Two weeks ago I wrote a column about making changes to our gardening plans after my husband, Lee, was sidelined for the summer with a fractured foot.

We knew our biggest issue would be keeping the grass mowed, because we have lawns on three sides of our corner lot. That’s a lot of grass. Only a few hours after the column was published, two friends phoned and another knocked on our kitchen door.

Each of them volunteered to mow our lawn through the summer. One not only wanted to mow, but also maintain our flower and vegetable gardens all season.

Even though this great-hearted woman has a large acreage of her own to care for, she was the first to call. Nobody made any open-ended, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” gestures.

Instead, they offered specific help, in the name of friendship. I had to wait a while to respond to the phone calls, because listening to their messages made me cry with gratitude. The friend who came to the kitchen door saw me cry in person.

Although gratitude swamped me, I declined each of their offers. First, it’s difficult for me to ask for or accept help for anything I think I should do on my own.

I grew up in an Italian Catholic home, where stubbornness was often served, along with the guilt and pasta, at family dinners. But I promised to ask for help if I started feeling overwhelmed.

My friends more easily understood my second reason. As soon as we knew Lee wouldn’t be able to do yard work for most of the summer, we bought a battery-operated lawn mower for me to use.

Our gas mower was too heavy, and I was afraid to use it. I was also initially scared of the new mower because nearly any mechanical device makes me nervous. So I had some fear to mow down.

I can read a piece of literary fiction and confidently discuss its plot, theme, character development, writing style and point of view. But give me a 50-page manual for a battery-operated lawn mower, and I tremble. My stress level kept rising, but I read every word of those 50 pages. I also used a yellow highlighter to mark important, complex instructions:

Push the green button to start the mower. OK, green means go.

Grip the green lever to keep the mower moving forward. So green means go again.

Continuously grip the metal bar between the handles. Release of the bar will cause the mower to shut down. Yikes. Two things to grip at once.

Insert the battery correctly and line up its grooves with the slots in the battery case. “Correctly” is such a vague word.

When I was ready to mow for the first time, I asked Lee to hobble out to the garage to show me, in real life, how to fit the battery into its case. Later, when the battery needed recharging, I frustrated myself by overthinking how to put it into the separate charger.

So Lee made another trip to the garage. Through that long afternoon, I never saw him laugh at me, even though it probably was painful for him to suppress the guffaws until he was back in the house.

This phobia embarrasses me; I don’t think it’s cute to feel inept. So the next day, I set my mind on operating our new mower, without fluttering my hands and calling for help.

A friend in our neighborhood, who knew about my mower phobia, was walking past our yard and saw me taking my first unsupervised trip around the lawn. When she called out her congratulations. I raised both arms in victory, taking one hand off the power bar, the other off the green lever — shutting off the mower. I pretended I’d meant to do it.

Last Sunday, I mowed all three of our lawns. Each of them has many uneven spots and requires ducking under low-lying branches and maneuvering in and out of tight spaces. From pressing the “go” button to recharging the battery, I did it, without needing to ask for help. Then, in my mind, I did a victory dance.


Sydney Craft Rozen has found self-confidence in mowing down a long-held fear. She tips her garden hat to readers who also have faced what they dread. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com

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