Coffee and Conversation: Who Mowed the Lawn, and Why?

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday again – time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own…

I know, it’s a day late for a Coffee and Conversation post. I’ve been rather lost in my Story A Day May Challenge, and I just didn’t get to this yesterday. So here it is, belated, but heartfelt…

On Sunday, my 12 year old son mowed the yard.

My guess is that he was far from the only boy in America that could be said of, on any given spring weekend when the weather is cooperative. It seems to be a traditional chore given to boys large enough to handle some adult jobs, but who haven’t yet reached their full strength, growth, or perhaps ability to resist…

Because, on a fine spring weekend at the end of a long winter, and approaching the end of a long school year, it’s conceivable that a boy might begrudge that time spent on lawn work; that he might have some other idea of how to spend those few precious hours of freedom…

But, because kids must learn responsibility, and chores are a means to that end that also shifts some of the burden of yard maintenance from adult shoulders, the boys (and, I imagine, in our current climate, some girls as well) are sent out to mow.

But that’s not how things are, at our house, and not at all why Jeremiah was mowing the yard this weekend.

As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t assign chores in our home. Both my husband and I grew up with gender-specific chores, and neither of us felt that these helped us to learn responsibility as much as they built resentments at the unwanted workload, the time away from the things that fired our passions and spoke deeply to us…

Chores stole from my life, far more than they added to it. That isn’t to say that I begrudged my family my help – only to say what I suspect is true of most people, whether children or adults.

I wanted to choose the ways in which I helped, to give my help freely, and to have it appreciated without being judged.

There were things I did happily, without being asked. Yard work was one. None of my three siblings seemed to enjoy it as I did, and so, more often than not, I would do it alone. In the house I grew up in, alone was a rare and treasured state. Alone meant that the stories playing out in my head, the deep thoughts waiting to be explored, at last had a little space, a time to unfurl without interruption. The repetitive motions of raking or weeding provided a rhythm, and there was pleasure in both the physical exertion and the creative introspection.

Chores, though, were assigned labor. In our family, there was no thought given to whether the chore suited my nature and talents; I was expected to do as I was told. And, to me, that seems unfair to a child. Children are already smaller, more dependent, less powerful, and too often disenfranchised.

And so our children help when and as they choose.

And, on Sunday, after both my husband and I had mowed portions of our steeply sloping yard, and after hinting a time or two that he might, Jeremiah asked if I minded if he did some mowing.

He mowed for hours. When the mower clogged, he turned it off and cleared the blockage – safely. When he ran out of gas, he told me, and I showed him how to refill it. When he got tired, he took a break.

After, as I looked out upon a sweeping expanse of freshly mowed and fragrant grass, I asked him what he’d been thinking while he mowed. He said he’d been thinking of stories he’s read, and ones he’s been attempting to write for the last few months.

He enjoyed the mowing so much, he said he needed to find a way to pay people to let him mow their yards. When I told him people might willingly pay him to mow for them, his grin took over his face (he likes earning money!).

Today, he went to work at his grandparents’ house, and learned how to drive a lawn tractor.

Will he mow again, with the same enthusiasm? Maybe – or maybe not.

But I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t have quite the same joy in it, if we assigned it as his chore.

I like it this way. The lawn looks lovely, and, rather than a grumbling child who feels his life is being measured out for him, there’s a boy here who’s gained some confidence in his own strength and abilities, and had all the time he wanted to think big thoughts while the rest of the world was shut out by the sound of the motor. He’s accomplished something useful and easily quantified, and fulfilled deeply personal creative impulses. He’s helped his family, and himself, just because he wanted to.

And I’m not the only one smiling about that!

How about you? Did you have chores? Assign them? What did you love, or hate, to do as a child? Is there some “chore” you still love today? Have a cuppa, and tell me all about it!

Last year’s lawn…shadow-dappled, A perfect canvas for dreaming.


4 comments

  1. If you ONLY blogged on parenting, you would be quite the wellspring. I’m glad you blog on other topics too, but parenting does come out quite a bit, doesn’t it? I guess because it’s the root of your thoughtfulness. Anyway. I grew up on a (small) farm, so you bet I had chores–2 hours a day. I don’t think I would have said I loved them at the time, but it was MY work–I never questioned that it needed to be done, and I enjoyed the autonomy of doing it in my own way, at my pace. Probably because it was all animal care–horses, goats, chickens, dogs–this kept the work authentic and personal. Interestingly, as I’m only now discovering, that must have been where I found my singing voice, as I sang almost the entire time as I was working. Much more fun than choir practice!

    Wonderful post. More!!

    • Gretchen,

      *blushing*

      There’s just so much “manipulate kids into doing what parents want” advice in our culture. I used to buy into it, but all of our lives have been so much sweeter since we stopped.

      Right now, with the kids nearing 10 and 13, they are a huge part of my life. And they are also my proving ground for my own evolution. Kids let you know right away, if you’re paying attention, whether you’re getting things right or not, don’t they? If I can write something that helps one adult think about the way they’re interacting with the children in their life, it was worth the time to share (with my kids’ permission) slices of how our life works.

      It sounds like your chores were a way to help your family, and valued. Autonomy seems to be very important, as well as knowing that your work matters. It’s great that you could do them in your own way and time.

      Mine were definitely more arbitrary, and highly policed. Threats and punishments and lectures were regular parts of the landscape of my life.

      I don’t want to do that to my kids – not for them, and not for me.

      There will definitely be more- Mondays seem to be a perfect time for these posts. =)

      I found my singing voice young, but there was lots of criticism and ridicule. Confidence in my singing voice took decades longer. I’ve got it now, though! =)

  2. The image of you at six coming to that realisation is really touching. I sometimes find myself stopping and thinking about how each person in the street has their own life, their own drama in the centre of which they are.

    I love the way you let your kids help out with things that they enjoy doing. Enjoying an activity makes all the difference in the world – why is it that we always expect that work or chores should be a drudgery?

    • Celine,

      I’m almost 45, and I still remember that moment vividly, as if I’m still in the backseat of that red lemon of a Mercury Montego, squashed in between warring older siblings, watching those lights coming and going and knowing that something profound had happened inside me, although I couldn’t put it into words…

      I didn’t say anything about it, but it was a defining moment in my life, and it changed me.

      I try to look at the things I do around the house as “hometending”. It (usually) shifts the way I see it. And, as an extension of not forcing the children, I’m learning to do each day only what I feel like tending to…

      There’ll always be more. Some things, like laundry and dishes, never truly get “done”, so I’ve let go of that.

      My home is far from the cleanest around – but it’s generally peaceful, and a haven for creation and growth.

      I can live with that. =)

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