There are plenty of fantastic milestones in your children’s lives.
First day of kindergarten. Getting a driver’s license. Prom. Wedding. Rebounding from that corporate wide-layoff.
I have experienced plenty of wonderful milestones for both of my kids, and I am sure the upcoming achievements will be equally awesome.
But I have a hard time believing that any of these upcoming events will be as moving, as touching, as emotional — and most importantly, as helpful — as the day I turned over the lawnmower to my daughter.
My daughter is 14, and a quick check of the Googler will tell you that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that a child can start to be your grass cutting mule at age 12. I spent a few moments lamenting two years of cutting my own grass, but decided to focus on the future.
I told my daughter that I wanted her to help me with some yard work, and she was pumped about that. The reason for that is that her version of doing yard care is having me do the work while she walks around the yard with her earbuds in singing loudly to her Itunes collection. Normally, our yard work sessions involve this conversation:
ME: Are you going to help in the yard or just walk around singing?
ME: If you’re just going to wander around the yard singing, just go inside.
ME: Wait, what!?!?
But this time would be different. She would have a definable task, along with the opportunity to operate a machine that could cause potential mangling.
I went over the rules. And rule one? Yeah, those sandals — while absolutely darling — have to go. Go get some actual shoes on. I don’t need a toe decoration in the front yard. Second rule — I don’t care what your brother does, if you chase him with said lawnmower, we will have issues. That pretty much covered it.
I explained to her how to start the mower and how to start on the outside and take lap after lap, making the cuttable yard smaller and smaller with each pass. I explained to her that, at the end of the laps, she will have a single line of grass clippings that are easily raked up.
So she sidled up to the mower to execute phase one. Our mower was made some time around 1978 and is delightfully devoid of any modern amenities such as a bag, automatic acceleration, a sharp blade, etc. She grabbed the cord and yanked. The cord extended about a foot, then caught, and then the mower tilted off the ground onto two wheels before crashing back down.
“Doesn’t sound started to me,” I said. She appreciated that. She eventually got the hang of pulling the entire cord and pulled over and over again without a single success. Not even a putter.
After about 458 unsuccessful tries, I told my daughter to hold up. I approached the mower and unscrewed the gas cap. “Waddya know! Bone dry!” She thought this was really, really funny, as you can imagine. For what it’s worth, I have spent many a cord pull trying to start an empty mower, so this was not me being mean, but rather me being incompetent.
Once I added some gas, the mower started up with ease. She glared at me a smidge. She started off strong, making the laps with relative ease. I stood in the shade and gave an occasional nod of encouragement as she passed me with each lap.
By the time she was making her last pass, I surveyed the yard. “You missed a dandelion,” I said, pointing to a spot across the yard. She seemed pleased that I had noticed where she had missed perfection.
So her first experience as a lawnmower operator was a definite success, certainly from my point of view. And even though I waited a couple of years beyond the age when it is acceptable to have her cut the grass, I can always take solace in this: my son is 12. Time to learn to mow, too.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.