May is a month with a lot of topics to write about.

May is Military Appreciation Month and includes Memorial Day, and as Americans, we all owe those who made the ultimate sacrifice our thanks and respect. Mother’s Day is also in May, and mothers also deserve our thanks and respect for their sacrifices. May is also the month I was born; I turn 55, so it is a milestone year. This is when AARP gets serious about convincing me to join the club, and I begin to wonder how much tiger is left in the tank and what I can do to ensure the next generation of cooperative leaders are ready for the challenge.

Moms make a lot of sacrifices for the next generation, and last February, I wrote about many that my mom made for me. However, motherhood isn’t just about sacrifice but also about teaching, mentoring and developing kids who will be the adults running the show in the future. My mom did this by making sure we made it to school, work and church. She would also make sure that we actively participated. Failure to sing like a songbird in church would be met with a rap on the head with a hymnal, and nodding off in church would get a solid twist of the ear.

My mother often used church lessons to manage my rather rambunctious behavior. She taught us to be critical thinkers and to be confident enough to do our own thing and not just follow the crowd. If I was guilty of following the crowd, she would ask me, “If everyone got in a line and jumped off a bridge with no water below, would you do that too?” She would then ask me, “If the rapture came, and you were left behind, would you follow the crowd or would you be ready to face the tribulation?” I was 6!

My mom was always present when I got home from school, except one day. School let out early, and mom didn’t get the memo. I walked home and let myself in and hollered for mom, my brother (age 4) and sister (newborn). No answer. I ran into every room hollering; I ran out to the back yard hollering — no answer. It was at that moment I concluded that her dire prediction about my rambunctious behavior had come true, and I was indeed “left behind!” I won’t lie, fear gripped me because I had been told how tough things would be for those “left behind.” I spent the afternoon steeling myself for what was to come. Imagine my relief when I heard mom and my siblings coming through the front door later that day.

I think it is fair to say that I was quite the challenge to raise, and my mom was up to the challenge. This month, we recognize some amazing young Arkansans in the magazine, and I suspect their moms are up to the challenge as well. Our cover story is on Rukaya Alrubaye, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) youth spokesperson, from Ozarks Electric, who did a phenomenal job representing our state on the national stage in March. I was blessed to be able to meet her and her family. Rukaya truly embodies the cooperative spirit and is a powerful force for good. The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas also hosted the Arkansas State Spelling Bee and got to know Zeeshan Anower, who will represent the state at the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., this month. We wish him good luck! We also hosted the Arkansas 4-H SeaPerch Challenge this year, and we wish winning teams good luck at the international competition at the University of Maryland this month.

Why did I title this article Mother’s Day Challenge? Well, raising kids is always a challenge, but I think that today it is harder than ever. The national debt is currently at $31.5 trillion, which is $31,500 billion; that is a lot of dollars. The hope of all parents is to turn over a future to their children that is better than the one turned over to them.

The national debt was essentially $0 in 1968 when I was born. In 1990, 22 years later when my oldest son, Nick, was born, it was at about $3.5 trillion. In 2013, when my first grandson, Logan, was born, it had grown to $16 trillion. And last year, when my newest grandson, Owen, was born, it was $30.8 trillion.

Over the last five decades, the U.S. national debt has risen to $31.5 trillion.
Over the last five decades, the U.S. national debt has risen to $31.5 trillion.

I am not an economist, and likely there are some who would say this is no big deal, however, I see it as debt hanging over all American households. It has always been my experience that if you are working hard and still go into debt, then you must work even harder to get out of it. A very challenging political environment at home with China on the rise abroad and growing national debt all signal to me that our kids and grandkids will have to do more than we did, or at least do things differently, to fix it.

This is what I mean by the Mother’s Day Challenge, and I know we have some great moms out there who are up to the challenge to raise the next generation of Arkansans to be great. The young people we recognize in the magazine this month are prime examples, and if you need more motivation, I strongly recommend the movie “Greater,” which is streaming on Amazon Prime and other platforms. It is about Brandon Burlsworth, University of Arkansas All-American offensive lineman, who joined the Razorbacks as a walk-on and worked his way to the top. I was so impressed with how the movie depicted Brandon’s mother, Barbara (which is also my mom’s name). She had to fill the role of mom and dad and still instilled such deep values, showed such support and overcame many challenges to raise an amazing son.

I guess if I could offer any advice to moms who face the challenge of raising the next generation of leaders in our state, it would be to raise them to “Do it the Burls way.”