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Just as I became a teenager, Mrs. Oliver, our elderly neighbor in her late seventies, paid me to mow her grass in the summer from 1984 – 1986. Her husband died before we had moved in the neighborhood in 1976. My dad would help take care of Mrs. Oliver as would my mom along with Mrs. Oliver’s daughter and son. The son lived out of state and couldn’t help his mom mow the grass. I loved Mrs. Oliver and would do anything to help her. She offered to pay me to mow her yard so I agreed. How could a teenager pass up $25 a week for mowing?
As a 13 year old, I would drive my dad’s lawn mower across the street to her house and up the driveway. I knew the smell of grass and sweat that would consume my nostrils soon. I would start the mower at the curb of her driveway, get to the corner on her corner lot, turn right, mow down to the next neighbor’s house, do a u-turn and come back over and over until I reached the bushes up by her house. I would keep the mower’s right wheel in the edge of the lane of the previous path. I counted on not messing things up if I just stayed in line. I would have to go to the backyard and continue my pattern. As the sweat rolled down my back in the heat of summer, even on mid morning mowing sessions, I could see the end in sight after an hour and a half. Not being an outdoor person, this entire mowing event stretched me. I can’t say I loved doing it, but I will say that it built perseverance in my character.
I’d stop the mower, go up the steps in Mrs. Oliver’s carport, knock on the door and greet her. She always smiled. The folds in her face endeared her to me along with her silver hair. Sometimes she’d invite me in for water. Her house always smelled old but was always so peaceful with ceramic figures sitting around.
After the mowing, Mrs. Oliver would hand me a $20 bill and a $5 bill. I often wanted to give it back, but never did. She had plenty of money left from her husband as far as I knew. She could’ve hired a private lawn company to do her yard. But, she let me do it. She must’ve known that I needed someone to believe that I could do a yard job. I had watched my father enough to be able to learn, practicing some in my own yard then went to her yard when I was ready. I really don’t know how it happened, but eventually felt like I did a great job in her yard. It made me happy to see the finished grass.
While grasping the cash in one hand, I would drive the mower across the street in low gear since the gas was almost gone. Parking it under our carport, I’d unlock the door to my house using the key that had been in my shoe. The odor of grass and sweat wafted from me. I knew I couldn’t sit down or lie down because it would make the upholstery on our couch stink. When I put the money down on my dresser, I’d feel a sense of great accomplishment. I’d done the work. I had earned the money. My dad never expected me to pay him back for using the mower or for the gas money. The hot shower removed the green stains on my ankles where the grass had kicked up on me. Feeling refreshed, I’d get ready only needing to sit down again from my tired and aching arms and legs. The workout of mowing had provided needed physical activity but always left me exhausted. I needed the rest of the day to recover!
Sitting on my couch in my clean shorts and tee shirt, I’d watch some TV. I’d call my mom at work or my dad and tell them that I had mowed Mrs. Oliver’s yard. I can’t tell you how I spent the money, but think that I’d use it to buy little things at the store. I wish that I had saved the money. It would have amounted to at least $225 each summer. I find it funny that I can’t remember how I spent the cash, but I remember how I earned it. I earned it from hard work. I earned it even when I would have preferred sleeping in on a summer’s day as a teenager.
I think it’s time for my daughters to start helping out around the house with chores in which they earn money. I’d like to think that earning a bit of cash would encourage them to work hard and persevere like I did in the heat. They like to water our garden with corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. They don’t like to clean up on the inside of the house all of the time. Hmmm…maybe I should start a reward system that provides incentives for cleaning up the bathroom, their rooms, and the kitchen while also taking care of the “crops” outside. I may give not only verbal praise but also a treat for interacting nicely when they are emptying the dishwasher and loading it again while cleaning the kitchen. Believe me, I do most of the kitchen work, but I like that there are opportunities to work hard and earn cash.
I have also been a believer in do the right thing for the sake of it being the right thing to do. An officer doesn’t stop me and thank me for driving the speed limit because as a citizen, I am to do the right thing and control my speed. I do think, though, that as kids age, money earned while doing chores sends them a tangible message that will be a part of their adult lives which is that hard work and a paycheck will help them survive. They may only spend it on little things like I did with my lawn care $25, but I bet they’ll remember how they earned it for years to come.
What are some of your ideas about how to engage your children in chores? What are some rewards that you’ve used?