I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a couple of suburban kids raking leaves the other day. Were these kids being punished for bad report cards or an infraction of house rules? Here in the 'burbs, we just don't see that many kids doing yard work. We see a few dads, the occasional mom, and lawn services.
I recalled a friend who jokingly called it “Johnson County child abuse” when she had two of her five children sharing the same bedroom. Did this leaf-raking task fall into that category, as well?
What I really wanted to know was, How on earth did these parents inspire their progeny to rake?
In our house, the offspring have always mysteriously disappeared or miraculously wanted to do their homework when there are dishes to be done, snow to be shoveled, leaves to be raked. We’ve actually paid one of our son's friends to do yard work for us. We have never been good at getting our children to do chores. It’s one of our failings as parents.
When I was a kid—OMG, did I just actually say “When I was a kid…?” If that sounds like I’ve turned into my mother (or father), I assure you (and myself) that I have not. How can I be sure? Because they were able to get us to help around the house, pitch in, do our part. It was an expectation that wasn’t optional. I was motivated by two things: a desire to please and fear. We set the table and cleaned the kitchen, kept our rooms picked up and…
…We raked leaves.
We had a big yard with lots of deciduous trees and our dad was a perfectionist. Weekends in the fall were all-hands-on-deck. Dad was methodical and precise and expected us to be, as well. There was a right way (and several wrong ways) to hold a rake. I’m still not sure where he came upon this knowledge and methodology since he was a city kid, born and bred on the island of Manhattan. He required short, even, punchy strokes to long, lazy drags. Work gloves were a must, but we got blisters anyway.
We didn’t bag leaves back then; we burned them. At least, we burned them until my dad got on an environmental kick. When we lived at 106 Oak Terrace, we burned on even-numbered days of the month. At 665 Pine Court, we burned on odd-numbered days. After building many equal-sized piles, the leaves would go into a special metal basket and set afire, crackling and bright when the weather was sunny and dry; smokey and smoldering on grey, damp days. I loved the smell almost as much as the scent of a campfire.
Today, with mulching lawnmowers and disappearing kids, leaf raking may be a lost art. I guess that’s why I was shocked to see those kids raking leaves the other day in their front yard. Maybe they were doing it for fun… collecting them in huge piles, jumping in and sending the leaves airborne before floating back to the earth.