Motherhood and mowing

City Diary : Kate Shatzkin

September 05, 2001

I WILL remember the summer of 2001 not just as the first of my baby daughter, but as the summer I not only learned, but liked, to mow.

My husband and I had left our wonderful, tiny Federal Hill rowhouse on a snowy day in January, pulling up to a Homeland colonial where an inviting nursery awaited the baby in my belly. We didn't think about it at the time - too many expectations occupied our thoughts - but under the snow, other things waited to be discovered, too.

Like roses and tulips and black-eyed Susans. And most daunting, half an acre of lawn.

Early visitors asked if we knew what we'd gotten ourselves into. We, who'd had only a patch of concrete for a yard at our downtown place, just smiled and said we'd muddle through. After all, we were about to become parents, something we also knew little about. We would find out together - in our household, we shared tasks fairly equally, without really worrying about formal divisions.

Then the baby came in April, and with her everything began to sprout. It became understood that my husband would mow the climbing grass and water the burgeoning garden left by the previous occupants. His weekend hours began to dribble away, stolen by the lawn. Once so modern and shared, our roles began to divide, ever so subtly, along gender lines.

I never before had a moment's desire to mow. The yard of my childhood was tended by my father. Since then I'd had a career, assembled furniture and managed my own money. But for my entire adult life, I'd never had a blade of grass to call my own. So it had never even occurred to me to start one of those roaring, evil-looking machines.

But as I spent hour after hour sheltering my daughter from the heat this summer, nursing and changing her, becoming temporarily a stay-at-home mom, the yard taunted me. I longed to be outside. I longed to get dirty. And, let's face it, to do something sweaty and punishing and active, something that did not involve my little girl.

So I let myself into the garage one day, after convincing my husband I could do it. I filled the big black mower with gas, gave the starter everything I had and roared off.

Yes, my mow marks were a little haphazard. (I was so eager, I'd attack the tallest pieces of ground I saw, not really bothering to go in any order.) Sometimes I had to ask my husband to get the mower started again after a break; I didn't quite have the upper body strength.

But the dirt, the heat and the funny looks were all worth it when I walked back into the house and heard the sweet sound of my husband's voice, reading to my daughter.

So as this summer comes to an end, I have learned why every garden needs mulch. I have relished cutting off the floral heads of the dead.

But it is the mowing, the loudest, dirtiest job of all, that I have enjoyed most of all. It has bonded me to my piece of Baltimore ground, this homestead of my new family. It makes an impressive noise. It has convinced me - if only me - that in addition to taking on woman's most important work, I can do a man's job, too.

You might think I'm crazy. But some of these last summer days, you can stand on my front path, look across the street and see my new neighbor, hair tucked into a baseball cap, mowing up a storm. Her baby came in May.

Today's writer

Kate Shatzkin is a reporter on maternity leave from The Sun. City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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