My wife and I were discussing the ongoing yardwork issue last week when the topic turned to whether Youngest is now old enough to pitch in on mowing the grass. He’s huge for his age – he was born in the midst of a growth spurt that hasn’t quit – and he has uncommonly common sense for a kid of his age. The problem however, is that he’s still in elementary school and there’s another two years before he’s into middle school, so the question was whether he was ready to handle a power mower.
No two kids are the same and while one might be ready for a certain responsibility, it’s not a given that the sibling will be ready at the same age. It might be a function of physical capability but more often than not, it’s an issue of judgment and sense of responsibility.
When we talked about the matter, we had to think about when our older kids actually began to cut the grass. What I’ve come to realize is that if you don’t keep explicit notes, kids are akin to old appliances in that you lose track of time. Lessee here…we bought that refrigerator about five years ago, no? Wait, we got it right after Grandma moved in with us and she actually died about 15 years ago. Yep, it might be time to replace it instead of repairing it again. Eldest actually was older when she began to mow the yard but that was a function of having a riding mower with a larger yard. She began to use the riding mower the summer before Middle School and then, she only did the yard when I was actually doing other outside chores and able to keep an eye on her handling of the machine. We subsequently moved to a house with a much smaller yard – but God, the landscaping makes this one far more difficult – and I replaced the riding mower with a simple self-propelled lawnmower. Middle was by now in late elementary school when I broke him into the process and like with his older sister, I spent time outside watching until I was comfortable that he could handle the mower, especially on slopes.
My own professional background is in claims adjusting and risk management and I thought that I’d seen enough to assess risk better than most. But it was still Middle’s experience that taught me that there’s more than just a moving blade on a mower to injure someone. We’d been through the discussions and oversight and Middle had learned about the dead man’s handle, removing the spark plug cap and how to mow on slopes; I’d cleared him and he was happily mowing the yard on his own recognizance. By the way, happiness is a short-term phenomenon and wears off with repeated exposure. While I was in the garage one afternoon, I heard a scream and seconds later, Middle ran into grasping his wrist; he’d turned off the mower and to check something, grabbed hold of the hot engine block. There was a significant second degree burn on the palm and it reminded me of the Gestapo agent in Raiders of the Lost Ark because the grille of the engine block was imprinted on his skin like the hot amulet had been imprinted on the Gestapo agent’s hand. The point is that even if you think that you’ve covered all of the bases, there’s probably something that’s going to bite because you simply assume that the kid knows what you know after years of experience, and they simply don’t.
We’re still undecided on whether Youngest is ready and have agreed to disagree on the use of the power mower. From a practical standpoint, this means that Youngest won’t be cutting the grass yet since the repercussions to our own relationship would be dire if I permitted it and he suffered a serious injury. Parents can differ and one can acquiesce to another’s judgment on small things, but the prospect of losing a hand or foot moves the situation to a different level and it’s simply worth it to wait for the day that we both agree on the readiness.
Middle’s painful experience has managed to work out in a weird way for him. The scar to the palm is minimal but a sufficient number of nerve endings were damaged that he’s turned it into a talking point amongst his buddies as he’ll occasionally put the hand over a lit candle or lighter to prove his toughness to the guys; and no, I don’t approve and have warned him against it repeatedly.
Like I said, it’s not the physical capability but rather the judgment. Teenagers, oy.