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The Hardest Part About Buying A Home For A Single Woman

It's not what you think.

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photo of house with large front yard
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I was not intimidated to buy a house as a single woman in midlife. Once I found a cute little cottage in my price range that suited me, I made an offer without hesitation. It was a good financial decision, and I’ve always been a fast shopper. But it wasn’t until my offer was accepted that I really stopped to consider that I had not just bought a house but also a yard — and that yard had quite a lot of grass to maintain.

Mowing the lawn was not considered women’s work in the house where I grew up. In fact, it might have been the only task that was exclusively the province of menfolk. My dad performed essentially no household tasks, but he did mow the lawn. Even though I am the oldest by seven years, this chore was not passed on to me. Instead, my father waited until my younger brother was a teenager, and then taught him. I sat inside reading, while one or the other of them labored away outdoors.

Somehow, the view that women do not mow the grass, a by-product of how our family chose to do things and general societal agreement of suburban America in the 1980s, turned from a stance into a rule, and then from a rule into a belief for me. I have traveled solo to places where I don’t speak the preferred language, earned three higher education degrees and built a writing career from scratch, but somehow I became convinced that I could not mow my own lawn.

And so, for a few weeks, as I waited to own the lawn, I tried to fathom how I would possibly care for it. I looked into lawn care: too expensive. I pondered a goat herd: not allowed in my municipality. I thought about transforming the grass into some sort of ecologically forward-thinking green space: a great idea, but difficult to undertake in July with no budget.

Finally, as is so often the case, a woman rescued me. Gretel, a friend since high school who has seen me do no shortage of dumb things (although perhaps never quite as dumb as believing I wouldn’t be able to mow my own lawn), arrived at my new house with her old lawn mower in the trunk of her car. I flitted around it like a moth who can’t decide if it is drawn to or repelled by the light. Gretel gave me the gloves, gas container and starter fluid she’d brought, for she has been mowing her own lawn for years and knew exactly what I would not already own. I put on the gloves as awkwardly as if she’d given me a clown nose to wear.

Then we got down to business. Her instructions were clear, if plentiful, but the ones I most remember are: “Don’t ever put your hand or foot near the mower while it’s going or you will lose that hand or foot,” and “Go slow at first, but you can do this.” I then mowed approximately 10 feet of grass. “See?” she said. And then we went out to lunch. I felt flush with accomplishment as well as with anxiety that I still had 98 percent of the lawn left to mow.

The next day, I had no choice but to either mow the lawn, or call Gretel and tell her to take back her gift. Fearful of having my neighbors laugh at me, I took the mower to the most remote part of my lawn and attempted to start it again, as she had shown me. I tried once. Twice. Three times. Nothing, not even the choking sound I already learned to recognize as the mower’s gasping attempt to help me out. I sat down on my porch and started to cry, for it was clear: Girls should not mow the lawn.

Thankfully, while I am prone to giving up quickly, I’m also prone to stubbornness — and that won out. Also, as established, I had no choice. No dad or brother or man of any kind was going to come rescue me. So, I sent Gretel a text, and she responded immediately, bless her, going through the exact same instructions she’d given me the day before. I saw my mistake; I had forgotten to prime the carburetor. I tried it again, and it started! I was too excited, and too afraid the mower would shudder to a halt, to stop to text Gretel my triumph. Instead, I mowed the lawn.

As it turns out, there’s a skill to it — one that I do not naturally possess. My first time around my yard left a bas-relief of strange, wobbly trails and missed blades of grass. It’s also exhausting work. My yard has an incline, small to walk but noticeable when you’re trying to drag a heavy machine that has the ability to cut off your hand up and down it. At first, I only had the strength to mow one side of the yard at a time.

I’ve steadily improved. Now I make it the whole way around the yard neatly before stumbling upstairs to shower. As I scrub off the grass clippings, I marvel that I’m a woman who owns a house and a yard, and looks after them mostly on my own, which is fairly common these days — and was probably more common when I was a child than I realized. And I remember that I’m also still that girl who must have resented that things were denied to her, even if they were onerous tasks like mowing the lawn.

After I shower, I head out to my porch to enjoy the view of my freshly mowed lawn. Gretel had said that the post-mow beer is one of the sweetest around. I don’t drink, but I can confirm that a popsicle, enjoyed on the porch in the post-mowing quiet, tastes just as sweet.