Moving to the suburbs is usually discussed either in the quiet tones of moral caution or with gallows humor. For me, the experience was a glorious fulfillment. Twelve years of apartment living had convinced me that you ain’t no kind of man unless you have stairs. But I wanted more than just the stairs. I wanted land.
When I moved to the ’burbs, I got a little patch of paradise with a three-story house, a picket fence, a swing set the size of a small frontier outpost, and two separate attics (one for storing Christmas decorations and baby paraphernalia, the other for hiding several thousand comic books that my wife graciously pretends not to know about). More important, I got 9,000 square feet, give or take, of land. This land is my land. I love this land. And it is slowly killing me.
When we first moved in, the grass around the house, a tall fescue, was a lush carpet. The prior owners were a middle-aged couple whose children had grown. The husband spent a good bit of his time dividend on the lawn, fussing over his grass to the point where he would come running out of the house to yell at neighborhood children who strayed across it. He was, literally, the old man telling kids to get off his lawn.
I resolved to preserve his work without being quite so militant. I applied seasonal treatments at exactly the prescribed intervals. I overseeded twice a year and core-aerated in the fall. When crab grass and dandelions made incursions around the perimeter, I was waiting with a chemical spray and a weeding trowel. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for my lawn. Except mow it.
I like most outdoor work. One summer my son and I built a raised garden along the southern side of the house. It involved 2,200 pounds of stone. After the first attempt we found that we hadn’t graded the ground properly and the retaining wall was two inches off level. We happily took the whole thing apart and regraded it. The next year our big project was planting four large trees—two cherries, a redbud, and a red maple. These were exciting tasks.
But for me, mowing falls into the sour spot of chores that are too repetitive to be interesting, but too demanding to be mentally liberating. It’s the outdoor equivalent of folding laundry.
So I found a neighborhood kid to mow my lawn for me.
I got lucky with Garret. An enterprising kid, he already had a substantial lawn-care business when I met him as a high schooler. When he went off to Virginia Tech to major in landscape architecture, he kept the business going in the summers. And when he graduated and moved away, he passed the business on to another kid in the neighborhood, Cody. He was great, too. But then Cody went off to Virginia Tech as well.
When I waved goodbye to Cody I realized that all the other kids in our neighborhood are girls. Which was great for babysitting. But not for lawn mowing. Reluctantly, I called in the professionals.
As it turns out, I did not enjoy having my lawn mowed by professionals. They were efficient, but much less careful than Garret and Cody had been. The kids did a better job, hands down. Besides, I got the impression that the gentlemen from the lawn serv-ice who did the actual mowing were of questionable legal status. Which suggested that they were probably getting paid a very small fraction of what I was paying their company. Which made me uncomfortable.
So this year I finally bought a mower of my own. I’ve made my peace with it, more or less. For one thing, my grass isn’t so green anymore. When we moved in, we had only one child, and he could barely walk. Which meant that I had lots of time to tend the lawn, coating it with chemicals and removing, one-by-one, every invasive intruder.
Now I have three kids who are always outside, and they and their friends spend hours every day trampling the grass. I regularly catch them digging holes in the turf for no discernible reason except, as my son explains, “to conduct experiments.” I can’t tell them to get off my lawn.
My weekends are busier now, too. The prospect of finding time to push a mower across my once-beautiful grass is depressing. I take heart, though, in the knowledge that my oldest is already 7. So I figure it’s only six years—maybe 90 mowings, total—until I can pay him to take over the lawn.