Going With the Flow

One of the things growing up on a farm taught me was to “go with the flow.” It was a hard thing to master as an impatient kid full of energy and dreams, but this life lesson has served me well in my adult life.

My parents’ verbal commitments to us regarding family activities were always a bit tentative: “I think that will work out” or “We’ll see what we can do.” They were careful to only make promises they could keep, so their responses to our questions were sometimes frustratingly vague.

Here’s how things could go:

Perhaps we planned to see a Saturday movie matinee. We rarely went to movies, so the event was extremely exciting to us. Very few theaters operated in the Kalamazoo area, it was a 40-minute drive, and the outing was expensive, especially when purchasing the required popcorn for five kids.

It was a huge effort for my mother to get us all cleaned up and corralled in the car to arrive in time to secure seven adjacent seats in the theatre’s light, instead of stumbling around in the dark during the previews. But the hardest person to corral was our dad.

We kids would be scrubbed, dressed, and fed, waiting and watching for Dad’s return from the fields or his chores in the barn. Sometimes Dad hustled in, showered, and met us in the car. He was good-natured and full of fun and energy, always ready for an adventure. But occasionally, Dad would step in the backdoor and yell, “Well, I’ve had a breakdown! Sorry, kids!”

The restored 1466. Despite the inevitable breakdowns, Dad spent many happy hours on this tractor. He had a radio attached to a fender and often planted corn into the evenings, listening to Tiger baseball games. Photo: Oswalt Family Farms.

Breakdowns meant everything had to stop ­– all plans cancelled – until the broken machinery could be repaired. If Dad and Uncle John could fix the equipment, breakdowns meant a call to the farm implement dealer for parts. But if the issue was beyond their tools and technical abilities, it meant an expensive service call.

Sometimes his shout in the backdoor was, “The tractor is stuck back on the marsh!” Sometimes it was the dreaded “The cattle are out! Get your boots on!” postponing any hope of an away-from-the-farm outing.

My brother Steve’s birthday, June 1, 1970. It is dark, but Dad made it in from planting corn to celebrate. His love of family was the only thing stronger than his love of work.

Ultimately, we learned acceptance of things beyond our control. We also learned to trust that eventually everything will work out. We did, at some point, go to the movies or visit our friends, just not on our original time frame. These periodic disappointments didn’t make me a pessimist; these small setbacks helped me learn to adjust and persevere.

Parenthood certainly demands flexibility and patience. How many times did we plan to join a holiday celebration when one of our children developed a fever or the flu? How many times did we think our savings account was growing only to need a home or car repair?

I rediscovered what I already knew: these things will pass and aren’t the end of the world.

Classroom teaching demands another layer of acceptance and patience when working with students of different backgrounds, abilities, and personalities.

And then, we’ve all been challenged by COVID-19 and the plasticity required to operate during a global pandemic.

I admit that the last year has tested my predilection for flexibility, but spring is here, some reserves remain in my tank and my resolve to persist remains.

It’s a Fine Life

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A collection of my first 20 “It’s a Fine Life” columns

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