Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Best Advice

Today I mowed the lawn. This is a new activity for me. As a matter of principle, I have always left the mowing to the men in our family.

Here’s why:

(I wrote this a lot of years ago when our children were young.)

The best advice our mother ever gave my sister and me when we were growing up was never to take the garbage out.

“When you girls get married and have husbands some day,” she’d say, “don’t ever break down and take the garbage out. Once you do, he’ll never take it out again.”

This was back in the days when the women’s movement was really coming alive, and my mother could easily have been labeled old-fashioned. But in my opinion, wiser words have seldom been spoken.

We did grow up and get married, and to this day, my sister has never taken the garbage out. She did, however, make the grave mistake of mowing the lawn, and has regretted it ever since.

I have, on occasion over the years, taken out the garbage, but fortunately I married a person whose hobbies include such activities as trash removal, snow shoveling, and lawn mowing. Highly unusual, I realize from talking to friends, but I’m not complaining.

A couple of years ago, I attended a mini-class taught by a good friend and neighbor. I can’t remember the exact title of the class, but it was something like “Come On, Sisters – Anything Men Can Do, We Can Do Too.” The purpose was to teach women to have more self-confidence and be more independent in areas such as welding and plumbing. My friend prides herself on owning her own tool box and on being more comfortable than most men are at handling a chain saw.

Well, somewhere in the middle of her lesson, I raised my hand. This was two or three years ago, and to this day, women I know are still coming up to me and saying, “I’ll never forget that comment you made about the toilet paper rolls.”

I’ve tried to forget it, but I think what I said as something like this: How many of you women are the only member of your household seemingly capable of changing a roll of toilet paper?

Well, this question was received with hoots and howls of laughter. When it died down, I went on and tried to make my point, which was, basically, that if we do it, they won’t.

“I don’t know about all of you ladies,” I told them, “but I’m responsible for enough dishes, laundry, mopping, dusting, vacuuming, etc. to fill up more than twenty-four hours a day. I’m already a maid, a cook, a tutor, a nurse, a chauffer, and more. Why would I want to take on power tools? So my husband would have more time to watch sports on t.v.?”

I then shared a very wise and reassuring statement that my aunt made when I was getting married. She said, “If you can read, you can cook.” I found out that this was true, and not only with cooking but with sewing and many other things as well. If you can get your hands on a good set of instructions, and can read and comprehend them, you can do anything.

Of course we can do anything that men do. The question is, DO WE WANT TO?

I really managed to put a damper on my friend’s lesson. Fortunately, she forgave me. I guess it’s a matter of personal choice. She continues to wear her tool belt around the house, fixing leaky faucets, and building shelves in her laundry room. I make sure I find time to read a little every day, so that if I ever have to, I’ll be literate enough to change the hose in my dishwasher.

Recently, we were at a New Year’s Eve gathering. One husband told a joke. “How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper?” he asked. “Nobody knows. It’s never been done.”

The other day my husband was doling out chores to the kids. He asked our daughter to take the garbage out.

“Not so fast there!” I hollered. “I think it’s time we had a little mother-daughter chat.”

So why did I mow the lawn today? Well, my life is a lot different now than it was back in the day of chasing four little kids around. I only have two big teenage boys to look after. Life actually gets a little slow sometimes. I still haven’t taken on power tools, but I have taken up mowing. And I really enjoy it. Especially since our old clunker of a mower died and we’ve been borrowing my father-in-law’s. It’s a really nice Toro model, self-propelled. It practically goes by itself. I’m pretty sure I could mow and read a book at the same time. I wouldn’t be surprised if my father-in-law does. (Probably Dickens or Tobias Smollett.) But first I have to work on keeping my lines straight.

What about my mother’s advice? I still think it’s great. It all depends on your own family. Our boys have all inherited their dad’s love of cutting grass, and we all try to be the first one out on the driveway after a fresh snowfall. So this works for me.

And even my mother’s been mowing her own lawn for many years. I think she started about the time she didn’t have kids to chase around anymore.

post script: I do realize how lucky I am. I know there are a lot of single women out there who don't have someone with whom to share the responsibilities of a household.

And I hope I die before Kent. :)


  1. Sometimes I fight Marion for the mower. I think it's good exercise. Ours isn't self-propelled. We like to see how fast we can mow the lawn. And with 5 girls, well the boys vs. girls chores is a moot point. In fact, I think Kent may have been one of the kind souls who helped Marion with our handcart on the ward family trek.

  2. This reminded me of the time when I was first married that my (male) neighbor stopped in front of my house while I was mowing the front lawn and said, "How did Bob manage to get out of mowing the lawn; I suppose he's inside enjoying the (Red) Sox game?"

    "No, I proudly replied, he is inside cleaning the bathroom!" I'll mow the lawn anyday!