Our family experienced a “first” in September.

We washed our horse, Pistol, at the car wash. Yep. We did.

Labor Day Weekend is huge for our little town of Hoopeston, Ill.

The week begins with contestants arriving from across the country for the National Sweetheart Pageant. First runners-up from the state Miss America pageants are invited to our rural Illinois town to compete for the title of National Sweetheart.

They tour local businesses and a local farm; are treated to meals hosted by local community organizations; live with local host families for the week; and are chaperoned to each event and night of competition by people from the community. This was my third year to chaperone these gals, and goodness, is it fun.
As the weekend approaches, the National Sweetcorn Festival begins. Carnival rides and games emerge in the town’s park. An antique steam engine provides power to cook ears upon ears of free sweet corn. And Saturday’s parade is a highlight of the event.

Each “sweetheart” is carried through the parade route on Corvettes driven by local enthusiasts. And scattered throughout are the small-town parade standards: Local community organizations and businesses, antique tractors, Shriners and clowns weaving amongst the entries, and of course -- horses.

Our 7-year-old son, Nolan, could ... not ... wait ... to enter the parade with his best buddy, Pistol, this year.

Our kids received their American Quarter Horse from my brother and sister-in-law last summer.

Pistol had spent his younger years as a roping and barrel horse. As he has aged, though, he’s slowed a bit. As he entered retirement, being paired with a young cowboy like Nolan was the perfect fit. We’ve yet to see this old guy get worked up over anything (and, no doubt, our tornado of a son provides plenty of opportunity.) So we figured it was safe for him to carry Nolan through the parade route.

The excitement was almost too much for Nolan to bear. And on the morning of the parade, he woke us nearly seven times between 4 and 6 a.m., asking if it was time to head to the barn to prepare for the day. It was worse than Christmas.

Then we heard it: thunder, hail and rain. And we saw flash-flood warnings on our weather apps.

The parade wasn’t canceled – the rain was predicted to subside. But we were in a bit of a bind. You see, we had planned that morning to wash the gray gelding that loves to roll in the dirt a bit too much.

Using our outdoor wash rack wasn’t an option. Craig didn’t think getting pelted by hail was quite worth a clean horse.

So Craig and Nolan loaded Pistol into the trailer and headed to the town car wash, which is enclosed and out of the elements. Craig used the car wash wand on low pressure, for Pistol’s safety, to get him shined up for the pair’s parade debut.

As predicted, the storms subsided. And the smile on Nolan’s face when the sun peeked through the clouds and the parade began, with him atop his trusty steed? Well, that’s a moment I’ll never forget.

He smiled and waved and had the time of his life, amidst the 42 “sweethearts” in Corvettes and the candy-tossing homemade floats.

And Craig and I – exhausted, filthy and a bit frazzled – could not have been more pleased.

Goodness knows Craig and I have many moments when our parenting patience is at its limits, when we question our decisions, when we just know we’re failing at this parenting gig.

But then there are moments like these. Hopefully, our kids will be able to look back on these memories and smile, knowing mom and dad really tried to give them their best, too. Maybe, just maybe, the good will outweigh the bad.

That’s all we can do as show parents, right? Do our best. Make decisions the best we know how. Give our kids our all. Support their dreams and their goals.

And if it requires a trip to the car wash with an old Quarter horse? Well, we’ll do that, too.