So I wouldn’t have to mow.

There’s an old saw about how European settlers to the American continent had lots of children because there was lots to do. Every child you added to the stable, so to speak, was another laborer to help till the land, carry the firewood, cook the food, to contribute, as it were, to the running of home and farmstead. (I think that we’re forgetting the fact the birth control was pretty much non-existent, but that’s an essay for another time.)

We live on a third of an acre, with about a third of that taken up by a house and deck. In the 80s when I was in middle and high school, between the gophers, the dogs, and the lackadaisical care offered by my father, both front and back yards looked like missile testing sites: barren and pock-marked and rutted. I took on the job of mowing when I was thirteen or so. When dad died and after some years mom remarried and moved away, I became the de facto owner of the property and set about improving the yard as well as I could.

When Katie was tall enough and strong enough to push the mower safely, the job of mowing fell to her. When Jami was tall enough and strong enough, she passed it on to him. Neither enjoys the task, both try to find ways to get out of it, but their allowances are tied to the completion of chores, so there are limits to how much they’re willing to wriggle against it. I heard them bargaining behind Katie’s half-closed door: “I’ll give you five bucks.” “Seven.” “Six, and that one Pokemon card.” “Done.”

Sesame Street would call that cooperation. I’m all for it.

We like to think that we are so much more advanced than our forebears, but when the kids object too strenuously over the work, I remind them we aren’t so different after all. “The only reason you’re here,” I remind them, “Is so I wouldn’t have to mow.”

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