Ever since Hot Firefighter Husband fired the lawn guy, our property looks inhabited by hippies, who are not entirely welcome in our community. You should see the way people look at my Birkenstocks!
I’m all in favor of wild yards abounding with honeysuckle bushes and wisteria vines. But let’s face it: there’s a reason that perfect green swaths of grass are called manicured lawns. And right now, my front yard has a few ragged cuticles and a couple of chipped nails. Also…um….I don’t even know what wisteria looks like, although I think Wisteria would be a great name for a girl.
The idea is for us to save money by not paying people to do chores we should be able to do ourselves. Doable things: housecleaning, yard work, preventing the children from sticking their heads in the oven. Non-doable things: changing the oil on the Motorized Landfill, anything to do with wiring, pedicures.
There are some flaws in our reasoning. Of course yard work is doable; the question is whether it’s realistically doable without squeezing it in sometime between midnight and 4 am. What we’ve determined is that cutting the grass can be accomplished; edging cannot, primarily because we don’t have an edger, but REALLY, people, on second thought, what’s so offensive about a few green strands sharing space with the concrete?
All right. The real problem isn’t the front yard, anyway; it’s the back, which abuts a tidal creek and is separated from the house by a big berm and a forest of brush. We’ve ignored it since we moved in two years ago, but our new neighbor just cleared the underbrush out and now he practically has waterfront property. And I want that!
So Saturday I sent Hot Firefighter Husband out back to investigate. “I have to go to Ace Hardware,” he said. He left and came home with a machete, and then spent the next SIX HOURS cutting a swath back to the creek. With a machete. Just him and his machete and his Fu Man Chu mustache. I would have made him take his shirt off except he’s allergic to poison ivy.
The Pterodactyl was utterly uninterested in this process until the machete became involved. Now that he’s six, he understands that weapons contain the same destructive power that he himself has when he’s angry. So he likes them.
I found him a pair of garden shears and showed him how to find small branches to cut. As I tromped through the leaves and vines, I noticed a little bitty tree. Not even a tree. A sapling. A scrawny little sapling about the diameter of my finger. Or maybe my thumb. And I said, “Like here! This is the perfect kind of thing to cut!” I broke it in half.
“MOM!” he cried. “YOU HURT IT!”
“What?” I said. “No! Honey! It’s fine! It was nothing! That needed to come down! It wasn’t getting enough sunlight!” I tried to sound light and breezy, but I could see that this was going to end badly. Crushing a lizard’s head between my fingers would have brought the same kind of drama. I mean, I guess. I’ve never actually done that, although I did dissect a live lizard one time when I was about 10, which is something I’ve always regretted.
“PUT IT BACK TOGETHER!” the boy yelled. “I’m going to put it back together!” He picked up the piece I had amputated and tried to rejoin it. It wasn’t a clean cut – I hadn’t snapped it so much as bent and twisted it off, so that jagged layers of bark and wood reached out like living tendrils.
Frustrated, the Pterodactyl ran inside. But he came back a few minutes later with a roll of Scotch tape. For the next 15 minutes, he methodically operated on the sapling. When he was done, the little tree stood tall again, and my son called me over to see. “I told you I could fix it, Mom,” he said.
He was so proud. He stood there next to his tree like it had grown from a magic bean; my heart soared for his love of this scrawny branch. Then he went back to beating his sister with palm fronds and pushing her off the swing.
The next day we hit a rough patch, the boy and me, which peaked with him in the laundry room for timeout, screaming at me. “YOU’RE AN IDIOT! I DON’T WANT TO LIVE HERE ANY MORE! I’M BREAKING THE EARS OFF THIS RAT THING IN HERE!” It was a painted wooden armadillo that Husband had given me for Christmas one year.
When timeout was over, I opened the door. He stood there heaving, big tears running down his cheeks. “HERE’S YOUR RAT THING!” he said, handing it to me. The ears were gone.
“Do you really not want to live here any more?” I asked, and he nodded.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll go pack you a bag.”
I went into his room and put a change of clothes, an airplane, some pajamas, Blue Puppy and Blankie in his Thomas the Tank Engine duffel. “C’mon,” I said. We walked outside into the driveway. “You know, I’ll always be your mom, and if you leave, I’ll cry every day all day until you come home. But if you need to live somewhere else, I understand.” I told him I’d take him to the neighbor’s house until he decided where he wanted to go.
This was not my finest maternal moment. This is a child so attached to me that the night before he had drawn an “M+N” heart tattoo on my hand before allowing me to leave the house. But I didn’t know what to do! Such are the limits of modern technology. It’s not like I could Google, “What to do when your 6-year-old calls you an idiot and breaks the ears off your armadillo.” And I did Google it, you know what comes up? A link to a site called CRAZYTHOUGHTS.COM.
The Diva started crying and begging her brother not to go. The Tyrant, I think, was eyeing his room.
I sent the girls inside and stood with him for a minute. “Let’s go,” I said.
“Wait,” he said. “Mom. WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN TO ME EVERY DAY? WHY DO I HAVE TO GO TO TIMEOUT IN THAT ROOM AND NOBODY ELSE DOES? I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT EVERY DAY! WHY ARE YOU MEAN TO ME? WHY ARE YOU LIKE THAT?” With that, he melted. My strong-willed child seemed to wilt into my arms, and his eyes could hardly stay open to let the flow of tears out. And then came mine.
I pulled him to me and we sat there in the driveway and cried together, my little boy’s arms warm around my neck and his tear-stained cheeks wetting my shoulder. I wanted to explain to him why he went to timeout more often, why pulling his sister’s hair warranted greater punishment than not eating peas, why his refusal to leave the park when I say it’s time to go makes me so irritable. But I couldn’t because I knew he wouldn’t understand. We just held each other and cried, and after a bit he asked if he could go inside and unpack.
Then he used the rest of the Scotch tape to put the Rat Thing’s ears back on, and he went to bed.
The next day, Hot Firefighter Husband dragged the cleared brush out to the curb. All that’s left are a few palm stumps, and a strange little sapling that was accidentally broken, but made whole again, at least for a while, by a sudden infusion of the only thing in the world that could save it.