Sweep the Grass

Why do we as children fail to realize the constant sacrifices made by our parents?

 How can we be so blind to the ever abundant fountain of  love, compassion, and patience afforded to us every waking hour of the day?

Why is it  only far later that we wake to the fact that our parents pushed us in front of themselves in every way to better us, and better our world? 

Why does this realization too often only occur after the death of a parent?

Maybe it is intentional. A child should never feel as though they owe a parent back in return. Instead they must only learn how to reciprocate their love and their parents love onto their future children. 

Every year for Christmas as I got older,  I would receive among my bounty of undeserving  presents, an occasional book. A Christmas gift no child covetes, especially me,  but as I did not ever own  a video game system, most of the books actually got read.  One particular year I received a book from the “ Chicken Soup For The Soul series.”

(I do hope that I can figure out the proper way to cite this in its entirety in final print.)  

NO CHARGE

A little boy went up to his mother and he handed her a piece of paper that he had been writing on. This is what it said:

For Cutting the grass$5.00
For cleaning my room this week$1.00
For going to the store for you$0.50
Baby-sitting my kid brother while you went shopping$0.25
Taking out the garbage$1.00
For getting a good report card$5.00
For cleaning up & raking the yard$2.00
Total Owed:$14.75

Well, his mother looked at him standing there expectantly, and you could see the memories flashing through her mind. So she picked up the pen, turned over the paper he’d written on and this is what she wrote:

– For the nine months I carried you while you were growing inside me, no charge.

– For all the nights that I’ve sat up with you, doctored and prayed for you, no charge.

 -For all the trying times, and all the tears that you’ve caused through the years, there’s no charge.

 -When you add it all up, the cost of my love is no charge.

 -For all the nights that were filled with dread, and for the worries I knew were ahead, no charge.

 -For the toys, food, clothes, and even wiping your nose, there’s no charge, son.

 -And when you add it all up, the full cost of real love is no charge.

When he finished reading what his mother had written, there were great big tears in his eyes, and he looked straight up at his mother and said, “Mom, I sure do love you.” And then he took the pen and in great big letters he wrote: “ALREADY PAID.”

Why are children and young adults unable to realize all that our parents do for us? 

As a father now, I laugh to myself when I ask my children for a spoonful of their  ice cream or a bite of a cookie. The repulsive looks I get.  It is as if a bum had walked to them on the street and asked if they could have a lick of their lollipop.

“How dare you?” “Who does this guy think he is?” “This is my cookie.” 

 I can of course empathize with my children , as I too  gave the same responses not too many years ago. What further puzzles me is that even as an adult with my own family  I sometimes  choose to prioritize my needs over assisting my mother, even though I am seldom asked, and often financially compensated. 

Understanding that this is the way of the world, I admit that I do carry some guilt because of it, and like most, I am probably doomed to only regret it after her passing.

This is not to suggest that my  children owe a sliver of anything in return, as they are now my reason for being, my very purpose.

But still, our inability to recognize the sacrifices, work and unrelenting love that we receive from our parents, sets us all up for a great deal of hurt and regret down the line. Often only when it is too late do we realize the deeds let alone still possess the time and will to express the appropriate amount of gratitude let alone reciprocate the effort. The truth of the matter is that we can never repay our parents. In order to raise us, they had to pause their lives and help us build ours. The amount of selfless giving can not be quantified, as it is a constant.

This chapter is not meant to express my guilt. There is no purpose in that. Rather it is a reflection of the way things are.  The scales of love between a parent and child are tipped.  It is the way things have to be.  A child must be told they are loved constantly. A parent knows they will always love their child from the moment they set eyes on them.

Another thing that children struggle with is realizing that their parents are a huge source of wisdom and experience.  We don’t realize that our parents literally just went through what we are about to go through. Oftentimes, when our parents tell us not to do it’s because they already did that and know what the consequences will be. When trying to stress this point to my son who is 4 years old, I tell him that I may not have all the right answers, but I certainly have all the wrong answers. Any way you can fail, fall or stumble, I have already done. (Probably more than once.) 

As my father would say, “ been there, done that, got the battle scars.”

One particular story that makes me appreciate my father’s wisdom occurred several months before I entered basic training for the ARMY . My father asked my older Brother David and myself to help him prep the house, so that it could be put on the market. Cut the lawn, trim the hedges, clean windows etc. Regretfully, in hindsight as my brother and I were 21 years old and 20 years old respectively, neither he or I wanted to be there at all. 

 I for one,  just wanted to do the bare minimum and get out of there as soon as possible.  As for David, he used to have a saying that we mocked, because it seemed like any time my parents  asked him to do something he would say “ I have plans.” At the time I understood  how disrespectful,  and how inconsiderate that would be to say to a parent. That’s why I would never say it out loud. But, I sure was thinking  it. 

With a 7 Am Saturday morning start. ( A 20 year olds favorite time of the day to not be working.) We began banging away at the seemingly  endless list of chores. Again, it started out with the basics, lawn care, window washing, and hedge cutting. Then it turned into little dirty projects. Tasks like “Let’s move this boat trailer with a flat tire by hand. Prior to this day,  the trailer  had been sitting in this location for 5 years, and also never had a boat on it.” Then it was “ hey let’s organize the wood pile.” Again, we did not have a wood burning stove. Why this pile of logs was in our backyard, let alone needed to be “ re-organized”  set steam from my ears. And so the day dragged on like this. Every time it would seem like things were wrapping up, out came the extension ladder so my father could replace a screw in the gutter. 

It was a winter month, so the sun was almost gone early, and all I could think about was leaving. With a heart of shame I confess that all I really wanted to do was leave so I could go and get drunk somewhere. Pitiful excuse of a person I was. 

But still, we labored on. In my mind, I was working up the nerve to lie to my father and tell him I had an emergency, or forgot I had to do something, or some other story to relieve me from this torture session. But I didn’t want to lie, because he would know I was lying, and I didn’t want him to think that I was a liar. This made me mad. So for an hour or more, I just stewed in my brain with hate and anger, “Why is he being such an asshole?” “Haven’t I  done enough?” 

 I had to say something.  I thought to myself, “I’m an adult now.” “Am I not a man?” “I have earned the right to tell someone no.”

So at the next juncture when it seemed as it was all over, my father picked up a broom off the sidewalk and started sweeping the grass. 

I snapped. I said the worst words. I said the worst things. I accused him of being the worst kind of person. I told him that he was deliberately wasting my time. I told him he was taking advantage of my kindness. I told him that I had my own life to think about, and that I didn’t have time to help him with his.  And I ended it by saying  “I will not sweep the grass.”

He only responded by asking “ what are you gonna do when you are in the Army, and someone asks you to sweep the grass?” I responded , “no one would ever ask me to sweep the grass because it is the most ridiculous, unnecessary idea in the entire world.”

Flash forward 1 year. I am in Fort Benning Georgia, an Airborne Dropout, on a detail doing groundskeeping for some headquarters we were assigned too. Our task was to rake leaves this day. And as fate would have it, there were 6 soldiers, 5 rakes, and 1 broom. 

And guess what I did.

I swept the grass. 

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