By GREG SCHWEM
Tribune Media Services
I am a nervous wreck as I write this column. Several hours ago, I heard the garage door open and the engine start. My teenage daughter rolled down the driveway piloting a piece of machinery that I warned could cause serious injury to herself or even innocent bystanders if she isn’t careful.
True, she’s nearly 16, but she still seems so young to take on this much responsibility. Was she really listening when I explained, in the simplest terms possible, how the engine operates? When I showed her how to read an oil dipstick, she kept rolling her eyes and repeating, “I know, I know.”
She had better not be texting while the apparatus is in motion. Listening to music is also forbidden until I am convinced she is a safe navigator. She knows the rules. Still. …
Where is she? What if she ran out of gas? What if there were a far worse mechanical failure and she’s stranded? She knows I’m just a phone call away. Wait, I just heard the garage door open again. There she is, safe and sound. But something’s amiss. I can see it on her face.
“I had an accident, Dad.”
“I ran over the stupid flowers.”
“I’m sorry, OK?”
“Sorry isn’t going to bring the geraniums back to life, young lady. Perhaps you just aren’t ready to mow the lawn.”
Wait, did you think my anxieties had something to do with her motor vehicle skills? Puh-leeze! As soon as she gets her license, I’ll let her borrow the family car at will for it’s high time somebody besides my wife and I shuttled all her teammates to volleyball practice. But the mower That’s a different story. I am a suburban dad and, by law, cutting the grass is a sacred ritual. Most dads will eventually bestow the blade to our children, but it’s not something we easily relinquish. I remember the day my father walked nervously behind me as I navigated row after row of our backyard for the first time. I was 12. Occasionally he yelled encouragement. Sort of.
“Keep it straight, KEEP IT STRAIGHT. You look like you’re failing a sobriety test. Never mind. I’ll do it!”
And he did. Until I was 13. A year later, I was known as “the neighborhood kid who mows lawns,” a title I reluctantly surrendered when I graduated high school. After college, I lived in apartments and mowing duties were handled by various landlords. I was responsible only for maintaining my domicile’s interior appearance, which meant I vacuumed once every other month.
But the minute I became a homeowner, I bought a shiny red Toro Recycler Walk Power mower and instantly all those fond lawn-care memories became reality once again. A sun-drenched day, fountains of sweat cascading down my back, and the knowledge that I was shedding a few pounds. Not only is lawn mowing great exercise, but any married guy will admit that it gives us a tremendous excuse to do nothing the rest of the weekend. Ever wonder why you hear so many mowers running early on Saturday mornings?
“Sorry honey, I can’t watch the kids, shop for groceries or do anything else that constitutes physical labor this weekend. Why? I just MOWED THE LAWN. Now please keep it down and hand me the remote. Pro wrestling is about to start. Where’s my pillow?” There is also an immense feeling of pride that comes with walking barefoot through the finished product and thinking, “Wow, I did this.” I long for my daughter to have similar feelings although I’m certain the only thought that will churn through her brain as she maneuvers the Toro back and forth will be, “At least I’m getting paid.”
Yes, mowing the empty lot next to our house, which I recently purchased as a real estate investment, constitutes her initial foray into summer employment. It’s a big property – nearly half an acre – and she’s cutting it with a (GASP) push mower as I refuse to purchase a riding model. I have no place to store it during the cold winter months and besides, the “I just mowed the lawn” excuse doesn’t work on wives who glance outside and see their spouses doing nothing more than driving a small tractor in circles while drinking a cold beer. It’s like saying you’re exhausted from playing golf when a caddy sprinted ahead of you, raked the sand traps and picked your ball out of all 18 cups while you drove the cart.
I may never officially retire from lawn mowing. For now it is a shared duty; I mow the established lawn surrounding our home while my daughter mows the empty lot and learns what manual labor feels like. It’s grueling yet satisfying.
Come to think of it, so is replanting geraniums.
Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of “Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad,” available at http://amzn.to/schwem.
COPYRIGHT © 2012 GREG SCHWEM DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.