SARAH SMILEY

The weed whacker among deployment preparations

Posted June 17, 2011, at 3:33 p.m.

Military marriages are delicate balancing acts. Spouses fluctuate between dependence and independence and the seesaw tips on a moment’s notice. While my husband is home, he is responsible for most of the household’s physical labor. He takes out the trash, mows the lawn, shovels the driveway and carries heavy grocery bags from the car to the front door. When he is gone, I could probably lift a car off my child if I had to.

I witnessed this same phenomenon with my own military mother. Once, when my older brother choked on a piece of steak, Mom ran out the front door screaming. She ran right to the cul-de-sac across the street. Dad calmly stayed behind and did the Heimlich Maneuver. My other brother and I were stunned, more by Mom’s freak-out than anything else.

“What if Dad hadn’t been here?” we asked.

Mom didn’t hesitate when she said, “Then I would have done the Heimlich.”

And on some level, we knew she meant it. We had seen the way she mowed our relatively large lawn in under 30 minutes while Dad was deployed.

Today, as Dustin and I enter pre-deployment mode, I feel myself easing to the other side of the seesaw, ready to fulfill the roles of both Mom and Dad while Dustin is gone.

I begin with the outdoors.

“You need to have a plan in place,” Dustin says. He is referring to the winter and snow cleanup. “For instance, I get up early enough to rake the roof (always rake the roof first, Sarah), shovel the walkway and then plow the driveway. And don’t forget to leave yourself time to scrap the windshield.”

I’m only half listening because before I tackle winter, I need to learn how to start the lawn mower.

One day, while Dustin was at work, I decided it was time. The Toro waited for me in the garage like a bucking bronco that needs to be broken. It was covered with grass, evidence of previous battles, and reeked of gasoline. But the lawn wasn’t going to cut itself.

I rolled the lawnmower out onto the driveway, breathed in, and … stared at the ground.

“Um, what are you about to do?” Ford asked, coming up behind me.

“I’m going to mow the lawn,” I said.

Ford ran off to warn the others. “Move out of the way; my mom is going to use the lawn mower!”

Kids bolted across the street, flinging themselves to safety on the neighbor’s lawn. Owen came around the corner and begged, “Please, Mom, you don’t have to do this. Just wait for Dad. Or hire someone.”

But I was determined to prove … something … to myself, and to them.

Turns out, mowing is fairly easy. I zipped up and down the grass, waving at passersby like an old pro. Sure, when I hit that baseball in the backyard, it nearly flew up and hit me in the face, and what was left of it looked like a molten meteorite, but that was just a minor glitch. And that plastic shovel I mowed? Well, we didn’t really need it anyway.

Next, I moved on to the weed whacker. My neighbor Tony watched from his lawn.

“You need some help with that?” he asked.

“Only to get it started,” I said confidently.

Tony calmly explained the deceptively “easy” steps to start a weed whacker: set it to “A,” pull three times; set it to “C,” pull again; then back to “B,” five more pulls; and then let the thing “warm up a bit.”

Tony looked down at my legs and yelled over the noise, “You’re not going to wear those shorts and flip flops, are you?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, taking the heavy, awkward machine from his hands.

Tony watched as I started around the first flower bed. Mulch pelted my bare skin. Bits of gravel wedged between my toes. And my life flashed before my eyes when a stick flew right past my face.

“Maybe I’ll go in and change,” I said.

An hour later, my hands were permanently buzzing from the weed whacker, and I’d lost all hearing in my left ear. Most of the plants did not survive this little experiment. I whacked everything in my path … and then some. Patches of grass were among the list of casualties.

“Don’t tell Dustin about this,” I told Tony.

The next day, I gave our lawn mower and weed whacker to my parents to use at their camp.

“Sure you won’t need it?” Dad asked.

“It’s best if I don’t,” I said.

Dustin, however, frugal as ever, still insists that I need a plan. Maybe a friendlier mower or less aggressive weed whacker. And then there’s that whole “winter agenda” of his.

But I have a plan of my own: As soon as Dustin leaves, I’ll whip out my checkbook and pay the nearest teenager to take care of my lawn and snow.

 

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