Karen Bohnert

Not too long ago, my 11-year-old daughter, Cassie, was playing basketball. As an opposing player was trying to throw the ball in to another player, Cassie was guarding her, wildly jumping up and down, yelling like a group of heifers were out. The opposing player was distracted when she threw the ball in. Cassie jumped, grabbed it, and scored.

The parents of the opposing team who were watching from the stands asked, “Who is that girl?” As the mother of “that girl,” I was beaming. It is so rewarding to watch your child in their full potential.

I never said a word. As the game continued, Cassie continued to play aggressively hard, and people in the stands praised her. After the game was over, the opposing team’s coach came up to me and said, “Where on earth is your daughter practicing? What travel team does she play on?”

Cassie was standing with me and humbly responded, “I play on the feed pad at our farm and practice shooting in my driveway, and no sir, I don’t play travel ball.”

The coach introduced himself and encouraged that she get signed up. Cassie kindly told the man that she didn’t know how travel ball would fit into her life. She said, “I’m pretty busy between school, homework, school basketball team, and farm chores. My father depends on me.”

The coach encouraged me to get her into summer camps and told me, “Wow, Cassie has just made a name for herself.”

But, really, little did he know, Cassie has been turning heads long before she began dribbling a ball. Cassie, with her long locks, big brown eyes, and her radiant smile, has many doing a double take. But, what really resonates with people is Cassie’s golden heart, can-do attitude, and drive for life.

Perhaps it is because she is growing up sandwiched in between two brothers on our family farm that makes her stick out. Cassie is not afraid of dirt, nor backs down from hard work. This fall, she helped her grandfather haul round bales off the field. Cassie drove the dully and flatbed trailer around the field as her grandfather stacked round bales onto the trailer. The twosome did this for hours, and then when they were all done, Cassie pulled up around the barn and backed the truck and trailer in between two semitrailers and dropped the trailer. Her grandfather and Uncle Brian watched in awe.

Never-ever tell her that she cannot do something simply because “she is a girl.” I guarantee Cassie will prove you wrong.

There is something that makes my heart proud watching Cassie work alongside older generations. It brings back memories of my father working side by side with five girls on our family farm. He never treated his daughters any differently than his only son. We were all required to work hard and help out.

Cassie takes this on-the-farm grit and showcases it on the court, in school, and everywhere else she goes. It’s really hard to teach these values anywhere but a farm. Beyond dribbling a ball on our feed pad while her dad mixes feed, Cassie can be found driving a skid loader and carrying a load of straw bales to bed down heifer calves. She can be found feeding bottle calves and breaking a stubborn 2-year-old show cow to lead. She also steps up to help me fix dinner and fold laundry before heading to bed. She volunteers serving at church.

I constantly count my lucky stars with Cassie Ann Bohnert. She is somewhere between a girl and a young woman, not quite one or the other, but when it comes to her future, I really don’t worry. These farm girls have a way of turning heads and making a name for themselves.

I won’t even pretend that I know how hard it must be because I wholeheartedly believe that being a teen is harder now than ever before. There is so much pressure to fit in. But, if my daughter can only know one thing, I want her to know that girls want to be just like her.

So don’t fit in, lead the way, sweet Jersey girl. Show others how to live big, work hard, persevere, laugh, and engage by including others. That way, when others want to fit in, they’re fitting into the right kind of mold. The mold of a farmer’s daughter.

And I want her to know I’ve always got her back. Farm moms have a way of always cheering their children on. Deep down I know Cassie loves when I chant her name on the court and take extra pictures when she is in the showring.

Cassie has always worked hard and illustrated her successes with grace. She is chatty, like her mother, but she exemplifies so much more than I could ever demonstrate. Cassie is this humble, poised, ray of sunshine that makes my heart burst.

Continue to soar on Cassie Ann, goodness awaits. In the meantime, I’ll just ask for extra hugs because it seems like yesterday our sweet sassafras was sporting pigtails and Care Bears and held my hand everywhere she went.

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 450-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.