Lets say, for example, the show has 150 goats entered: 20 bucks (males), 30 wethers (neutered males), 50 junior does (females less than 2), and 50 senior does (females over 2). You know I’m making these numbers up, right? OK.
Goats compete against their same gender, so lets look at our odds of winning with the 100 female goats (does) present at the make-believe show. First you have to win your age group (under or over 2 years old). That’s a 1 in 50 chance in our make-believe show (2%). Highly unlikely. If you do actually win that age group, it comes down to a final match-up of the Junior Doe versus Senior Doe. Mano a mano. The judge has to pick one of the two of you… so 50/50. Better… but the chance that you made it to that showdown at all is slim to none.
Anyway, I’ve oversimplified the math to make my point: it’s not easy to win The Goat Show.
After each class, even after The Judge has publicly given their reasons for choosing one goat over another ON THE MICROPHONE, The Judge still allows exhibitors to ask “off-line” about why their Goaty didn’t win. Not many people actually approach the judge after the class, which is probably why the judges still extend this courtesy. (Can you imagine how long The Goat Show would take if EVERYONE asked, “why didn’t MYYYY GOAT win??” Ugh. Makes me tired just thinking about it.)
Based on my observations, the people that do ask The Question fall into one of two categories: whiners or information-seekers.
Whiners are just that: whiny. “What could possibly be wrong with my picture-of-perfection wether?! I think you are wrong…” OK, I doubt exhibitors accuse The Judge of being wrong…too often.
The information-seekers look for specific data and earnestly want an objective critique of their animal. Answers might include, “not sufficiently muscled yet” (translation: too small), “loose stifle” (translation: gimpy), “less-than-attractive head” (translation: ugly).
Back to my story … so Katherine’s most-est favorite-est wether (who won “Best Wether” at the County Fair this year!) got 2nd place at this show. So close!
Mark, our Champeen wether at County Fair in July 2016
There was a lull in the show while the owner of the “Champeen” Wether filled out paperwork to prove “indeed, that animal raht there really and truly is da animal on this-ah here piece a’ paypah.”
So, Katherine approached the judge, goat in tow.
Her question was broader than, “Why didn’t Mark win?” It was more in line with, “Am I on the right track with my breeding program? What do you think of the style of goat I am trying to create?”
The Judge replied, 
All that really matters is that YOU like your goats.” 
That was the comment that penetrated the dinnertime chaos swirling around me last night. It is profound in so many ways – way beyond goats.
So often we look to external sources for validation that what we are doing “it” (goat breeding/writing/parenting/thinking/etc.) right -- that we are conforming to the breed standard, societal norms, popular culture.
How many times have I heard anxiety-riddled parents lament about whether their kid will get into “the right” college. Or, hell, in San Francisco the question is whether their kid is going to get into "the right” kindergarten or, yes, preschool.
Over my 20+ years of parenting I have learned in no uncertain terms that parents are intensely competitive about their kids. On one level, these school worries are about the well-being of the child’s future.
Competitive Parenting
But more often these anxieties are rooted in competitive parenting. Are my kids smarter/more athletic/more popular/kinder/calmer/cuter than yours because I am a superior parent? Or, heaven forbid, vice versa? Do you recognize that my kid is THE BEST (fill-in-the-blank) ever seen in this universe? Do my peers/relatives/frenemies approve of my parenting style? Am I doing this  (EVERYTHING) right?!

For God’s sake, let it go. You are making plenty of mistakes, probably screwing up royally. But, good news, no one is looking that closely at you and somehow we all muddle through adolescence into adulthood.
“All that really matters is that YOU love your [kids].” See how I substituted “kid” for “goats” in there? I could also substitute “yourself.”
So, to my 7 children I say: I love all of you, even if you don’t play professional soccer, don’t publish a book by the time you are 18, don’t wear a size 2, don’t get a 5 on your Chemistry AP exam, don’t get invited to the party, don’t get a modeling gig at age 2, don’t wear your retainer every night, don’t pass Econ, don’t get the lead in the play, don’t go to Harvard, or … don’t win The Goat Show.
In return, you must give yourself permission to love yourself, shortcomings and all. Know in your heart that, so long as you do your best, you are doing “it” right.

Katherine, your goats are just fine, and so are you.
Love, Ma