Chore Time

I love the Spring. I love the gradually warmer days, wearing a jacket to the office in the morning but leaving it behind at lunch because I no longer need it. I like the blooming flowers and blue skies, seeing baby wildlife and breathing cool breezes. It's a small fantasy world that fades as Summer approaches. Soon it will be hot and humid. Soon I'll have parades and feasts at least once every weekend. And as of this weekend, the lawn was once more officially in need of regular cutting.

Part of me enjoys mowing grass. With the exception of musical gigs and photography excursions, sometimes it's the only thing that gets me outside on the weekend. Before I picked up a camera hobby, it wasn't uncommon for me to stay in my room for two days, leaving only for church and meals. Rest is a good thing after a busy week, but the longer I remain inert the harder it is for me to move again. Pushing the lawnmower can be tough, especially on some of the hilly or uneven parts of our yard, but the exertion can wake me up. I could do without sweating, itching, and sneezing of course.

My dad mentioned in passing during the week that he'd like me to cut the lawn this weekend if I could. With a busy Sunday but a completely free Saturday, I agreed. Over the years, I've learned to keep my word. I might not do things right away, but I do the things I say I'm going to do. Come Saturday morning however, I didn't even want to get out of bed. As I've gotten older, my body has developed a solid sleep pattern and a fixed internal clock that wakes me at 7:30 AM no matter what time I've gone to bed or when I've gone to sleep. Being conscious and staying awake are two different things of course, and during the week it usually takes another ten to fifteen minutes of stumbling and stretching before I crawl out of bed. On the weekend, I simply check the time, then go back to sleep for another two or three hours.

Saturday was one of those days. By 10:30, I felt more tired than I'd felt three hours prior, but I forced myself to move. After turning on my computer, I began to compile a list of all the things I wanted or needed to achieve over the weekend. Some were enjoyable things, like movies and television shows, and others were standard things like doing my laundry. The lawn was on my list as was washing my car. I'm finding that a black car, especially a shiny new(ish) one, requires a lot of cleaning. Each time, I worry that the force of the hose or the bristles on the towel might scratch the thing. I'm starting to remember the advantages of and old vehicle whose appearance didn't matter. Of course, making a list is one thing. Prioritizing is something else entirely. Would I cut the lawn before the threat of rain turned in to a reality? Would I get my credit card check to the post office before the final pickup? Would I watch this previous evening's episode of Battlestar Galactica? If you know me, you know which I'd choose to do first.

“YEAH, HE'S UP!”, called my mom back down the hall to my father as she opened my door to check. “I'm making egg mcmuffins; do you want me to make you one?” she offered. I should point out that what she calls a ”McMuffin” isn't the commercial version but something decidedly more healthy and homemade. She just makes an omelette in this little cooker she has then puts it on a toasted muffin. It's quite good. Any sane, fully awake person would have taken her up on the offer. Instead I declined and snapped a bit, storming out and grumping irrationally about always having to work or some nonsense that I'd find baffling if someone recorded and played it back for me. It's been a while since I've blown up like that, especially without good provocation. I think I just had a guilty conscience about quietly trying to watch my show when I knew I had other things I was supposed to be doing. And, based on past experience, my still groggy brain leapt to the conclusion that they were looking for me to do work, when in hindsight she was probably sincerely offering me breakfast and not snooping to catch me being lazy.

After my tirade, I got dressed and got to the post office, returning to tackle the lawn. A long Winter coupled with eight months of not working out made it harder than ever to push that thing. I know by October I'm going to miss it, but it's always rough in the beginning. I took care of the patch out by the street first as my dad was concerned because neighbors were having a party in the afternooon and would be parking there. I tackled the hills next, normally saved for last, and finally the level sections in the front and back of the house. As the sun burned through the haze of the cloudy morning, it began to get warm. Finally awake and rational, I was glad I got the lawn out of the way first. Before I could go inside for breakfast and watch my shows however, one last thing beckoned me.

The film covering my car glared at me. Dust, pollen, leaves and mud made it all very unsightly. As I hosed it down, a cool breeze sent a fine mist back at me, cooling me and reminding me of the positive aspects of being outside and doing something. I mused if there was a difference when the thing you were maintaining was your own. Sure, this has been my home for over 33 years and as an only child I'll almost certainly inherit it, but I think there's a part of me that thinks of the lawn as my parents’. Washing a car, washing my car, didn't feel as tedious. In any case, when I finally did get back inside and settle down in front of the television with a bowl of cereal, it was with a clear conscience and a sense of accomplishment. Instead of “sneaking” downtime I had “earned” it, even if those perceptions were mine alone.

In the end, I think what I find most tedious about work in general is the futility. In a week, the lawn will grow back higher than ever. As for my car, by the time I went back outside to go to 5:00 mass, it had already acquired a fresh green film of pollen. It was as thought I'd never washed it. In a rare moment of clarity, I understood why my mom would get so upset when I'd track mud into the kitchen as a child. I could empathize with her sense of achievement upon completion of mopping, and despair as a little boy ran through and obliterated that achievement in a fraction of the time. It's disheartening, especially when the only real option is to pick up that mop and start again. Lawns have to be cut, cars have to be washed, and floors, clothes, and dishes need to be clean. No chore has permanent results. The best we can hope for is the longest possible intervals between chore time.


Anonymous TheWriteJerry said...

Uh, what does any of this have to do with Iron Man? I'm waiting for your review of Iron Man.

5/04/2008 12:26 PM  

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