A little green gets teens to shovel


IN A PERFECT world, I would have been the one in bed under the covers, and my teen-age sons would have been the ones out in the snow, clearing the walks and brushing off the cars.

In the real world, it was the other way around. Yesterday morning as I was removing the sheets of snow from the walks and the cars, I heard a voice calling out to me from an upstairs bedroom window.

It came from my 13-year-old son. For a moment I thought the kid might be asking to help with the snow-removal effort. Maybe, I told myself, he wants me to "save" a section of sidewalk that he can work on.

I removed my knit cap so I could hear the kid clearly. It turned out the kid wasn't volunteering to join the shoveling effort. Instead, he was arranging his social life. He was asking if he could invite one of his buddies over, since both of them had been lucky enough to be out of school for the day.

Later, when I had finished the first stage of clearing the walks -- I believe in the shovel-early, shovel-often school of snow removal -- I stomped up to the boys' bedrooms to rally them for the second wave of snow removal. It was about half-past 9 in the morning and the snow was still coming down at a good clip.

"Good news," I told the guys. "It looks like there will still be plenty of snow for you to shovel."

Their response was less than enthusiastic. The 13-year-old was deeply engaged in an episode of "America's Funniest Home Videos" on television and couldn't talk to me.

Down the hall, the 18-year-old was still under the covers, contemplating how he would spend his unexpected day off from school. I didn't really have a conversation with the older kid. He grunted at me, but I got the impression that shoveling snow was not on the top of his "must do today" list.

I felt like a failure as a father. Somehow I had been unable to impart "the joy of shoveling" to my kids. This meant my boys would never experience the sense of accomplishment that comes when you lean on your shovel and admire the path you have cleared through the snow. This meant they would miss the thrill that comes from early-morning battles with nature. This meant they would never feel the tingle of pride that comes from "owning" a stretch of sidewalk.

Disappointed, I went back outside and did a little more shoveling. As I shoveled, I thought of big snows of previous years. I recalled the blizzard of 1996 and remembered that it, too, had hit in early January. I remembered it, too, had arrived the day after the Christmas tree had been hauled away. The coincidence scared me. Once again it was early January. Once again the Christmas tree had just been hauled away. Once again it was snowing. Could we be in for another blizzard like the one in 1996 that dumped 22.5 inches of snow?

I recalled that back in 1996 I had recruited a brigade of workers, most of them teen-agers, to shovel out the snow-clogged alley behind our house. Slowly I remembered what motivated those teen-agers to pick up a shovel. It was cash; each kid ended up getting $20 from a pool of money I had collected from neighbors.

Yesterday morning, I eventually put down the snow shovel and made my way to work. A few hours later, in the early afternoon, my sons called me with good news.

Not only were they awake, they were employed. They had already been paid for shoveling off the walk of one neighbor, and they were calling me to get the phone number of another likely employer.

Yesterday's snow taught me something. The next time I want to get teen-agers to shovel snow, I won't give them an early-morning speech about the excitement of doing combat with nature. I won't try to appeal to their sense of duty, or their manly pride.

Instead, I will wait until early afternoon, when teen-agers seem willing to greet the world, and I'll wave money at them.

Pub Date: 1/09/99

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