If We Were Amish

I’ve not been shy in talking about my love/hate relationship with mowing the lawn.

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It’s so productive. Yet it’s a time suck.

Post-mow, it’s coiffed like beautiful Pebble Beach. But in five days, it’s an abandoned parking lot in Queens.

Three quick primer pumps and the lady starts up like a dream. But maneuvering her (oops! dropped another wing nut!) is a farm-style military workout. For which I didn’t sign up.

But with home ownership comes taking care of biz-ship. I have an acre of leafy trees and crabby grass, and gardens galore. It doesn’t self-maintain. Shit’s gotta get done.

Recently I decided to dedicate the afternoon to that shit. Pruning my Secret Garden. Pulling the hundreds of weeds that had cropped up since last week. The yogi in me says,This. This is a peaceful task, in which one can reach a state of Zen. Perhaps I’ll even come out of it a tiny smidge more enlightened. More relaxed. Yet I’d been out there for two hours, big sweat glistening on my brow. My shirt was damp with the heat and I had scratches from dead, spiky branches lining my forearms. Little pieces of lilacs, those tiny fairy-sized bugles, were woven through my hair — not in a pretty way — and I probably had one, maybe two ticks attached to my ankle.

Sure didn’t feel super Zenny.

My children, meanwhile, were lazing away inside, playing with their toys and enjoying some beloved screen time.

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Arguing now and then, their voices, a stream of irritated consciousness, were traveling out of the wide open windows.

YOU ARE TERRIBLE AT MINECRAFT.HOW CAN I BE TERRIBLE AT MINECRAFT?IT’S NOT A SKILL!YES IT IS AND YOU’RE TERRIBLE AT IT!NO I’M NOT!YOU ARE!

Sigh.

I wish they would get along. I wish they would be a team. Looking around at my back yard, I thought: Man, I wish I had a team.

And then. Wait.just.a.friggin.minute. I DID have a team. Those beloved little jerks inside — my lovable, sweet jerks — the ones screaming at each other…

“Girls?” I called from the driveway.

No answer.

“GIRLS!”

They appeared at the screen door.

“What.” Their voices were flat, their tanned faces pinched.

“I’d like you to come outside, ” I said. The door slowly and reluctantly swung open and they stepped out.

Again, and in unison. “WHAT.” Not a question.

“I could use your help,” I said.

Their eyes wandered to the large pile of brush that had accumulated by my feet, to the half mowed lawn and the pruning shears nearby.

“I’m all set, thanks,” said my older daughter, as she turned to walk inside.

“Hey,” I called to her. “HEY.”

She paused, turned to look at me.

“I need your help.”

Little one piped up, ” Help with yard work? I don’t really want to, Mama.”

“Yeah, I get that, honey,” I said. “I don’t really want to either, but there’s too much for me to do it alone. I could really use a couple of extra sets of hands. And, well, we’re a family. This is what we do in a family.”

Blank faces stared back at me.

“Really, guys,” I tried again. “Honestly. This is family life. Helping each other out. Gotta do it.”

They just looked at me. Those expressions. So P.O.’ed.

Little one brightened. “Um, okay, will you pay us?”

“Yeah. I might do it. For money, ” said my 10-year old, perking up by a percent or two.

“No, I most certainly will not pay you. Again. This is what you do in a FAMILY. You help out. You don’t just live here and expect me to wait on you. So, I mean it. It’s time to help. NOW. I might even throw in a movie tonight before bed if you can put in a solid thirty minutes.”

Throw in? On top of what?” asked my eldest.

“Ummm. Well. On top of nothing. That’s it. Help out and you can watch a movie.”

“MOM. Seriously. It’s Sunday. I just want to relax.”

“Oh, this will be very relaxing, I promise. Almost meditative. You guys can sit right here and weed these beds, play some music. Really. You’re gonna love it.”

I averted their glances, could feel colossal stink-eyes boring into me.

Eldest responded with, “Yeah. I don’t think so. I’d rather go to church. All day. And tomorrow, too.”

Littlest had an opinion, too. “I’d rather watch five hours of her boring soccer games… than do this,” she sighed.

“Well, I’d rather have my toes in the sand right now. Or swimming in a pool. But you did that — all afternoon yesterday. So, today, I’m asking for thirty minutes.” Deep breaths.

I wrestled some branches of a River Birch to the ground, taken down in a winter ice storm and impeding my lawn mowing by about a thousand layers of frustration. I bent one back, could see it was dead but that it was also tenacious and didn’t want to comply, so I tried harder, bent it wayyyyy back, squinting my eyes closed so as not to get any pieces thrown into my orbits.

WHAM.

It snapped in two like a champ but took another branch with it that rebounded squarely on my mouth. 9964a333b59a4f448af7a902be985a24

Big. Fat. Lip. Awesome.

Yet my girls, they’re still going.

