Saturday, May 23, 2009

All I need to know I learned from my lawnmower

Like most good Grandmothers, my mom loves to shower my children with gifts whenever she can. And just today, she awarded my youngest with a “I haven’t seen you in over a month” present, for which I am extremely grateful. I always am.
But more constant that my thankfulness is the type of toys you find these days.
Flashy! Sounds! Lights! Colors! Music! And yes, without a doubt batteries are not included.
All of this means this that the new toy from Grandma is Irksome! Maddening! Annoying! And I’ve got to shell out big bucks for a gross of double A’s just to make the on/off switch worthwhile.
My mom knows all of this, my anti-love for things that flash and sing, but she gets them anyway.
“She can mow the lawn with you while you mow the real lawn!” she exclaimed.
“Yes! And learn to count, read, do algebra, weave baskets, and play the harp, too!”
Because besides the on/off switch, there are options to have the purple and blue lawn mower sing the alphabet, count to ten, and play a variety of kiddie songs, all which are undistinguishable with the hum of the balls that click and clack at 4,500 decibels when the mower is pushed along.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great toy and my kid, I admit, even loves it.
“Look,” says my mom, “it’s even educational. There’s a setting for the alphabet, and another for counting!”
And suddenly I wondered how I ever learned to read, write, and count without the benefit of such toys. I must have had to, dare I say, sit and look at books or draw with crayons that didn’t light up.
I know I’m very classically old-fashioned when it comes to toys, but since when does every single toy need to include something “educational?” A quick look through my children’s toybox and I find item after item, all requiring batteries and none of them having them, that attempt to teach them the alphabet or basic math. And while I know that some toys have a sole purpose of teaching (such as those old-fashioned books and puzzles), I don’t quite understand why all of them have to. Have we become so lazy as parents that we can’t bother to spend the time teaching our children their alphabets that we have pawned the job off on the plastic lawnmower with the pretend speed setting and the smiley face where the intake should be?
When I was a child, I had, like most children, a plastic lawnmower of my own. I think parents for generations have been gearing up their children to take over the lawn care as early as possible, somehow subconsciously tricking them into believing that mowing is Fun! and Entertaining! and practically a Game! I know I followed right along behind my mother, pushing and sometimes dragging my lawnmower which was complete with an authentically long pull cord, sure to not exist today for its dangerous length.
But my lawn mower didn’t sing, talk, count, or even make noise for that matter. It didn’t need to—I provided the sounds. My lawnmower didn’t need batteries, either. I provided all of the energy it needed, fueled by Kool-Aid and chocolate chip cookies.
I did learn a few things from that old mower, though. I learned that mowing the lawn was a long, hard, and arduous task, but if you did it you were rewarded with more Kool-Aid and cookies. And because we were dog owners, I learned quite often the hard way to always pay attention to where you’re going and to avoid the bad stuff.
It all makes pretty good sense to me these days as I take the batteries out of the new fancy mower and send the kids outside to follow me around the jungle of late spring grass. We’ll end the day with some juice, some books, and call to Grandma to thank her for the educational toy.

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