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Empower your kids; make them do the hard stuff

Photos courtesy of Elisa Jaouni Cupcakes arranged on in a triangle on a counter top, decorated to look like a watermelon slice
CUPCAKE CREATION: My girl helped out a young mom with a birthday for her child. She recalled her 4-H cake decorating project, brushed off her skills and put them to work.
A 4-H cake decorating project still comes in handy after 10 years.

The phone buzzed on my kitchen counter. It was Facetime. I answered, and on the screen was a picture of an iced cupcake. “Good thing I took that 4-H cake decorating class,” my girl said. “After all those years, I’ve still got it.”

A friend’s child was having a birthday, and my daughter volunteered to make cupcakes and a smash cake. For those, like me, who do not know what a “smash cake” is, well, it is a cake a young child can just smash with their hands and eat it. The parent does not worry about serving it to others.

My girl admits she was a little out of practice. After all, it’s been about 10 years since she spread icing on any form of cake. The time-lapsed video below shows a bit of her decorating flare.

Actually, she does not like cake. She’s more of a just-let-me-eat-icing kind of person. Still, through 4-H she learned how to put more icing on a cupcake or cake than in her mouth.

As she pulled the cupcake away from the phone screen, she was smiling from ear to ear. “I didn’t think I would remember any of it,” she said, “but it all just came back to me. Look!”

She spun around to show me more cupcakes strewn across the counter. They were different colors, some red, others green, and with different patterns. I ‘oohed and aahed’ at her accomplishment.

Making a difference

4-H is one of those programs where lessons from a project you took at a young age just stick with you.

Perhaps it is because as a kid you are eager to learn and not afraid to make mistakes. It could be because in 4-H, you are learning with your peers and it is fun. Then again, it could be because of those 4-H project volunteers who put in tireless hours to help young people develop real-life skills. All of these are true.

However, it often takes a parent to prod his or her child into certain 4-H projects.

A small cake on a counter top, decorated with green and red frosting
SMASH IT: While my girl made individual cupcakes for a birthday party, she also made this smash cake so the little girl could just dive right in. A smash cake is not meant to be shared with others, only eaten by hand by very young kids.

My girls were not thrilled when I said if they were in 4-H, they would be participating in foods, sewing and cake decorating. They already were versed in raising animals. But these types of projects were out of their wheelhouse. They didn’t understand them. They saw them as a little scary and a lot hard.

Then they gave me the same line I gave my own mother, “When am I ever going to use this?” After all, isn’t this the era where we empower women beyond these so-called “traditional” roles?

And there you have it — empower.

Let them learn

I do not care if you’re raising sons or daughters; 4-H projects offer a skill set that transcends gender. There are girls in robotics and welding, and young men in sewing and breads. Both are involved in shooting sports and fishing. 4-H projects are about teaching young people how to care for themselves when they leave the nest, as well as others.

So, stand firm in helping your child find their 4-H projects. Stretch them to do things that may not be comfortable, easy or perhaps the norm in society. They will learn, and as any PBS early childhood education show tells you, “Knowledge is power.”

But be careful.

As my girl showed me her latest icing creation, I could’ve snapped, “I told you those cake decorating meetings would prove handy someday.” But I didn’t, and you shouldn’t. As a parent, it is not about you being right. It is about you fostering an atmosphere of learning and celebrating accomplishments, no matter how many years down the road they appear.

When my girl hung up the phone, I knew she felt emboldened. Why? Well, she called her mom to share her creations. But it was more than that.

Cake decorating is not a skill many millennials have. However, she was able to draw on her 4-H knowledge and give a gift to a young mom. That’s the power of 4-H — learning a new skill to help not only yourself, but also others. Yes, my girl, you still got it.

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