Every year it happens again. You almost forget it’s coming, but then just as soon as the weather turns nice and you start thinking about all the things you can finally get done around the house…everything changes. Your once calm and peaceful existence is shattered as you’re plunged into a world of disorder and chaos. No, I’m not talking about the coming of a plague like locusts or the American Idol tour making a stop in your town, but of an annual event so terrifying that it sends a chill up the spine of every parent in America.
Your kids are home for summer vacation.
OK, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but suddenly school is not occupying their attention and now it’s all about you. And I say…GREAT! Yes, schools are good at teaching reading, writing and ’rithmatic (well, most of the time anyway), but there’s so much more that our children need to learn—lessons that will help them not only be good students, but good Americans. And when it comes to that, you’re the best teacher they could ever hope for.
When I think back to the summers I spent with my family at my grandparents’ farm, I realize that I learned more there than every moment I ever spent in a classroom. My grandfather had a Ph.D. in Real Life, and one of his favorite courses to teach was WorkEthic 101.
But before I get to Grandpa, let me ask you this. Is it just my neighborhood, or has the “kid with a lawnmower” been put on the Endangered Species list? I remember when kids were more competitive than Microsoft and Apple in trying to see how many lawns they could mow in a summer. And when the leaves fell, they traded mowers for rakes, and then rakes for snow shovels. We’ve got just as much grass, leaves and snow today as we did back then, but you’d need to be Indiana Jones to find so exotic a treasure as an industrious kid with grass-stained sneakers. And I’ve been looking! Kids don’t even mow their own lawns any more—what happened to chores? I promise you, before my kids ever dream about driving a car, they will be experts at operating a different motorized, four-wheeled machine. (Hint: It has a bagger attachment that catches clippings.)
OK, back to my grandfather. He had a berry farm, and we’d spend a lot of time there in the summer, and he’d pay each of us kids to pick berries. I’d go down a long row of bushes and then show my grandfather what I picked. He’d say something along the lines of, “OK, that’s a good start. Now go back again and get all the ones you missed.” And I would, reluctantly. Invariably my grandfather would end up saying that same phrase again and again, and I’d make three or four passes for each row. My sisters? One pass and there wouldn’t be a berry in sight. See, life “on the farm” didn’t come easy to me. I was a little lazy. That was all right with my grandfather. That just meant he’d have to spend a little more time with me to set me straight. I’m glad that he did.
My grandfather instilled that same work ethic in my father, Mt. Vernon, Washington’s hardest working baker, and both those men drove it into my thick skull. They did it because it needed doing, but they also did it because they loved me and knew what it really took to be successful in life. We’re all blessed to be born Americans, but to thrive and prosper here, you need more than luck—it takes character, commit-ment and good old-fashioned hard work.
Somewhere along the way, that idea seems to have faded into the background as progress has made everything better, faster and easier. I fear that we’ve lost touch with what it feels like to sweat a little get our hands dirty…get down on our hands and knees to reach the berries way at the back of the bush. My grandfather taught me that the effort made those berries all the sweeter, and he was right. I believe this summer gives you and me—all parents really—an excellent opportunity to remind our kids that negotiating a handout may pass for a “work ethic” in Washington, but it won’t fly at home.
Moms, dads and grandparents, this summer “teach your children well.” Don’t let them sleep in or spend all day in front of the computer or TV. Every day there are opportunities to instill a work ethic in your kids, and I say don’t miss out on one. Whether it’s mowing the lawn or taking out the trash…setting the table or doing the dishes. Heck, even if it’s learning how to play actual baseball instead of video baseball, let’s get our kids involved in the process of making themselves better people and, as grand as it sounds, better Americans. We owe them that much. And who knows—when you introduce your kid to the wonderful world of mowing neighborhood lawns for money, you might just be training the next great entrepreneur! And then send ’em to my house—Raphe’s still too short to reach the mower and my backyard’s a mess.