With mixed success, BRETT JOHANSEN has managed to get his kids to help out around the house; yet, when it comes to something exciting, and dangerous, like mowing the lawns, he notes their eagerness to embrace hard work.
For parents, mowing the lawn encapsulates one of the greatest ironies facing us: for as long as a child is too small to operate a piece of equipment competently and safely, they will be desperate to help with the task at hand.
When I was a child, I had a small, colourful plastic lawnmower. This lawnmower lived in the shed with the real one. Its purpose: to keep me entertained while my father performed the task of trimming the lawn. He would methodically cut the grass and I would dutifully follow with my safety goggles on, pretending to be the one mowing our meadow.
Now I am the one who gets to operate the real mower. Lately, each time I pull it out from the shed – determined to ensure our berm isn’t the worst on the street – my seven- and eight-year-old appear from the house, yelling beseechingly over the din: ‘can we help?’
There are many tasks around the house for which I welcome the assistance of this duo: they have their own laundry basket and know that any clean clothes that appear in it should be folded and put away at their earliest convenience; and in the last year they have discovered the satisfaction of fetching a bowl and sorting out their own cereal in the morning before school. Which is satisfying for me too.
I have, however, seen enough zombie movies to know that a lawnmower is not an innocuous appliance. I’m not entirely sure what age is right for a child to be let loose with an instrument that could make swift work of their toes, but seven or eight doesn’t seem nearly old enough. As much as I would love to accept the offer of help and put my feet up while the children trim the fairways, it’s a job that I must keep as my own for now.
I have tried suggesting other practical tasks that the pair could do to make mowing the lawn an easier job. I suggested that it would be really helpful if they could pick up all the sticks the dog had dragged out and shredded, and pop them in the green bin. Clearly unimpressed by my suggestion, my daughter headed back inside; though, to his credit, my son did help clean up some sticks and make sure the coast was clear for the mower. He didn’t stick around until I’d finished though.
Sometimes, as I mow the lawn, I reflect on the ingenuity of the colourful plastic mower of my childhood, recalling how the five-or six-year-old me would stay to help Dad with the mundane parts of the job.
I also wonder how old my kids will have to be before I can feel confident in them to mow the lawns, without my direct supervision.
And then I wonder (doubt) whether, at this age, they will still be so keen.