Revised late Sunday night to undo a bad cut and paste job and make it make sense.
Bought a new snow shovel for the teenager.
He didn't seem grateful. Especially after I handed it to him and said with a big, proud grin, "Why don't you try it out?"
All teenage boys aren't naturally averse to hard work. If they were, family farms would fail after the farmer himself hit fifty, no car engines would ever get rebuilt, every marina on every lake in the country would have to shut down, and the parking lots of all the supermarkets would be stacked up with empty shopping carts.
But there are periods in most adolescent male's daily lives when a natural indolence overwhelms them, when a simple request to straighten their rooms strikes them as announcement that slavery has returned, when getting them to budge off the couch to take out the trash is like trying to get a mule to climb a barbed wire fence, when handing them a pick and a shovel and helmet and sending them down into a coal mine couldn't be more onerous or unfair than pointing them out into the backyard with a rake.
I don't know what causes it. Formerly diligent, energetic, responsible kids will suddenly turn into teenage Andy Capps, lying face-down on the couch for hours on end, rising occasionally to raid the refrigerator---and then only when they can't convince their mothers or siblings to fetch and carry for them. Maybe it's that they're all worn out from the terrible mental and emotional stresses of puberty. Maybe it's that they just don't get enough sleep. Maybe it's that they are just growing and all their energy is being used up by their lengthening bones and massing muscles.
But I think some of it is pure cussedness. They are moved to stop moving by a natural, and admirable, rebelliousness. It's their way of letting their parents know that times have changed. "I'm my own person now," they're saying with their inaction. "My life belongs to me and it's up to me to decide what to do with it."
They're wrong, of course. For now. But you have to respect their idealism.
I had my own stretch of principled laziness when I was 17. I had remarkable energy for everything back then, except anything my parents needed me to do. I used to ride my bike six miles to my girlfriend's house, expend a lot of energy with her, and ride the six miles back, which was all uphill, stopping about two thirds of the way home at friend's house where I would help his parents with various chores around their place, and then when I got back to my house to find a broom or a rake or a bag of trash waiting for me I'd collapse in a heap of sudden exhaustion and self-righteous indignation at my folks' lack of consideration.
"I never have any time to myself!" I'd invariably protest.
The teenager has had his moments, but generally he's a fairly helpful kid. Not exactly a self-starter, and I can't say he throws himself into his work, either. But he'll do what he's asked without too much grumbling or whining, and mostly what he seems to hate about doing work around the house is having to take instructions from me. Can't blame him there. I hated it when Pop Mannion used to tell me how to do something, especially since he was always right about it.
The owner of the hardware store where I bought the snow shovel has two teenage boys. Neither one is in his considered judgment particularly motivated to help out around the house, but the older of the two has developed a special talent for avoiding work. His favorite ploy is to duck out on a chore by actually appearing to carry it out. As an example, the owner demonstrated his son's method of pushing a broom, which is to set the bristles down on the floor, give his wrists a bit of a flick, pick up the broom, set it down a few inches farther along, flick his wrists, pick up the broom, flick his wrists.
In this way he can manage to look like he's working hard on one particularly dirty corner while his brother and father clean the whole rest of the garage around him.
Fortunately, the owner has some help in teaching his sons the value of hard work. He regularly sends them down to the store to help out his two twenty-something assistants, both of whom harbor the souls of Marine Drill Instructors. One of the assistants was standing right there when the owner told me all this. The assistant grinned and said it was the truth. The owner's sons put their backs into it when they are under the assistants' supervision.
I laughed and said that I was sending both Mannion boys down to them when they were old enough.
"Definitely," said the assistant. "Send 'em to us. We specialize in breaking teenage boys!"
By the way. The new shovel works just fine.
Scraped right down to the blacktop.
Parallel Lives: Tom Watson has a newly-minted teenage boy in the house now. His son celebrated his thirteenth birthday the other day and in honor of the occasion Tom fired his lawn care service and handed the kid a rake. Tom doesn't say if he told the boy, "Today you are a man."