My father never allowed my brother and me to leave the dinner table without first offering our mother the requisite “I enjoyed it” statement of gratitude and respect. This didn’t feel like too big of a deal to me since even if the meal consisted of black-eyed peas, cornbread and milk, mom always seemed to find a way to make the meal enjoyable. She often even scraped together the simple ingredients to make a chocolate pudding that was worthy of plating at any five-star restaurant. So we almost always did enjoy dinner.
What was maddening to me about dinner was the presence of my father at the head of the table, watching him enjoy the meal with some twisted sense of pride and accomplishment and knowing he’d done little to provide the resources necessary for the meal. I dreaded the end of the meal the most, knowing what was coming as dad would inevitably, in a satiated state that sparked a magnanimous spirit so contrary to his true self, end the meal by ceremoniously offering to help with cleaning the kitchen. Mom always feigned delighted surprise, joining the charade by replying, “That would be wonderful, Billy,” while I white-knuckled the chair under the table knowing full well what was coming next.
“Kaysie, help your mother clean the kitchen.”
He then promptly propped up his feet, popped open another Pabst and lit a cigarette.
That was his way. He regularly swept in and took credit for the work that others were doing – usually the others were my mother, my brother and me.
The lawn our little house on Archwood sat on was my father’s pride and joy, and he took great care to make sure I attended to all the details of keeping it manicured to his satisfaction.
I learned how to push a mower around the age of eight, with Dad either standing over me with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth or sitting off to the side in a lawn chair with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth – but either way, he did plenty of pointing, yelling and criticizing when I let that heavy mower veer to the side and missed a sliver of grass.
When Mark and I were raising our older three children, and our oldest (and only daughter) hit ten, I began to nag Mark about teaching her to mow the lawn. He looked at me like I was a crazy person.
This pissed me off.
She was ten! Isn’t that the age you learn to mow? In fact, isn’t that LATE?! Weren’t all the other kids who were ten already mowing? When our sons came of mowing age a couple of years later, I about lost my mind. Are you freaking kidding me?!! A ten-year old boy isn’t old enough to take over the mowing responsibilities?!!!
My poor husband. Thankfully, he held his ground and protected our children from my ignorance about such things. Not that it’s inappropriate to begin to teach and bring your own children into the family process of working TOGETHER to take care of the lawn. Yes, of course that’s completely appropriate. But that’s not what was happening in my childhood home. So it took some reframing on my part since I thought it was very normal to be responsible for the lawn by the age of eight or nine.
Of course, I also thought it was normal to be responsible for the emotional stability of my family at the age of eight.
So there’s that.
My brother has been doing some writing of his own as of late (copycat) and recently sent me an essay reflecting on his experiences with dad and the lawn that really prompted all this musing on mowing. In fact, his writing threw me into a spiral of sorts because he has a way of writing that really places the reader in the moment with him – living it, if you will.
Or RE-living it if you’re me.
Not fun if you don’t care to relive those moments.
I do not.
My therapist, though, is quite pleased it’s happening, insisting it’s a necessary part of my healing journey.
Since reading that lawn mowing essay of his, though, I’ve been doing a helluva lot of lawn mowing. Not literally. In my dreams. While awake I close my eyes and see the rows of cut grass – but then there’s that one line I missed, and my stomach drops. Or while actually sleeping, I push the damn mower back and forth over and over across that giant lawn in the heat and humidity of summer in Tennessee. Or I finally finish and go inside the house so glad to be done and so ready to cool off, only to be ordered back outside by my father because I didn’t rake up all the grass and bag it.
And I’m tired. Like, deep in my bones tired. In the present, not in my dreams.
While reading my brother’s essay, I discovered that my mom was watching the mowing shit storm from inside the house, and I didn’t know. My baby brother wrote about his memory because even as a preschooler he was insightful enough to know something was wrong with what was happening, and the memory cemented itself in his brain… and then connected it to his own mowing woes with dad later on.
The revelation of her awareness has been a sucker punch to me. I know it must be obvious to most that of course she was aware of what was happening to us and should have done something to stop it. But it is a new way of thinking for me to see my mom in this light when I have always placed her as just another victim in our family, or even as someone I needed to look after.
But, no, mom was watching, mom was aware, mom was participating in the charade at the dinner table, and mom needed to step in and tell my father to get off his ass and mow his own damn lawn.