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The Yard is Yours

Just look at you now. Thirteen years old and well over five feet tall. At ninety pounds, you weigh far more than I did when I was your age, and you keep growing out of everything you have in your closets and drawers. And I must confess that I’ve completely lost track of your shoe size.

But you won’t see me shedding any tears for the boy you used to be. This growth spurt is good news as far as I’m concerned. It’s time we put
those teenage muscles to work on something focused, productive and, above all, necessary.

Turns out I have just the thing. And how I have waited for this day.

So come with me, and we will fetch the trusty Craftsman lawnmower from the tool house in the corner of the yard. This old girl is three years older than you are, but I’ve managed to keep her up and running and cutting all this time. You know I’m not the sort of fix-it dad who can repair anything and everything, but with a bit of tinkering (and some help from YouTube), I did figure out how to replace a cracked intake manifold and reattach the wire that controls the choke. Just remember to prime her three times before you pull the starter cord.

She’s done the job, she’ll go the distance, and now she belongs to you. You’re just about the same age I was when my dad turned over the grass-cutting duties to me, and I remember how it felt, that mix of pride and dread at taking on my first manly job. I remember you, too, when you were only a toddler, your nose pressed against the front-door glass, the dog standing next to you, both of you watching me outside and wondering what I was doing as I pushed this strange, noisy machine in the heat.

But before I officially hand over the machine and let you fire her up, allow me to pass on my time-tested system for navigating and grooming the lawn.

Walk with me and let us survey our particular half-acre of turf-type tall fescue. See those sticks scattered over there? Make sure to pick them up before you start, and keep an eye out for any errant tennis balls that might be hiding in the grass. And right over here, where the fence line ends next to Mr. Farmer’s yard, draw a line with your eye down to the edge of the driveway. That’s the border between the two properties he and I cheerfully agreed to back when we moved into our house.

On days you cut the grass when it’s especially long, remember to use the bag attachment and dump the clippings in the compost pile next to the garden. The mower’s blade is not as wide as the deck, so you’ll find you need to overlap freshly cut rows just a bit as you go back and forth. It also helps to walk slowly so the machine hugs the terrain and cuts uniformly. And, as my dad always told me, for safety’s sake, always wear heavy work boots, goggles, and earplugs.

But did I listen then? I don’t think I did, and you will probably neglect that stuff, too. I was well into adulthood before I read that you should never reach under a mower to clear wet clumps of grass without first disconnecting the spark plug. As a kid, I didn’t know to do that, of course, but I never had the mower suddenly jump to life. Good luck and happy fates always seemed to follow me.

And truth was, I grew to look forward to the times I spent alone cutting the grass. The sun beat down, and I would pour the gas into the tank and listen carefully for the gurgling sound to pitch higher as it filled to the top. I liked making a long run or two around the perimeter of the yard first, then knocking out the odd areas around planting beds and shrubs, then moving on to cut the precise edges of long, straight lines across the yard’s wide-open interior. I knew just how high to set the mower’s wheels. I learned just when to pitch up the front to trim close to tree roots and brick edging. I understood how the rain, the heat, and the change of seasons combined to slowly shift the mowing calendar across the months each year.

Safely enveloped by the continuous roar of the engine, I was lost in my teenage thoughts, my mind churning along as the mower and I made our way, row after row, leaving clean green tracks of a job well done behind us. The din would surround me, insulate me, even protect me as I meditated on my world – the school I went to, the friends I had made, the girls I wanted to meet, the grown-up I dreamed of being, and how far from that yard I might find myself one day.

Now the Craftsman roars to full throttle – you yanked once on the cord and started her right up – and I take three steps back onto the sidewalk as you take your place behind the handle. I shout a warning about being careful on the angle near the ditch, but encased in a crush of decibels, you just smile and give me a thumbs-up.

There is more I want to tell you. There is a method, after all. Remember to be careful around the garden’s chicken wire fence. You’ll need to move the drainpipe extensions next to the hydrangeas to get close to the porch. And it never hurts to keep a few plastic bags in your pocket in case you run across dog poop.

But today the yard is yours. Time now to figure out your own system – to make your own turns, to keep your lines straight, to find your own way. The vast expanse lies ahead, tall after yesterday’s summer rain, and wanting so badly just to keep on growing. Time for you to make your thoughts your own.

Now go.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. The father of two, Tony has written the DadZone since 2009.
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