I’ll admit it—I used to groan when my grandfather called me up and asked me to mow his lawn. It wasn’t because I was lazy (although I was). I knew his lawn wasn’t much bigger than a volleyball court, and it wouldn’t require much effort.
I just couldn’t handle the pressure.
Those calls were not just requests to mow his lawn. They were demands to mow his lawn EXACTLY the way he wanted it mowed…or else. I found that out the hard way when I was 17 years old. As I mowed, he walked behind me every step of the way, pointing out spots I had missed, and advising me “better” ways of mowing.
“You should go this way first,” he would say, “and THEN go that way.”
“But won’t it look exactly the same way when I’m done?” I’d ask.
“You should go this way first,” he would repeat, “and THEN go that way.”
Gotcha. Who knows what would have happened if I went “that way” first, before going “this way”. The universe might have become unsettled. The lawn might have risen up and attacked me. There was a right way and a wrong way, and as long as I did the right way, everything was going to be just fine in the world.
I’ve been thinking about those pressure-packed teenage lawn mowing experiences a lot lately because I officially handed the lawn mowing job over to my 17-year-old son Tommy last summer.
The first year was a little rough. Tommy wasn’t exactly known for his Germanic attention to detail. It wasn’t uncommon, for instance, so see big patches of unmowed lawn waving hello to me every time I backed out of the driveway. I have to admit, it really really bugged me, but Bridget convinced me to let it go.
“What’s the big deal?” she said. “It’s just the lawn. He’ll never learn if you micromanage him on a project as simple as that.”
That wise advice reminded me of my grandfather following me around the lawn telling me what I was doing wrong, and I was instantly ashamed of myself. There was no way I was going to treat Tommy the same way my grandfather treated me. So I let it go the whole year.
OK, I’ll admit there may have been a few instances—maybe one or two—when I got the lawnmower out to mow a particularly unkempt portion of the lawn when nobody was looking. OK, so maybe it was five or six times. But that’s it. No more than that.
This year I vowed to eliminate those instances from my supervisory role completely. I knew in my heart and in my head that it was the right thing to do. In the big scheme of things, after all, a few missed patches of lawn are no big deal. What’s the worst that can happen?
The first time he mowed, I grit my teeth when I saw he missed one whole side of the house, but I got over it. Big deal. You can’t really see it from the street anyway.
The second time he mowed, I looked away when I saw him just go around a sign in our front yard instead of removing it—leaving the sign engulfed in foot tall grass.
“Don’t think about it,” I reminded myself. “It’s just a big patch of foot-tall grass in the middle of your front lawn.”
The third time he mowed, I pulled the sign out and mowed that portion he missed, then mowed the side of the house he missed the first time, and also mowed around all the edges of the lawn to make sure they were finally taken care of properly before even handing off the lawnmower to Tommy.
Then I followed him around the lawn advising him that he should mow “this way” first, before mowing “that way.”
What can I say?
My grandfather was absolutely right.