“Well. This is kind of your job, Mom. You bought the house. I didn’t,” said the 10-year old.

“Oh…wait! I know! You can just hire someone?” my youngest asked innocently.

I remind myself that I love them, but like a sledgehammer at the carnival, the one that you have to throw down with Herculean efforts just to get the little metal barrel to ring the bell at the top, I’d had enough. I’d so had enough.

“Are you kidding me? ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME. If we were Amish, you would be making GALLONS OF JAM right now. With a blunt knife and water that you had to gather from A PUMP. OUTSIDE.”

They stared at me.

“I am so serious, you guys. You’d probably have to ride a HORSE. Or maybe even WALK, like, five miles to get to that PUMP. And then five miles BACK. In a long, very hot DRESS. With an infant carried on your hip. Without MINECRAFT. ANYWHERE IN YOUR LIFE.”

Still, they stared.

“And you, my dear,” I gestured to my oldest child. “You’d probably be out in the barn…like…butchering sheep…like, a lot…of sheep.”

They were horrified. I’d gone too far.

I have no idea where this even came from — my logic — so I threw the shears on the ground, stomped off to the shed and shut myself inside. Mommy tantrum needed a self-imposed Mommy time-out.

Wow, I thought. Just wow.

What had I done wrong? Kids do chores. Kids help out. Mine certainly helped with some things INSIDE the house, but outside? That falls out of their domain? I took a deep breath and walked out of the shed. My girls were both standing there with wide open anime cartoon eyes.

“Look, ladies. Sorry. But there’s a new sheriff in town.”

“Mom.” Eldest deadpans. “What does that even mean?”

“It means,” I said, “that you two need to chip in. When I say so. I carve out heaps of time for fun with playdates, games, screen time, movies, adventures. But guess what? I.am.not.a.plow.horse. I like to have fun, too. It also means I’m about to pull the movie. And a lot of other things.”

“Like, what, Mama?” asked my cherubic faced littlest. “What will you pull?”

“Um, well. A lot. I’ll start pulling a lot. A lot of things.”

They both stare at me. Non-believers. I stare back, and I stare back like I frigging mean it.

The girls let out a collective sigh and dropped down to the square footage of earth to which I was pointing, as if I was communicating with a dog who’s just strewn garbage all over a neighbor’s front lawn.

So — just like that — my daughters, they worked. Together they attacked a pretty substantial area of our garden. Sometimes singing, their little voices high like birds, chirping together in song. Small fingers tugged at the dirt, making piles of weedy, grassy greens. Soon the area surrounding the Japanese maple was clear. The day lilies seemed to stand taller, like yellow fingers reaching for the sky. High bush blueberries, less choked with ephemeral invaders.

And yet — somewhere in life —  they learned to follow the solar trajectory of time, because in exactly thirty minutes there they are, standing behind me. Like, out of a horror movie.

But they weeded the hell out of that garden, my girls did.

For me.

For us.

“Thanks, guys, ” I said to them. “I appreciate it so much.”

“No biggie,” said my youngest, as she opened the screen door to walk inside.

“Well, maybe a little biggie,” called my older daughter. “But, it wasn’t, like, a horrible biggie.

Manifestation in its simplest form.

Ask and you will receive.

It may not be painless. But it’ll be worth it.

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12 thoughts on “If We Were Amish

  1. Nicole

    You make me laugh Ellen. In the best possible way. Loved this post. And it reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a foreigner. What is it about American culture that results in our kids having such disdain for such chores? I recall having a similar attitude as a kid – but why???? Why didn’t I understand the value of sharing the load? And more importantly, why didn’t I jump in and learn some skills for future use on my own back 40? Sigh.

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    1. Is this my yogi friend, Nicole F? 🙂 Regardless…yes. I also was this kid. The one trying to avoid doing things that were, well, less than savory. One of the best experiences in my life was as a college kid — Outward Bound in Florida’s Everglades. One day there was absolutely no wind of any kind and we had to row our sailboat with these giant, horribly heavy oars and I remember thinking, man oh man, can’t someone else do this? Where’s my Dad when I need him? And yet…that’s kind of the biggest lesson in life. We have to do what’s hard. We HAVE TO. And what an awesome feeling it is when we realize we CAN do hard things.

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  2. Elizabeth Cooke

    So delightful. Made me wonder where Mom – you was about 38 years ago. I could have used some of that humor and fortitude.
    And, man, Ellen, can you write. You were born for this.
    xo mom

    Like

  3. Jason Fifield

    Thank you! You are a great writer and are imparting a realistic, thoughtful and praiseworthy parenting perspective. Give your Mom a hug for me!

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  4. Kristin Kennedy

    You always make me laugh and cry! “Why don’t you just hire someone?” How many times have I heard that?!?! Thank you for always finding the humor. xo

    Like

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