First They Came for the Lawnmowers

Sometimes you want to follow your dreams, but dreams don’t pay the bills, so you mow lawns…

The year was 2011, the season was Summer, and my job? My job sucked, but at least it paid. My next door neighbor and my father were sitting outside having a beer, talking about seasonal specific tasks they hated doing thanks to the unforgiving heat, humidity, and Biblical swarm of mosquitos that made simple things major annoyances. Our neighbor’s home was on bit of a hill, and he was at a point in his adult life where he had the disposable income to outsource the dreaded task of mowing his lawn to somebody else, so my father got an idea—that somebody else was me.

At first I said no, I already had a “job” even though it didn’t technically pay. I was a sports announcer for my high school’s Freshman and Junior Varsity football, basketball, and field hockey teams. It was awesome, and it took a lot of work having to come to practices on occasion, learning the AV equipment, boring stuff you don’t really care about. I begged the Athletics Department director semester after semester to pay me, but the school district’s policies prevented them from paying students for tasks and labor the schools could easily contract out. “Paying you could distract you from your studies, consider learning your payment” he told me one afternoon. Learning is nice, but learning doesn’t put gas in my car to get me to and from this learning experience.

We found a compromise so I could stop asking him, I could go to the concessions stand and get free food during games, as long as the principal and other students didn’t find out. I was pleased at least I have my lunch and dinner covered, but I still needed money. I took my neighbor up on the opportunity to mow his lawn. The grass grew like it was on steroids so I had to mow it more than twice a week, but at least I was paid for it. I learned the basic skills of how to be a functioning and contributing member of the community that summer mowing lawns, the basic coming of age lessons such as: waking up early without being dragged out of bed by your parents so you can get to work, or when you are paid to do something, finish the job in full, not 90%.

Kids these days, a decade later since I had to earn my cash pushing a lawnmower, are under a scrutiny I only had a slight taste of. Child labor laws and arbitrary policies devised by the school board prevented me from getting paid for work they would have paid an adult to do. If I had gone into town to search for a part time job, I would have had to ask for permission from the principal and vice principal, and get a written form of consent. If they had said no, I would have to stop pursuing a job, and if I had gone behind their backs and gotten a job, I could only imagine what administrative discipline they would have throw at me.

At least I had the chance to mow lawns in my cul-de-sac however, and those handshake contracts—where I was rewarded with under the table wads of cash so I could put gas in my car and go out with my friends—were able to keep some money in my wallet when my school was making it near impossible. Kids are immature and impressionable sometimes, but once they start working, they value it and can be incredibly productive.

Sadly, we are disincentivizing work and kids aren’t only pushing these lessons of adulthood later into life, but they aren’t making any money either.

With the war on neighborhood lemonade stands for example, this old American tradition’s only defender is Country Time, which has offered to pay any fees thrown at kids who operate “illegal” lemonade stands. The statist monster the internet has labeled “Permit Patty” called the cops on a little girl selling bottled water without a permit, and more recently an anonymous neighbor called the cops on a little kid who was mowing another neighbor’s lawn when he unknowingly cut a few inches off of theirs.

The war on child labor has only gotten hotter since 2012, when the Obama-era Department of Labor started its legal warfare by crafting policies to crack down on farm chores that are primarily left to children. For these blue collar farmers, their family’s very livelihood depends on having the entire family, including the children, work on the farm. What is being accomplished by this? Are grades going up? Are kids safer because they aren’t operating big and dangerous farm equipment? Are the kids better off because they were shoved in a classroom instead of being forced to understand ownership and responsibility? It’s hard to say, because none of these laws are backed by any major or recent studies by the Department of Labor or municipal bodies that draft and enforce these laws and regulations.

So what is there to do other than voting, showing up to hearing sessions, and calling Country Time to bail your illegal lemonade dealer out of jail? That answer is tricky and hard to find, but the first question should be: who ultimately knows what is best for your child? You or a bureaucrat?

Regardless of the answer, America would be a whole lot better if we had more teens mowing lawns and little kids running lemonade stands instead of being indoctrinated with the false gospel of socialism.

Remso W. Martinez

Remso W. Martinez is a journalist and Amazon bestselling author of “Stay Away From the Libertarians!” You can follow him on Twitter @RemsoForVa or on his website rwmartinez.com.

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