Far too much about grass


Tropical Storm Beryl is side-swiping us, turning our already damp, verdant yard into a soaking neon-green jungle. We’ve had a wet spring. The garden loves it. So does the grass. You can almost see it growing, taunting the lawnmower with an added inch each day, gleefully choking out wistful hopes that I might get away with reading a book this weekend instead of mowing.

It’s not that I dislike mowing. I just like reading more. My oldest brother tried to combine the two activities, holding a book on the tractor’s steering wheel while slowly creeping over the grass. It was not a successful innovation.

We had a lawn-mowing business as kids. Not a big one – usually six or so yards a week. My parents let us use their pushmower and ancient tractor as long as we paid for the gas (and pushed the tractor home when it died, which was often). I started in as low-man-on-the-totem-pole around age seven, relegated to crawling on hands and scraped knees down the sidewalk with our cheap battery-powered edger. At eight, after fruitless protest over the parentally mandated “real shoes” instead of bare feet, I was working the pushmower. An older sibling always had to come along – not because I was bad with the pushmower, but because I was too scrawny to give the starter a sufficient yank.

Our clients rehired us year after year. We were cheaper than all the “real” lawn services, and very meticulous. Dad taught us how to lower the blade on one side for a neat cut along sidewalks, driveways, and curbs. We picked up sticks, made sure the grass was dry for an even mowing, rotated the direction of our path for lawn health, trimmed the grass neatly vertical along borders, blew the pavement clear at the end, and collected our clippings for disposal. Ever the mathematician, my brother once used a measuring tape, string, and stakes at the neighbors so he could cut their yard at a perfect 45 degree angle. Just that once, it was a work of art.

In fall we’d rake leaves. Winter brought snow shoveling. Occasionally we worked odd yard jobs like weeding. Half a dozen neighbors had us walk and feed their dogs when they left town. By 11 I was awash in babysitting gigs as well, moving from the early days (when I nervously called my Mom across the street for especially dirty diapers) to watching 14 four-and-unders at once with my middle brother. Not a job either of us would ever do again, I think – the pay wasn’t worth the migraines from six simultaneously screaming babies.

I don’t recall my parents ever suggesting any of these jobs. They didn’t monitor the work, and left us to run our own accounts, drum up customers, and learn from our own mistakes. One summer my brothers took full-time summer school physics at the local college. With so few hands, the mowing business dropped off as I focused on babysitting (better pay, no capital). I kept just one mowing job for our neighbors across the street. That summer was beautiful. Trees and soccer games and bikes beckoned. I let the grass grow, sometimes three weeks between cuttings. It got so long that it choked the mower, at which point I would give up and haul it home for Dad to check over, wasting another day. My parents never commented. The neighbors didn’t either. But the next year, I looked out the window in spring to see another company mowing their lawn. Well over a decade later, I still blush over that failed business obligation. I’m sure my parents knew a painful lesson on shirked responsibility was heading my way: Do poor work, lose your job.

Funnily enough, other than that one summer of slackerdom, I don’t remember ever minding the work. We looked forward to it. It was satisfying to do a good job. It was fun working with siblings out in the hot sun. It was rewarding to finish an afternoon’s labor and jump on our bikes to meet friends for ice cream. Our schoolwork and chores came first. We still had plenty of time to play. I’m all for letting kids be kids, but part of being a kid is training to be an adult. Not in the sense of bustling between drama camp, flute lessons, yoga class, and organized playdates, but in learning skills and habits for self-sufficiency.

How does it all pay off now? It was great preparation for real jobs and responsibilities. The savings I accrued throughout my teens were a definite plus as I stepped into complete financial independence the day I graduated from college. Juggling babies in the church nursery is a piece of cake after those nightmare years of sitting for a young moms’ Bible study group. And my lawn looks very tidy.

How did you earn cash as a kid? Learn any painful lessons when your parents gave you free reign? Associate summer with the smell of gasoline and grass clippings?

Image sources here, here, here, here and here.


5 thoughts on “Far too much about grass

  1. Our Beryl soaking came yesterday. I actually remembered to turn off the automatic sprinklers, unlike many of my neighbors who have them going daily, even in the rain. Personally, I cringe when the bi-monthly water bill gets over $80 ($115 last time, and I’m only doing twice a week!!).

    Funny how I babysat from the age of 11 or 12 – totally against common practice and even military regulations nowadays – and the parents always dealt directly with me. Now, I tend to arrange babysitting with moms for their daughters.

    I let my daughter (an old 8 yo) do a lemonade stand on Monday. I donated the cheap lemonade mix and generic sugar and the flimsy disposable cups (under $5 – and we have leftovers for the next time). I think she sold about 8 cups for 25 cents each. One guy paid $5 for a single cup and told her to keep the change. Not sure what lesson that was supposed to teach her. I asked my husband why anyone would bother panhandling – all they needed to do was find a kid to sell something cheap. He pointed out that’s exactly what the gypsy’s did – and I’ve been foolishly threatening to sell my kids to them for years!

    • We didn’t water our lawn at all last year and it shows this year – several dead brown patches. I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet and increase our water bill this summer.

      Interesting that military regulations don’t allow a sitter that young. My Mom wouldn’t have let me go across town at that age, but a neighborhood daytime job was fine, especially since she was nearby for emergencies and there was a nice protective dog. It was a great neighborhood because there were lots of small children and I was the only junior high/high school-aged girl for years – monopoly on the babysitting market. Fun start for your daughter – I guess the $5 lesson is a toss-up between “entreprenurial spirit should be encouraged” and “look what great handouts you can get for almost no work!” Think how much you could make with six of your little gypsy-children – you could set up lemonade franchises all around your town.

      • On post, age 11 and under must have physical supervision at all times: I think up to age 6, the regs say the child must be “closely supervised” (not sure if you have to bring them into the shower with you or if this mandates a family bed!) and from 7 to 11, they say “direct line of sight”. So, no 10 or 11 yo may walk to school 3 blocks away in what has to be one of the safest neighborhoods in the country without a grownup or authorized babysitter. At age 12, a child is permitted to be home alone for up to 2 hours, I think. At age 13, they can babysit if they take the Red Cross class and get certified. I think it’s ridiculous that a child goes one day from needing a grownup to hold their hand to the next being able to be home alone for 2 hours…and one day they can be home alone for only 2 hours, and the next can be home alone, not just for a longer stretch, but also in a supervisory capacity. The same applies to vehicles – do not leave your 11 yo in the car on post while you run into the dry cleaners. I guess the problem with parental discretion is that there are parents who will let their 4 yo play unsupervised at the playground. But the problem with these regs is that you can’t gradually increase independence: 8 yo walks to school, but comes straight home; 9 yo walks to school, but can stop for 15 min at the playground; 10 yo can be left alone at home for 20 min; 11 yo can be left home alone for 20 min with a napping sibling; etc. We won’t be living on post for at least another year – by then I’ll have one 12 yo and two teens. But my (then) 10 yo will squawk at restrictions – she already gets brief periods home alone (15-20 min) and I routinely leave the almost 11 yo in charge of her younger 3 siblings while I drop the older boys off at Scouts (I’m gone 15-20 min). Of course, as a parent, I also frequently order older children to come along when they’d rather stay home because they’ve been quarreling with siblings and/or can’t be trusted to behave responsibly without my presence.

  2. Wow…that sounds like a case of ridiculous over-regulation. Certainly some parents are neglectful, but you’d think they could be handled on a case-by-case basis. Personally we enjoy the arm-length list of Army regulations posted for the pool like “patrons shall use the restroom before swimming.” I really want to know how they enforce the second half of that…

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