I wasn't raised in a barn, but I was raised right next to one in "the middle of nowhere," Pennsylvania. My upbringing was rural, to say the least, and, yes, I lived over an hour away from Lancaster.
But while I couldn't choose where I came from, I could choose what parts of that place stayed with me long after I left it.
Here are 10 things I learned from my childhood in the country:
1. How to clean a horse's stall.
Whatever glamorous images you may have of horse ownership, put 'em away. My two main chores growing up were cleaning my room and the "room" of a two-thousand pound animal.
While most kids looked forward to summer vacation, I knew it just meant three months of waking up early to shovel poop in the hot sun. Even though I didn't appreciate the inherent lesson on hard work at the time, I now know it provided a character-building and formative part of my childhood.
And, if I ever decide to run away and join the circus, I know I've got a marketable skill.
2. What it’s like to watch a tractor cause a traffic jam.
If you think stop-and-go city traffic is bad, that's only because you've never gotten stuck behind a tractor going 15 miles per hour in a 45 zone. When a snail passes you in the left lane, you know you're in the country.
Of course, slowing down — even when it's forced upon you — does give you time to clear your head and refocus your priorities, all while appreciating the beauty of nature (mainly because you'll have nothing better to do than watch the grass grow for the next 20 minutes).
3. To enjoy obscure holidays off from school.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that not many school districts give their students the first day of deer hunting season off, but mine did.
While I don't condone hunting (or even eat meat), I've lived with horses long enough not to look a gift one in the mouth.
4. To appreciate and celebrate personal differences.
Small towns tend to have homogenous communities, and mine was no exception. I experienced very limited diversity until I moved to Boston for college. I like to consider myself open-minded, which is why I can admit tons of issues and concepts weren't even on my radar until I met someone affected by them.
The more different people I've met, the more I learned. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how valuable our different perspectives are to each other's personal growth.
5. What a “No Outlet” sign means.
I grew up on a "no outlet" road — and no, I don't mean a housing development cul de sac — that ended at my neighbor's cow farm. A sign advertising this fact stood at the beginning of our road to warn hopelessly lost travelers, and to really hit that whole "middle of nowhere" point home.
For the longest time when I was little, however, I thought that "No Outlet" sign meant that the road sign makers thought my family didn't have any power outlets in our home. (Don't worry, we did. I didn't grow up in a Little House On The Prairie, after all.) Eventually, I figured out the sign's true meaning and haven't forgotten it since.
6. The joys of getting my hands dirty.
Between mucking stalls, spreading mulch, and pulling weeds, I learned that a little dirt (or manure) can do a lot of good. Maybe not for your manicure, but for your mind. As corny as it sounds, connecting with the earth — even in the least relaxing, callus-inducing way — always gave me time to think and recenter myself.
In today's fast-paced, tech-heavy society, doing something slow and physically challenging can provide a welcome change of pace — not to mention a oh-so-sexy farmer's tan.
7. How to avoid a farmer's tan.
While some truly do see the appeal of a pale skin t-shirt, I've learned there are indeed other ways to spend a summer in the country. After years of extensive research, I've found that tank tops will do most jobs just fine.
I've even weeded while wearing a bathing suit top and, honestly, my tan wouldn't have looked better if I'd spent a week at the beach. (OK, yes, it would, but let me have this.)
8. Not to take myself too seriously.
When you come from the place mockingly referred to as Pennsyltucky (pre-Orange Is The New Black, people), you have to laugh. Most of the "weird" country things that happened to me as a kid have become fodder for some of my best stories as an adult. (Ask me about my horses' ceiling fans.)
While I may be the first to poke fun at my podunk hometown, I'll always go to bat for it against a snobby city slicker.
9. How to interact with wildlife.
The majority of my experience with wildlife has happened from a safe distance away, but that's exactly as it should have been. If snitches get stitches, then an idiot gets bit ... by a fox, a raccoon, a particularly aggressive rabbit, you name it.
Growing up in the boonies, one of the most common ways people interact with animals is still when a deer runs into the side of their car. We've learned how to navigate the hairpin turns of backwoods roads at breakneck speeds, all while keeping an eye out for Bambi.
10. To appreciate everything "the middle of nowhere" gave me.
I spent a lot of time during my angsty pre-teen and teen years staring out my bedroom window while Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" played in the background.
But for all the times I wished I were "anywhere, anywhere but here," I'm finally happy to say those wishes were never fully granted. If I hadn't grown up where I did, I may not have learned what I needed to get where I am today.
And though I did "break away," I'm glad I spent enough time in the middle of nowhere to get somewhere.
Cover image via Unsplash.