The two young and remarkably sleep-resistant boys flapped excitedly from the second floor window as their older brother James completed yet another lap around on the riding lawnmower. Evening sky was darkening rapidly, giving the scene a hazy-blue, Instagram quality. From up there I had a good view of four soiled tennis balls in a soggy, leafy gutter that should have been cleaned last November.
I was putting the boys to bed. Attempting to anyway. But neither the lawn spectacle nor my approach were helping. I was invoking what has become a sad new bedtime tradition on those especially exhausted nights: in lieu of traditional story time I was leafing the boys through a Tractor Supply catalog. It’s a fairy tale ending you’re not likely to hear anywhere else: “so the galvanized 48 inch goat fence and the 14 foot tube gate were married at last. And they lived happily ever after…”
Fencing materials had been top of mind. Right where James was out mowing stood a 300’ fence line I had been surveying for weeks that, if I could learn to build it – a big if, would give the goats another acre of lush pasture to graze. It would mean more milk, happier goats, and exactly 4.3% less yard to maintain. I weep for every blade of grass that isn’t processed by the animals – the pros call it “forage waste” – and mowing is an absolute last resort for me. It’s a desperate act undertaken only to preserve our last thin strand of external appearances.
As I read to the boys about fasteners and hinges I could see the creeping heaviness of fatigue on their eyelids. But then the mower would circle back around and they would spring to life – banging against the bedroom window like they were sitting in the front row of a Game 7 at the Joe Louis Arena. I appreciated the rooting and the camaraderie, but the whole thing was making my job considerably harder. And it was making a lot of noise that would not go unnoticed downstairs.
The boys squealed with laughter each time a loud “whazzump” pierced the steady drone of the mower. I didn’t have the heart to tell them the source of those funny sounds: a drugstore aisle worth of newly pulverized whiffle ball bats, decapitated action figures, and diced-up Tonka trucks.
I put the catalog down and joined the boys in the front row. That lawnmower makes me look like a circus bear on a bike, but it made James look as skinny as a Barcelona street busker. As he jetted across the rippled, mole-ravaged lawn his upper body bounced wildly, making him appear, during certain extra-bouncy moments, like a bobble-head doll. Concentration stained his face as he stretched legs and toes to their absolute limits to work the pedals. Proper steering required extra leaning for leverage. But despite all the effort he kept his poise, sat tall, and kept eyes affixed to the grass just ahead. He was figuratively empowered by the very literal operation of power equipment.
Work and responsibility are good for a boy. That’s the hope anyway, that the time stolen from the virtual screens and invested in real world activities will help the kids develop into sturdy societal contributors. That they will learn to value real labor in a world driven by an increasingly volatile job market. A world in which you’re five thousand times less likely to receive the gold watch than you are to be told to pack your things, thanks for the service, you’re no longer needed, effective immediately.
We live in a highly-structured society with far too many MBAs. You see it in the 37 varieties of supermarket toothpaste, the Under Armour lines marketed to kids that haven’t even yet developed sweat glands, and the cupcake company IPOs. Whether we want to admit it or not, the vast majority of us in the working world are but numbers in a great big spreadsheet. Our bosses work for other bosses. And those big bosses are itching to make a big splash. They want to birth the next great management approach. They dream of a book deal and a Forbes photo shoot and a big building on campus. They want to “monetize” anything and everything.
As poor James bounded around his last lap, a broad sense of satisfaction stamped on his narrow face, he had no way of knowing that the Vice President of Farming was fixing to soon eliminate that beloved mowing job. Like all those other MBAs in all those other corner offices, I was plotting to reorganize the farm, rationalize labor costs, and leverage alternative labor pools.
I was planning to outsource his job.
To a goat.
It would be the advent of my own cutting-edge management platform: “Goatsourcing™”
But as that management whiz sat at the window dreaming of all the ways to capitalize on that brilliant new concept, the engine on the mower, suddenly caught on one too many of those Tonka trucks, sputtered violently and stopped before shooting a spectacular plume of sparks into the deep blue of twilight. The boys – the ones who were supposed to be sound asleep – roared with approval.
A second later I heard that peculiar rhythm of urgent-sounding footsteps bounding up the steps. The Boss was vocally demanding to know why little people weren’t yet in little beds.
When she saw us all sitting at the window laughing she called for a massive restructuring of Bedtime Operations.
Thanks for your service, Paul, but you’re no longer needed.