In the midst of other commitments this past week, I agreed to take a child for the school for the day. This boy had made a poor decision and had to be out of the program. It can be tough for a boarding school to manage brief suspensions in these situations and I am generally happy to help. I have a lot of empathy for confused adolescents.
Besides, I know that if the conditions are right, a day outside working usefully alongside an adult — even in the cold and wind — can be far more positive and instructive than sitting bored and resentful in detention.
I’ve learned that most children are happy to tackle even tough tasks if they can see obvious, measurable progress. And of course, using lots of equipment makes it even better!
Dallas [not his real name] was cheerful as I fitted him with hearing protectors and eye goggles, and then taught him how to gas the weedwhacker, prime it, use the choke, and fire it up. While I did the dull work of mucking stalls and shoveling sand, he spent the morning slashing happily and noisily at five-foot raspberry canes smothering the driftway fence.
Using a hand saw, he cut down two fourteen-foot black cherry trees and threw them in the woods.
After lunch, he built a heavy-duty cat screen for the dutch door of the barn. (He measured the opening; I cut 2x4s with the Skilsaw; he screwed the pieces together with a battery drill, and cut and tacked the welded wire.) Then we combined our strength to load gates and other heavy items into the hayloft for the winter.
But the real excitement came when I taught him how to operate my lawnmower (without the blades engaged). Dallas was thrilled to learn about the clutch, the gears, the steering. Shoveling crusher run into the trailer and chugging the mower down the farm driveway to fill potholes was thrilling.
Whenever I peeked out from the barn I saw him grinning unconsciously to himself. I think if darkness had not fallen he would be out there still.
When he hopped into my truck at the end of the day to return to school, his cheeks were red and his eyes were shining. He exclaimed, “Someday I’m going to buy a lawnmower!”
I thanked him for all his hard work.
“You’re welcome,” he said eagerly. “Do you think I could come back to work for you on Sunday?”