The little girl on my front porch steps stood about a hair bow taller than the wrought iron rail. She circled both hands around her mouth, forming the smallest of megaphones. The roar of the motor drowned out her tiny voice as she shouted something to me across the yard.
I ran down the short list of possibilities: Can I have a popsicle? Can you play with me? Or my favorite: Are you done yet? I considered three things before deciding to ignore her: first, she wasn’t my child; second, she didn’t appear to be bleeding; and finally, it had taken me six tries and at least as many expletives to start this lawn mower in the first place. When I glanced sideways at her a few minutes later, however, she was still at it. I stopped what I was doing and headed in her direction.
“Mommies aren’t supposed to cut the grass,” the neighbor’s daughter announced summarily. I shut off the mower for this?
I remember the year I took over the yard. Small, Medium, and Large (our three daughters) were just one, three, and five.
In the beginning, the neighborhood dads looked askance at me. They sent their middle-school sons to our door to ask about cutting the grass. Up and down the block, suburban men came home early from work to spread granules, pellets, and powders on their lawns. Just to keep my own suburban man in the loop, I occasionally asked him to start our moody old mower, or sharpen its blades, or check the oil. Then he got smart and bought us one of those self-propelled, all-terrain models – one that worked, so he wouldn’t have to. That was also the year I received gardening gloves that went up to my elbows, tinted safety goggles, and an industrial-size container of Preen for Mother’s Day.
I told myself that this was one of the benefits of working from home as a freelance writer, having the time to cut the grass and take care of the landscaping. My self bought it. After all, our neighbor (a mom of two able-bodied sons) regularly mowed her lawn. “For the exercise!” She’d said. “And you can clean the inside all day, and not twenty minutes later, it’s a mess,” she had added with a wink, alluding to her kids’ inability to pick up after themselves. “Only God can mess up the lawn once you’ve mowed it!” It made perfect sense to me. In fact, I’ve borrowed that page from her book many times over the years.
Of course, I also remember thinking that one day – in the not too distant future – one of my daughters would cut the grass.
But for now, my first mulch mountain awaited! I got out my pitchfork and my rake, for easy spreading. I strapped on my kneepads, for getting in under the shrubs. My two older daughters pulled on their ladybug and busy-bee gardening gloves, for having a picnic in the crepe myrtle club. It took me every bit of two weeks to reduce that truckload of chocolate chip mulch to a mere stain on the driveway. And I reveled in every single wheelbarrow trip. By the time I was done that spring, my arms and shoulders rivaled Michelle Obama’s – at least for a month. And so it went season after season, although that was the first and only year I claimed solo honors as queen of the mulch mountain.
Now ten years later, spring is here, and once again, the yard is calling. A different girl is on the front steps waving her hands to get my attention. This one is significantly taller than the porch rail, and more than a hair bow taller than me. She’s holding a water bottle in one hand and safety goggles in the other as she trots toward me on the lawn. I cut off the mower. “You need a break,” she says, handing me the bottle.
She adjusts her safety goggles, clamps the starting lever, pulls the cord to start the mower – and just like that, one day has arrived.