A Mowing Experience

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Photo courtesy of Patrick Hempfing
Jessie mows the lawn under her father’s watchful eyes.

“Could I please mow the yard?”

Numerous times, I’ve fielded this question from Jessie. Since I use a push mower and want my 11-year-old daughter to keep all 10 of her toes, my standard response has been, “You’re too young.”

Deep down, though, I realized I can be overly protective and needed to let Jessie learn this skill. Last summer, when Jessie asked again while batting the long eyelashes above her big pleading eyes, I caved … I mean, I decided the time was right to teach her.

Of course, Jessie wanted to do each step — put gas in the mower, start it, and push it to cut the grass. I emphasized the importance of pouring gas into the gas tank, not the oil fill. She picked up my red gas can and began pouring. Unfortunately, I forgot to teach, “Stop when you get to the fill line.” Gas splashed onto Jessie’s arm and my leg.

Unfazed, Jessie couldn’t wait to start the mower. She pulled the cord as hard as she could several times, but the engine didn’t start. I gave it one quick pull and it fired right up. I turned the mower off and Jessie tried again. She pulled it another 10 to 12 times. Too slow and not enough oomph. I showed her again. Jessie wanted to do it herself so I shut off the engine a second time. I admire many things about my daughter and her tenacity ranks near the top of the list. After another six to eight pulls, the engine hummed. Her smile lit up the yard. I patted Jessie on the back and said, “Good job!”

I took the first turn mowing to catch the steep places and edge of the road so Jessie wouldn’t have to mow anywhere dangerous. Jessie hula-hooped in the driveway for a few minutes, then followed behind me with her Hula Hoop wrapped around her waist, anxiously waiting her turn.

When I reached a flat stretch in the yard, I turned control of the mower over to Jessie, with a reminder about the importance of keeping all of her fingers and toes. I walked behind her for the first few trips back and forth across the yard. At the ends of the rows, I turned the mower for her several times before showing Jessie how to spin it around herself.

Jessie mowed for another 10 minutes, but then the skies darkened and I wanted to finish the front yard before the rain came — plus, my nerves were shot.

She said, “OK, I’ll go in and start supper.” I mowed a few minutes before deciding to go in to make sure the fire extinguisher wasn’t in use. The afternoon’s lesson didn’t call for a beautiful yard and a burned down house.

The next morning, after an overnight storm, I walked outside to pick up the morning newspaper. Two branches from our crabapple tree filled the driveway. Though I know the future holds many more teaching moments, one thing is certain. Jessie won’t be learning how to use a chainsaw any time soon.

As Labor Day approaches, I’m thinking about the importance of teaching Jessie the skills she’ll need to be a good worker when she grows up. Sometimes it’s faster, and easier on my nerves, to do things myself than it is to teach her. Other times, a second set of hands and legs — and a youthful brain — prove beneficial. But whether it’s a task Jessie can already perform or a new skill to be mastered, it’s good for her to learn to work hard and enjoy the labor.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and author of “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” available at amazon.com. Follow him at facebook.com/patricklhempfing and on Twitter @patrickhempfing.

Categories: Dads, Family, Lifestyle, Parenting, Relationships