I have a big, green lawn that wraps around the house. I just finished scattering gypsum and reseeding a few bare patches. That’s my lawncare routine: fertilizer once or twice a year, gypsum once or twice a year, pull dandelions, maybe spray for dandelions when my dander gets up, and reseed occasionally.  My kids mow it (high), and I water well. This is not a demanding routine. But it seems to work. My lawn isn’t manicured but it is cool and soft and looks inviting.

Lawns have a bad rap. They take up too much time, they take up too much space, they take up too much water. Water, I don’t think people should care about. Water is a renewable resource. Dearth of water in any one area is just a technical and political problem.

Lawns do take up some time and space. But so do kids. If kids are what your lawn is for, it takes away the problem.

I see immaculate lawns that never have anyone on them. I also see dirt and weed lots surrounding houses where the kids are hooked up the TV and the gaming console. Both are a shame. I used to take every opportunity to kick my kids out of the house. Now they take to it naturally. Even when they’re just in mood for lolling around or reading, they like to do it outside. The only effort this requires on my part is occasional reseeding for scuffed patches and patience with the piles of sticks and stones and feathers and dump trucks and shoes that mysteriously migrate across the grass. We can afford to have our small house because we have our big lawn.

As for the time it takes, why, it isn’t me that’s taking the time. Every Saturday, my girls, ages 7 to 10, divvy up the lawn and mow it. Since they use the grass so much themselves, they’re pretty proud of their work. I’m pretty proud of their work too (though I usually do some touch up on the tricky spots after they’re done). Originally I had to start the mower for all of them. Then the oldest taught herself to do it, and I have since caught the other two practicing pulling the starter themselves. Kids aren’t naturally passive and useless. Given the opportunity, they won’t be.

To my mind, a well run lawn is a little farm for suburbanites where the crop you’re raising is youngsters. The main crop, anyway. We use the clippings to compost our garden, we feed the clippings to my dad’s beef cows, and we’re looking into getting small livestock, chickens or rabbits, to eat more of the clippings in the spring.

A big family lawn isn’t right for everybody.  If you can do it, do it.  If not, look for equivalents: areas of work that have a cultural valence as man’s work, because kids want to feel important to their dad; where the kids reap some of the benefit; and then put it to work.


P.S.  Practical aspects of having pretty small kids mow: a good safety lecture on how you handle the mower, and assistance from you in gassing and starting the mower.  The safety lecture, because what’s dangerous isn’t obvious to the kids.  That said, once they know what to do kids are perfectly willing to be sober and serious when they think they are doing “grown-up” things.  You probably want to set your mower on a high setting too.  Less pushing will be required.

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