As we strolled the neighborhood last night, it seemed like almost everyone was out mowing their lawns. It was one of those early summer evenings that was almost perfect—70s, calm, not too many bugs—just right for tackling some yard work.
When we got home, I noticed a friend had shared a post on Facebook that made me stop in my tracks—because I’d just seen the very thing it was warning about, and I hadn’t considered the danger.
Buddy Shoemaker, a father of three in New Hampshire, shared a sobering post about his youngest son, Grady, and the accident that nearly severed both of his feet:
In May of 2013 I purchased my first ride on lawnmower. My oldest son (now 14) is a responsible kid and was more than capable of mowing our lawn. The first day we got it our son told his best friend and little brother to hop on for a ride. At first I told him no, that I didn’t want him on it because it was all new to him, and he needed to make sure he knew how to handle it cautiously, as it wasn’t a toy. I remembered specifically telling him that there was 54″ deck of sharp blades underneath it that he couldn’t see. By the second day we had it I felt like it wasn’t a big deal for our youngest to sit on his big brother’s lap…as long as he was straddled between his legs and in what I considered a “safe” or invulnerable position.
The first time they mowed the lawn together I posted a picture to my fb. They looked cute, and they loved doing it together. It was only a matter of minutes before a friend of mine who owns and operates his own lawn maintenance company (and has extensive knowledge of large ride on mowers) posted a comment warning me of the danger of kids riding on mowers. His comment/post wasn’t rude or nasty. He was very polite and considerate. It was obvious he wasn’t out to be judgmental but only wanted the best for our son (see picture/comment attached). I took note of his comment and dismissed it, immediately thinking to myself- I’m not one of those over-protective parents. Kids can get injured doing anything. I’ve never heard of a kid falling off a lawn mower and getting injured. And plus, there isn’t enough space between the ground and the mow deck for anything to get between the two if somehow he were to fall off…he’ll be fine.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I have seen our two boys mowing the lawn together in the past year+. Each time with our younger son looking safe and secure between the two legs of our older son who is 6′ tall and 190 lbs. Sunday evening August 17th I was working from home and heard the lawn mower running. I went out to our front deck to check on them. Grady appeared to be safely between his legs in a stable position. I took a picture of them. Like I normally do when I get a cute pic of my kids, I was proud and I posted it to fb, with a comment “Drew teaching Grady how to mow the lawn.”
Roughly half an hour after taking the picture of the two of them, I heard a blood-curdling scream from my 14 year old coming from our back lawn. I immediately knew what happened and remembered my friend’s warning. I turned my head and saw our oldest son running towards the house with his arms flailing. I then heard our 9 year old’s horrific screams. As I ran outside I saw my youngest son lying on the ground in what can only be described as a horrific sight. He lay there in disbelief staring back and forth between his feet and my eyes, with his eyes almost bulging from their sockets. His cries and looks, as he continued to look back and forth between his feet and my eyes, could only be described as looking to me in disbelief, shock and wondering if this were all a horrible nightmare. As his brother had turned a sharp corner with the mower, he fell off the side. Both of his feet had gone underneath the mower deck. He had lost his two smallest toes from his right foot and a portion of the foot below the two smallest toes. He lost his big toe from his left foot, a portion of his left heel and his left foot was severed about three inches below his ankle, hanging by a thin layer of skin at the bottom.
I picked my son up and ran to the passenger seat of the closest vehicle, telling my oldest son to quickly get his mom and the keys. I remembered wrapping my son’s feet in a bath towel on the ride to the hospital, the entire time praying with him. Besides prayer my only thoughts were worrying that his left foot was going to fall off while I was holding him. I wanted to make sure if it fell off he would not see it and I could hide it from him. God answered our prayers and his foot never completely came off.
After a frantic drive to our local hospital’s ER, where his feet were wrapped and secured, Grady was airlifted to Boston Children’s Hospital. We have been here at Children’s for the last 13 days. We will probably be here a couple more weeks before being transferred to an inpatient rehab facility where we have been told to expect to be for two to three months.
I write this for the sole purpose of saving other parents and kids from going through this. Please learn from our mistakes. There was an immense amount of guilt felt in the immediate aftermath by both my wife, I and our two boys. While we have chosen as a family to only look ahead, it is important for me to know that others can learn from our mistakes.
Please, never allow a young child on a lawn mower with moving blades. If you see someone allowing a young child to ride on a mower, either in person or in a posted picture, please warn them of the dangers. You can’t make your friends make wise decisions. But you can tell them about our story if they question your advice.
The post is now nine years old, but the message still resonates with parents across the country, especially as summertime begins.
Last year, Grady’s dad posted a little more about what happened in those harrowing hours immediately following the accident:
I rarely talk about what I went through at the hospital in the moments we waited in the ER for the helicopter life flight for our son to Boston. It was right after the lawn mower accident and frantic drive to the hospital. It’s been roughly 8 years…
I wouldn’t consider myself an emotional person. But as my wife and mom were in the small ER room with our son while the Dr and nurses bandaged up his feet to hold them together, I couldn’t bare to hear his screaming and walked out of the room and emotionally lost it. I began crying. I’ve never cried so hard in my life.
I sat down and began to seriously consider suicide as I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I thought I was responsible for my son’s accident. I thought he was going to lose both of his feet and would never walk again.
I wouldn’t (and still don’t) consider myself an outgoing charismatic Christian. That said, in my extreme grief and pain, in a split moment I had a peace that came over me that I’ve never experienced before or ever since. I literally was in the worst place I’ve ever been in my life. In that moment it was as if God slapped me in the face and told me my entire life prepared me for this moment and that it was up to me how I was going to respond to it. I could either let it tear my marriage and relationships with my kids apart and everything I cared about in life, or I could press into God and trust in him for everything we were about to go through.
I went from complete devastation, emotional turmoil, loud crying, and suicidal tendencies to within thirty seconds wiping my tears away and feeling a peace and security like I had never experienced before.
Over the next month in Boston Children’s ICU with our son, the Dr’s all said based on his injuries our son’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle. 4 months after his accident he was playing again in his first hockey game.
As I said, this was almost 8 years ago. A lot has happened since then. When life has brought trials and tribulations that have seemed overwhelming, I always remember the moment I was at my lowest.
We will all face some kind of adversity at some point in our lives- divorce, cancer, the death of a child, loss of a loved one etc. It’s up to you if you decide you are going to let that adversity define you. The way you respond/react to adversity is what will define you and show your true character.
I have no idea why I’m publicly sharing this on a random Tuesday after 8 years. The older I get the more I enjoy being as transparent as possible, not just with my friends and family, but with random strangers. Maybe this was for one of those random strangers…
Both posts are a sobering reminder that tragedy can strike in an instant, and why it’s better to err on the side of being cautious when it comes to kids and riding lawn mowers this summer.