When we moved to Virginia nearly three years ago, one of my top priorities was to buy a house that had enough property for our three boys to roam and play outside. We have two acres, one of which is wooded, and our yard is surrounded by a lot of trees. And not just any trees, really tall trees. (Summer of the Woods kind of trees.) The kind that tower over our house and hold at least 2 billion leaves. They’re very nice during the spring and summer, but when fall hits, our yard is inundated with a half-foot-deep layer of crispy brown.
I try to do as many of the low skill jobs around the house and yard as possible instead of hiring someone. The kinds that need mostly sweat and time and that have less chance of looking shoddy if I screw things up. Mowing the lawn, trimming the bushes, and raking leaves. Occasionally, I venture into slightly more advanced categories like basic plumbing, painting, digging water line ditches and the like, but I usually end up regretting it.
I calculate that the leaves take about 12 total hours annually start to finish. We’ve refined the process pretty well after three years – me on the backpack gas blower at the top of the hill, blowing leaves into large piles every 15 feet or so. A big blue tarp gets spread downhill next to the pile, leaves are raked on, tarp is folded like a taco, and dragged 200 feet into a secluded spot in the woods.
The boys participate in various parts of the process with varying results. It’s cute to have them playing in the piles for the first 8 minutes, but it usually goes down hill quickly from there. Rake fights, pushing siblings into piles, stuffing leaves into faces, landing on dog poop, constant requests to use the leaf blower, endless questions about how much money they’ve earned so far, attacks from the dog, the list could go on.
My main point of leverage is money. I have no problem paying the boys for their help as an extra bonus on their chore allowance. A couple hours of good work could earn them ten bucks. It pads their wallet and gives me a modicum of aid. It also gives me a good threat to hold over them for good behavior. Even if they don’t give me much help beyond an extra pair of hands to drag the tarp, I figure I’m passively molding their work ethic.
Despite my high hopes, the boys still aren’t quite to the point where they make meaningful contributions to the effort. Meaningful being the key word, since they do occasionally try. I dream of turning the entire operation over to them in a few years. I can see it now – a flurry of strong young men swarming the yard, multiple blowers, rakes moving with purpose and energy, all driven by the skill and perseverance modeled from their beloved father. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be there too – from the comfort of my deck chair, calling out directions and downing a beer. Hey, I can dream…