To Mow or Not to Mow

Mowing Amnesia vs. Mowing Dementia.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

After my husband left, I was forced to take over his one chore—mowing. I figured, if he can do it, how hard can it be? We had just bought $800 worth of Bahia sod and, by golly, I wasn’t about to let that investment wither and die. As I look back, I can see that my mowing ability has evolved significantly over the past two years. I have categorized this evolution into four stages: Early, Middle, Late, and Super Late. And to save you from making the same mistakes I did, I have peppered this essay with some golden nuggets of advice. That way you can make different ones!

Early Stage: The first time I went out to cut the grass, I couldn’t start the mower. I tried over and over and decided that it must be broken. I walked the rusty, rattling machine down the sidewalk to Mr. Frank’s house. Mr. Frank is a stocky African-American senior citizen who owns a riding lawnmower and mows approximately 80% of the neighbors’ yards. I told him it was broken and asked him to take a look at it. He walked over to my pathetic push-from-behind mower and pulled the cord with ease. It sputtered and started right up. Mr. Frank looked at me and grinned widely. I’m sure he was thinking, Silly girl can’t even start her own mower.

I figured, if he can do it, how hard can it be?

Well, I was careful to keep that baby running as long as possible before I had to turn it off and unload the bag. When it was time to restart, I employed a new technique: I pushed the mower forward while simultaneously pulling the cord, thus giving me just enough extra force to rev up the engine (by the fifth try). I am not sure, but I think the physics equation would go something like this: F + M – D / R4W = YIS! (Force plus Momentum minus Drag divided by the combined Radii of the Four Wheels equals Yippee It Started!) Anyhow, it worked, and that’s what is important here.

Unfortunately, there are other tools involved in yard upkeep, like the string trimmer. My trimmer’s string broke five times in one afternoon. I was so tired of manually restringing it that I took the whole thing and threw it across the yard. I realize this might have been a childish thing to do, but it felt good. Unfortunately, the landing caused serious damage to the whacker’s protective shield. I had to remove it. Little did I know that the protective shield exists for a reason. I made the mistake of wearing shorts once after the whacker had its shield amputated, and a twig hit my leg at top speed, leaving behind a bloody slash. So now I have to wear jeans at all times when in the vicinity of my shieldless trimmer.

During the Early Stage, I also learned an important lesson. I have a tendency to go back and forth a lot where it’s hard to turn the mower around, so often I simply mow backwards. I suppose I may have been getting a little overconfident in my mowing ability, and instead of actually looking backward, I just relied on my keen sense of GBP (Geographical Body Positioning). I walked backwards pulling the mower, and my foot hit a planter. I toppled into it, landing on my butt. Of course I popped back up with cat-like agility, hoping no one saw me do that. But when I looked, I saw Mr. Frank driving by on his riding mower, his belly heaving up and down with laughter like a summer Santa Claus.

I must say I did get a great sense of accomplishment after completing my first mow/edge combo. The yard looked fantastic. Every time we pulled into the driveway, I would announce to my kids: “Wow, the yard looks great! Mommy did that, you know!” They would roll their eyes. I was determined to make the yard look ten times better than it did when in the care of my ex-husband, thereby establishing myself as a superior yard-maintenance person and winning some sophomoric imaginary competition. The yard did look unbelievably green, that is, until I accidentally used the wrong Weed & Feed. Do not, I repeat, do not trust anyone under 20 years old working in the garden section!

Middle Stage: First I compiled a Mowing Checklist to prevent the errors that occurred in the Early Stage (i.e., forgetting a cold drink and having to charge through the house in yard clothes, leaving a trail of sweat and Bahia). Here is my list:

  1. Sunglasses
  2. Hat
  3. Sunscreen
  4. Cold water/drink
  5. Sweat rag
  6. Black garbage bag (to line the trash can so I don’t have to spend hours later bleaching out stinky rotten grass)
  7. Green-stained yard shoes
  8. Old shorts (or jeans, for edging)
  9. Bikini top
  10. Hospital mask (I’m allergic to grass)
  11. + Ipod (optional)

_________________________
= Foxy Lady! (Riiiiight.)

 
Attire for mowing can be tricky. It must be protective, weather appropriate plus mildly stylish (just in case Oprah pulls into the driveway with my new car to whisk me away).

I started the whole bikini top thing because I saw my neighbor mow her yard last year in her bikini. I thought, Shoot, if she can do it, so can I (true, my breasts are like four sizes smaller than hers, but what the heck). I am secretly hoping that my bikini (albeit empty) will beckon some tall mysterious stranger to walk by my house and wave to me. I stop the mower, and he approaches and says, “You look tired, let me finish that up for you.” Then he takes his shirt off in slow motion (revealing the firm physique of a boxer), nudges me aside, and grabs the mower. I sit in the lawn chair drinking an ice cold mojito, watching the life-sized action-figure smile at me as he mows the entire yard. Ahhhhh…

Sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes, at the…

Late Stage: Recently I was out mowing, trying to navigate some particularly treacherous uneven terrain, when I heard a pop in my shoulder and a small voice inside my head said, Is mowing this yard worth dislocating your shoulder? You need to pay someone to do this! I continued mowing, and the heat began to take a toll on my body. I could feel my heart beating in my head as if my heart and brain had switched places. Again the voice piped up, You are going to have a heat stroke! Stop this nonsense now and pay someone to mow your yard! This little voice helped facilitate my transition into the Late Stage. The process was slow, though, because for some reason the little voice only starts its tirades when I’m mowing and disappears when I’m not. When I am not mowing, I have Mowing Amnesia and totally forget the pain and torture—not unlike a woman who forgets the hell that is childbirth. My friend Lynn claims to enjoy mowing. I call that Mowing Dementia.

After I tallied up the cost (financial, physical, and emotional) of mowing, I realized I actually lose money mowing my own yard versus paying someone. My reasoning went something like this:

Gas = $3.00
Water and electricity (for cleaning my mowing clothes) = $3.00
My valuable time (including mowing, breaks from mowing, and recovery period from mowing) = $80.00 Medical costs due to allergic reaction to sunscreen mixed with sweat causing not only a need for a dermatology consultation, but also loss of potential dates who see my red blotchy face and run = incalculable, i.e., $45.00
Zyrtec due to grass allergy = $3.00
Vitamin water = $5.00
__________________________________
TOTAL = $139.00!

So, you see, I really had no choice but to use a lawn boy. Plus I was helping some ambitious young man pay for his college degree. (Of course, the one I hired probably used it to buy the kind of grass that doesn’t need mowing.)

Super Late Stage: I couldn’t do it. I felt guilty. Sitting there watching the lawn boy zip around my yard with his headphones on, not caring that he missed a clump of weeds or just mowed over my treasured gnome village, I had to go back out there. And when my dad brought over a brand-new red Honda GCV–160 Easy-Start mower with Adjustable Smart Drive—well, I had no excuse. It was so powerful it dragged me all over the yard like a pendant on a sailboat. When I looked back at the trail of weed carnage it left in its wake, I knew I was back in the mowing saddle again.

Truth be known, I kind of like mowing. I guess I have a bit of Mowing Dementia, after all.

No other kind, though. Other than that, I am completely sane. Right?


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