I grew up in a condo, in a land where the sidewalks were magically shoveled in the winter and our little patch of lawn was maintained by men who would show up like an army, unload equipment of all sorts from their trucks, and mow, weed whip, and blow errant clipped grass until everything looked like Pleasantville.
So when my husband showed me how to use our riding lawnmower a few weeks ago, perhaps I should have warned him that my experience was limited.
When weather and work schedules conspired to leave the lawn looking like a jungle, I decided to use my day off to mow, a job normally done by either my husband or stepson. After rolling the beast from the storage shed, I climbed onto the seat and followed the directions printed by the ignition to get the mower started (having forgotten some of what my husband had told me about using it). It sprang forward when I shifted out of neutral, and I tried to get a feel for the steering, which felt similar to a Jet Ski or snowmobile. After rumbling up the hill on the side of the house (scary!), I headed for the flat expanse of the front yard, which I figured was safe territory.
I was convinced the neighbors were shaking their heads from behind their window blinds, watching as I attempted to make neat circles around the trees and shrubs, and straight lines down the open area of lawn. Eventually, confidence got the better of me: I decided to head for the slope, where a vegetable patch and flowerbed posed obstacles to my lovely straight lines. Rounding the garden, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by rounding the flowerbed, built as something of a retaining wall into the slope of the hill. I didn't want to go across the slope, for fear of tipping, but if I tried to go straight up and down, I wasn't sure where or how I would turn.
You know how sometimes you look back at something and the right solution was right there in front of you, but for unknown reasons, you did something stupid instead? This was one of those times. What I should have done was reversed from this tricky situation. Instead, I got the bright idea to turn off the mower, shift it into neutral, stand next to it from the high side, walk it around the flowerbed to safe territory, and get going again.
Gravity was a thing that I had not fully accounted for. When I slipped the gearshift into neutral, immediately the mower began to roll downhill! I tried to hold on to the steering wheel to guide it, running alongside, but quickly realized I was neither going to slow it down nor have any impact on its trajectory. I watched in horror as it barreled through the brush at the bottom of our hill, only stopping when it hit the wooden fence that separates our yard from the neighbors'. "Did anyone see that?" I wondered, as I skittered down the hill to assess the damage.
Dumb luck was on my side. Neither the fence nor the mower was damaged, although the mower was firmly wedged against the fence. After a few futile attempts to pull it back, the idea of starting it and putting it into reverse finally occurred to me. No luck. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I gave up.
Later, after I had picked up my husband from work and he started the mower on the first try, smoothly drove it up the hill, and went on to finish mowing the lawn, it occurred to me that without even trying, I had probably guaranteed that mowing the lawn would never again be on my chore list. Score! On the other hand, I felt like a dumb girl/princess stereotype, someone who couldn't handle the "man jobs." Not cool. So, do I spend this summer learning to master the lawn, or chalk it up to "not my area of expertise"? I'm still undecided.
I'm curious—how do you handle these issues? Should everyone (old enough) who lives in the house know how to do all of the chores, whether mowing; folding, ironing, and taking care of the laundry; or running the snow blower? Please share your thoughts in the "Comments" section below.
Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer at West Michigan Woman magazine.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Reynolds.