I Can Cut Grass!
By Bev Jaundrew
I know how to cut grass.
While that may not seem monumental to some people, to me it’s on par with navigating my way to the moon. There was only one time during my childhood that I was permitted to enter the sanctum of what my traditionalist parents considered the male domain of grass cutting. Of course, the more I wasn’t allowed to touch the lawn mower, the more I wanted to sweat behind the all-powerful mulching machine. Dish-washing, bathroom cleaning, and shirt ironing didn’t cut it for me.
In my parents’ defense, a cousin of mine had succeeded in chopping off a few toes in a lawn-cutting incident around the same time I began to beg for mowing privileges. Perhaps that factored into their decision. However, it was a male cousin who’d been injured, and no female cousins’ toes met a similar fate. Nonetheless, I was destined for zero mower-cutting skills. How can a person remember how to start, push, empty cuttings from, and clean a lawnmower with only a single demonstration, complete with an overbearing father watching in trepidation as his only daughter pushed the lawnmower back and forth one time over the lawn?
In my childhood I quickly learned there were many gender distinctions in addition to who got to cut grass. My fundamentalist Christian parents also role-modeled a mother’s need to stop working and become a housewife, the husband’s position as the head of the household, the wife’s need to obey her husband. It was clear that as a girl-child my role was to function as a sewing, cleaning, obedient, and academically focused human with the goal of finding a husband so the cycle could continue. My mother left her lucrative position as accountant in the local pharmacy to remain home with her children, dutifully asked her husband about any cent about to be spent except for the allotted amount of grocery budget, and accepted being hit every so often as part of the marital contract. She worked hard to turn me into a successful seamstress (I was deemed a failure because I had to use a sewing pattern), a cleaning whiz (I honed my skills in two summer jobs as chambermaid and also as part of a Mini-Maid team), obedient Christian (I attended a severely strict boarding school in Alberta and then went on to a private fundamentalist Bible College) and academic achiever (a perfect grade point average in university at one point).
The husband aspect I excelled at for many years. I was engaged by the age of 15 to a Christian boy who occasionally hit me, and by 20 years old was married to a traditionalist Christian I met in Bible School who believed as I did: the man is the head of the home. Further, to be separate from the world as stated in the Bible, John 17:15-18, meant no dancing socially, swearing, or viewing inappropriate movies. And, just like my parents, he believed a man’s chores exist outside the home and a woman’s chores inside.
At first that worked for me: I didn’t have a clue how to work a lawnmower any way. In fact, it wasn’t long before I had no clue how to put gas in the car or how to fix a showerhead either. Talented at cleaning toilets and changing diapers, I didn’t know how to go about finding a light for the stove or how to change the oil in the car. Those tasks became bigger and bigger walls hemming me into the traditional wife role I’d signed on for. My husband ensured they remained that way when I began to realize I was as closed in as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and Princess Leia in the garbage compactor in Episode IV of Star Wars. He said I couldn’t manage mowing lawns or taking care of the outside of a home. The walls grew tighter once I began to see our own children following in our footsteps: our older daughter obeyed her younger brother and she learned to stop asking why and to accept. I was teaching helplessness to my own daughter and I knew that had to change: how could my children reach their potential as human beings when they had to focus so much energy on being what fundamentalist Christianity stated?
I tried to alter the pattern but it was impossible to work within the tight confines of the marriage. The harder I worked to gain my freedom, to be able to know myself along with my family, the harder my husband worked to hang onto the familiar rules and structure, and the tighter the walls became. The abyss between what was familiar and the other side seemed insurmountable. However, the alternative of being squished into nothing was not an option. Finally, I took step by tiny step: I went to counseling, joined a group for abused women, acknowledged the reality I was living in and that it needed to stop, separated, and finally moved with my children into our own home.
The learning curve was akin to that of an infant learning to walk. In those first few weeks on my own I had a lady kindly point out as I was driving up to the gas pump that my gas cap was on the other side of my vehicle. I didn’t know what buttons to push or how long to wait for things to process, and I wasn’t sure if I’d put the gas cap on tight enough. I’d never owned a car before and had to purchase a van. Fortunately, my knight in shining armour appeared in the form of a van owner who’d been raised by a single mom and helped me through the nerve-rattling car buying experience, giving me an exceptional deal in the process. I discovered weeks later that he even tucked a little guardian angel figurine under the visor to keep the kids and me safe.
Finding a home to live in was mind-numbing. I figured the only way to work through it was to sit the kids and me down, and write our ideal list: what we each wanted in a home. My son decided he needed enough yard for our non-existent trampoline, and my daughter wanted a fair-sized bedroom and all bedrooms on the same floor. I wanted some privacy. We wanted an upstairs and downstairs, and, figuring the sky was the limit, voted for a fireplace as well. After months of searching, we found it: a front and back yard with lots of grass to mow and substantial room for a trampoline, fair-sized bedroom and bedrooms on the same floor, an upstairs and downstairs, a big hedge in the front, and not one but two fireplaces. On Thanksgiving weekend, friends descended like worker bees to help with the move. Our first night in the house the kids slept soundly in their new rooms. With help from people who believed in us, we did it!
Now I had to learn how to mow. My ex found me a second-hand electric mower as he wanted to keep our heavy-duty gas mower, and a friend kindly shared his mowing expertise with me, patiently showing me how to start, push, dump grass out, and clean. I learned a lesson fairly quickly about short cuts. I figured I didn’t need to add the step of dumping the grass from the grass catcher: unlike every other lawn mowing individual I’d witnessed, I could leave the grass where it fell. I mean, it was environmentally friendly to do that, right? The lawn would be happy that I was so kind to it. That plan worked for a few months until the weather turned warmer. I woke up one morning to two lawns covered in yellowed tufts of hay, blowing like tumbleweed across the prairies. I ended up using a rake over both lawns. I then piled the hay into stacks and, with my bin full on the curb, became another of the lawn-cutting contributors.
A few months later I talked grass, the lawn kind, with a colleague at work. “I need to aerate my lawn and get some moss killer on it,” he said.
I nodded in what I hoped was a knowing fashion. “Yeah, I should do that, too. This is the time to take care of stuff like that, right?”
“I am noticing that there’s more moss than I expected. Whole patches of the grass are actually moss,” I said. “Is that normal?”
He nodded. “That happens. It’s important to stay on top of it.” We said our goodbyes.
I think I walked a little like John Wayne as I continued down the hall, saunterin’, swaggerin’. I’d had a successful lawn-mowing conversation. Granted, for the next few minutes I began to think of the world of lawn care: moss-killing, aerating, fertilizing? It was a potential nightmare.
But once I took a few breaths I was better: I wasn’t at the aerating stage with my lawn. And the reality was, that was okay. There was a scary-looking weed trimmer I needed to learn how to use before I started poking holes in the moss of my lawn, anyway.
And you know what?
With the help of another friend, I did figure it out.