Last month, my daughter and her husband purchased a new home on a beautiful piece of property in Littlestown, Pennsylvania. They’d saved for over a decade, living in a townhouse with three children, a dog and three cats, boarding a pony all the while. So, it was super special to see that dream come true for them.
Immediately after they moved into the house, the race was on to get fencing up and stalls ready so they could bring Sea Feather home. He’s the 24-year-old Chincoteague Pony we brought home from Pony Penning as a foal when she was a young girl. Continuing to board was not an option.
So, for the past four weekends, my husband and I have headed up Md. 97 to Littlestown to pitch in. Family supports family. That’s important to us. In my work at the nonprofit, Marriage and Relationship Education Center, I’ve read many studies about the lessons that children take away from the example their family sets. We wanted to set a good example.
“Family members who work together can help balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses and bring everyone closer together,” a report from the University of Illinois Extension Center says, “Parents who work as a team have a positive impact on their children's emotions and relationships.”
I couldn’t agree more. Skills that children learn when a family acts as a team ultimately lead them to successfully participate on other teams they encounter in life, including school, sports, and a future work field. Strong family is one of the greatest gifts. When we work together toward a common goal, we are nurturing strong family relationships.
Fourteen-year-old Matthew may have grumbled a few times while filling fence post holes with dirt, shoveling stone, and later, seeding the areas torn up when waterlines were run to the barn, but by the end of the day he was smiling. It was that sense of accomplishment. Even 10-year-old Lexi and 7-year-old Norah pitched in, shoveling stone into their kid-sized wheelbarrow to roll over and dump into fencepost holes, and then running for tools and needed items. They were the best gophers ever. At one point, when there was nothing for them to do, they headed to the house to carry out drinks for all the workers, without being asked. Seeing the kids work alongside adults made me one proud grandma.
The new home is surrounded by sprawling green fields that were kept neatly manicured by the previous owner but are set to become beautiful pastures. By the end of the first week, the salesmen at TSC in Hanover knew us by name. There were multiple trips for metal gates, rubber stall mats, screws and supplies. Shannon’s husband, Tony found a local sawmill to purchase 16 foot long oak boards for fencing
Dan ran waterlines and then worked inside the building that had once been a workshop but is fast becoming a barn. While he moved electric outlets out of reach of horses and framed in stalls, I helped Tony lift and hold the boards that he screwed into the fence posts. I never realized how heavy a 16-foot oak board could be. It was like doing squats all day long while carrying weights, something I was reminded of when the leg cramps set in later that night.
The old saying, “The moments together change us forever,” took on more meaning as we all worked toward a common goal. I’ve always loved my son-in-law, but I came to appreciate who he is even more as I watched the sweat roll. Working together can do that. I realized that all of this hard work was for my daughter and her love of horses. How can you not appreciate and love that?
At the same time, we were watching the fences and stalls come together, the kids were learning about responsibility. By being part of the home-building team, they were taking ownership. When kids work together with family, they feel useful and valued. They develop healthy work attitudes while safely learning new skills and habits. They learn the importance of dependability and self-discipline.
Finally, it was time for Sea Feather to come home. This gentle old boy has mentored many kids in his 24 years on Earth. He was the first pony ever purchased for a child at Pony Penning by the cancer survivor who, for the 8 years she survived cancer, made a habit of buying ponies for kids. The nonprofit, Feather Fund was created in her honor and he is the unofficial mascot, loved by so many.
After being the first to clean her room that day, Norah earned the job of backing Sea Feather off the trailer at his new home. He exited the trailer quietly, looking everything over while being led into his new pasture.
It was a good feeling to see him in his new home, but one thing bothered us. He was alone. Horses are herd animals, and although he didn’t seem to mind, the goal was to find a friend for him. After all, family is just as important to herd animals as it is to most humans.
But before a search could even begin, a sweet friend offered to lend her Chincoteague Pony, John Wayne, to my daughter. So, one week later, John Wayne was led into the field. It was an idyllic scene, seeing the two grazing side by side.
On Monday, my grandkids had a day off school for Columbus Day, so I popped in for a visit. As I sat at their picnic table looking over the fields, I felt overwhelmingly blessed. Seeing your kids’ dreams come true is even better than having it happen to you. And the lessons learned along the way are priceless.
Lois Szymanski writes from Westminster. Her Life & Times column, The Great Big World, appears every first, third and fifth Sunday. Email her at email@example.com.