Let it be known that on this day, the seventh of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, I officially acknowledge my arrival at middle age.
Not that this should be anything resembling a shock. I mean, after all, I have turned 40. (It happened back in December, between my mom’s death and her memorial service AND in the midst of things with my son’s illness, so I didn’t have much chance to “celebrate.”) I have some gray hair now – at first just a little, right at the temples, so I tried to convince myself I looked distinguished. (Then it started showing up in my beard …) My back has been giving me grief, but I didn’t really count that because:
- I have a weird spine curvature, so I’ve had occasional back problems for fifteen years.
- My ankles don’t flex much anymore, which means my knees and lumbar vertebrae have to pick up the slack.
- I’ve been having to lift Sean a lot, and as of last week’s medical checkup he weighed 57 pounds (26 kg).
But now, I have to ‘fess up and admit it – I’m middle-aged. That’s all there is to it. So what revealed this to me?
Simple. My back lawn.
I’ve mentioned before in this space that I use a push mower. Not electric, not gas, muscle power only. I’ve liked it because it’s good exercise, because it saves money, and because it’s a little better for the lawn than a power mower (since the grass catcher doesn’t catch all the cuttings, so you leave a little mulch behind). There are disadvantages – a push mower does not handle uneven ground that well (and both our front and back lawns are very uneven). It can be very tough to steer it. The blades aren’t that sharp, so any twig thicker than a pencil lead can stop the thing dead – a real difficulty with our back lawn and its five old trees spitting dead branches all over creation. But all in all, the positives outweighed the negatives for the last six years.
Until this week. I’ve been tired more than usual lately (gosh, I wonder why …), so I’ve been putting off some of the yard work. Over the last month or so, I managed, one step at a time, to whip the front yard into shape and beat the strip between the sidewalk and the street into submission for the time being. And I pulled most of the more egregious weeds in the back – did enough that I didn’t fear for my daughter’s safety when she went out to play. But I knew the backyard needed a good mowing to start things off right before the Bermuda grass starts coming up around the end of this month. Chip down some of the “nicer” weeds (sorrel, crabgrass, etc.), churn up/mulch a lot of the dead oak leaves, that sort of thing.
So yesterday afternoon, I rolled Sean outside in his wheelchair and parked him in a shady spot. I went down to the basement and hauled up the push mower and the grass-catcher attachment. I went to town on the section I call “the front quarter.”
And I lasted less than a half-hour. Went out at 1:30, and gave up, just totally gassed, by 2:00.
So I thought, hmmm, maybe I just didn’t prepare myself enough. So I made sure I got a good night’s sleep last night. I downed a 16-ounce can of Wired (berry flavor, my favorite) with breakfast this morning. I made sure not to tax myself too much through the day. And at 1:30 I rolled Sean out again (“Fresh air! Sunshine!” – I really wanted to sell him on it), hauled the contraption up from the basement again, put the pedal to the metal …
… and again wiped out by 2:00. I was so blasted that I had to throw down another can of energy drink just to get myself up enough to wash the dishes. For crying out loud.
And while scrubbing the spaghetti cooker, the revelation came to me: I’m just too old to be pushing that dang thing around that rutted, twig-bedecked yard.
I know, some guys in their seventies are in great shape and can do it; I don’t doubt that for a moment. But I’ve NEVER been in great shape! I was born club-footed and nearsighted, with the aforementioned funny spine curve. I had to have the tendons in my feet surgically rearranged when I was six. I went on Weight Watchers when I was sixteen (and probably should go on it again, the shape I’m in) My depth perception is bad, my hand-eye coordination is worse, one of my feet is flat and the other has considered it. And I might be getting arthritis in my hands; they’re starting to feel really stiff at odd moments. I joke that I was born to sit behind a desk, but I’m joking on the square. Physically, I’ve never been anything but below-average.
So that plus my age equals one inescapable answer: I can’t do it anymore. Ergo, it’s time to break down, head over to Lowe’s and see a) what a power mower costs these days and b) which one would be best for our lawn. Probably this weekend.
My good friend Geri tells me that life really does begin at forty. She should know – she’s almost fifty. (She’s also better-looking than me and can probably out-bench-press me too. And she’s a better writer than I am. If she wasn’t so nice, she’d really tick me off.) I’ve been meaning to ask her what exactly that means. The first four decades of my life weren’t exactly all Skittles and chocolate milk, and the fifth seems to be off to a lousy start as well. Physically, it’s been difficult; emotionally, it’s been horrendous. And spiritually … well, God is still in His Heaven and His plan is presumably rolling on. But part of me is tempted to quote St. Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”
In a weak moment (this one will do), I will admit that I have a pretty good life despite it all. But I do feel so very, very old some days. This afternoon, wrestling the push mower back through another copse of weeds and sticks, I felt very old indeed, compromised by a body that seems to be finding new and inventive ways to let me down. Still, living beats dying. And at least God has provided the cash to go get a new mower. I probably shouldn’t gripe.
But this life that’s supposed to begin with the big 4-0 can’t start soon enough for my tastes …