Live United: Sometimes life can be like riding the fair’s Ring of Fire

Published 8:45 pm Friday, August 11, 2023

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Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag

This week, we’re continuing the article series based on what my children told me to write about: trying new things, following the rules and loving others. Last week was about loving others — about living United in Purpose, our 2023 campaign theme. This week, we’re going to talk about trying new things, and I know my reader Ernie will greatly appreciate this story.

On a hot Friday night last year, my family and I were at the fair. It was an eventful night, as we met up with good family friends. The four children had been bragging all week about how they were all going on the Ring of Fire ride. It’s the one you can see from across the way — the one that is a big loop and they ride in cars back and forth and eventually go upside down. Oy. Not my kind of thrill, I can tell you that! One kiddo was not quite tall enough. Two kiddos changed their mind at the last minute. The last kiddo — my then 7-year-old son — was bound and determined.

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He was going to ride this ride. He posed for a picture in front of the ride, fists pumping the air, with the biggest grin a little boy can have.

Afterwards, I was smart enough to take a video. “Was it fun?” “NO!” “It wasn’t fun?” “IT WAS HORRIFYING! I NEVER WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN!” Somehow his daddy and I were not that surprised. He did it though, and for a few months we’d remind him, “You can do hard things. You did the Ring of Fire.”

During the Six Best Days of Summer this year, my son mentioned the fair and his plan to go on the Ring of Fire again. I was surprised as my kids are generally pretty consistent with their decisions. I asked him about that, and he tells me, “I know mama, but you always tell me to try something at least 10 times before I decide I don’t like it.” I wasn’t about to explain to him that I had meant that in reference to the brain science in trying new foods, not all things. Maybe it’s about experiences, too, I don’t know. At the last minute, he decided not to go, in solidarity with his friend that was still not quite tall enough. She was heartbroken over the fact that she couldn’t be the daredevil she wanted to be.

He has big plans for next year though. All I know is that apparently I’m going to be videoing this every year until he’s 18.

We may not be going on the Ring of Fire, but we’re certainly turning things upside down and going full steam ahead. Must be why I prefer my recliner over the wild ride that’s not that different from work. My son says that trying new things is what we do. He said, “I don’t know what this means, but Nikolle stretched a lot, and I guess she never stretched before. Maybe she should try Cosmic Yoga.” As funny as this is to imagine in his mind, he’s right. Nikolle has stretched the boundaries of what her comfort zone is, which is the snippet that my boy heard. Last week, she operated the pallet jack and moved a pallet of donated sweet potatoes off a semi-truck. That’s seriously intimidating if it’s new to you. Today one of our volunteers sat and watched me maneuver two watermelon totes stacked on top of each other and made the announcement that I no longer have the “learner’s permit” for operating the pallet jack, that I’m good to go now.

Guess it’s a good thing he didn’t watch me try to line up a stack of pallets onto a truck in five tries earlier that day. Add in all the new skills like learning volunteer software, working with two monitors, the rhythm and flow of volunteer management, and it’s safe to say that all of us have tried new things. The more I think about it, the “10 tries” isn’t that far off either — we’re a little over 15 pantry days in and we’re settling in.

Except we’re on a wild ride remember? So in the way of epic fair rides, life is taking us on a loop. New things means new people, too. We’re going to be saying goodbye to Heidi in a couple of weeks. Heidi’s been with us for nearly two years and is feeling the call to move back into a role that is more specifically focused on mental health, her passion. No matter where she goes though, we know she’ll always be a friend to us, and an advocate for United Way’s work, especially the Welcome Pantry that she had such a strong role in developing.

We’re also going to be seeing some more faces in September, with additions to our staff, internships. The team and I have been working on some plans to restructure, and assessing the flow of things. We’re eyeballing some empty spaces, looking at grants and dreaming about sleeping in. At least once a week, we sit down and we look at each other and we take a deep breath. Turns out that it’s just the slow steady climb to Thursday when we hit the top of the roller coaster and then it’s the arms in the air screaming all the way down. If you’d like to join us for the ride, we’re still building our volunteer base and would love to add new faces. Give us a call at 507-373-8670 to join us for this crazy but thrilling ride. Maybe that can be your new thing, and you’ll make new friends, learn new things and stretch a little bit. Not quite as much stretching as Yoga in the Park, but a little stretch is good for the soul.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.