So Chuck comes home with the cheerful news that half the people in the world have yard work I can do for hire, and he’s so taken with the financial possibilities of doing yard work—there’s big money in it, he promises—that he thinks I ought to get after it. “Yotta start your own business,” he urges, awash in the self-satisfaction that comes from having recently started the booming Lawn Wizard yard care service with the older boys. Never mind that pulling weeds isn’t my forte. Never mind that I’m not in the market to start my own business. Never mind that I am frantically trying to finish a master’s degree by last December. I fall victim to the unfailing urge that I haven’t been able to squelch since I said “I do” eons ago to prove to him that I can too do it, no matter what it is. And then there’s the compulsion to be there for my children, no matter what, and isn’t this a nifty job for the children to have, but of course they’ll need supervision. Supervision, I said. I even partly believed it.
So off I go, Carson and Daniel in tow, to see one of Chuck’s yard customers with weedy flower beds. We check out his weed bed in the front of the house. Sure I have a thesis to write, but if the children can do this job now, hey, I’ll sacrifice. Anything for the children, I’ve always said. So that’s how I find myself sitting in the dirt, covered with fire ants and sweat. How important for the children to learn the value of hard work, I assure myself as I frantically brush away thousands of tiny meat-eating ants, how thrilled they’ll be with that paycheck, and how wonderful to be able to afford their school supplies after all. Five kids can consume a lot of colored pencils and notebook paper in the course of one school year.
Daniel is more than happy to traipse after me in the cool of the early morning—my study time. Of course, he hasn’t grasped the concept yet. He doesn’t know that these are real weeds. Carson is another story. He is absolutely lame. But he follows along anyhow, promisingly guilt-ridden and remorseful; I have unfounded hopes for him. Daniel’s happy veneer wears off after he has worked for only a brief while: he gets his nose out of joint and explains angrily that he doesn’t like pulling weeds. Does this come as a surprise to me? It does not. No amount of assumed cheerfulness on my part convinces him that he and I are having fun. He doesn’t want to bond with me, and he senses, with the unerring sensitivity of a duped 13-year old that any enthusiasm on my part is fraudulent. Dispensing with nepotism, I fire him. “Beat it,” I say. He huffs off, leaving behind him a cloud of disgust and Carson for me to supervise.
Carson is now anxious to please, acutely aware that he is next in line to be fired. We work for a while, rehearsing his 12-times tables to ensure that fourth grade math will spring no unpleasant surprises on him. However, the ants finally get the best of us, and Carson and I stuff weeds into trash sacks, scrape up the traces of dirt from the sidewalk with our hands—our business hasn’t acquired a broom yet—and then head home with promises to each other to return in the evening. We’re committed to this beautification project, though I am dubious about the extent of Carson’s commitment. He knows that this evening is a long time away, and I know it, too. I am not fooled by his willingness to return. Anything could happen between now and then, and knowing Carson as I do, I suspect that he is banking on a fortuitous calamity to strike. With Carson, hope springs eternal.
In the evening, Andrew decides to join the team. No, he wasn’t invited; no, I’m not that stupid, which, of course, is a debatable assertion. Andrew is the original pain. He has to have work gloves. He fusses loud enough, long enough, that I finally give up and surrender mine to him. But though I have to give him my gloves, I don’t have to do it gracefully. “Andrew, you are the original pain,” I tell him. “Get off my back,” he retorts. Andrew is only five, and he has learned this new metaphor just today. He also demonstrates to me how it would look if he were on my back, not metaphorically but literally. I shake him off, along with the stray ants that didn’t have the good graces to succumb to my ant poison, and I continue clawing at the weeds.
Some of the weeds in this snake pit of a flower bed aren’t grass, but they aren’t ground cover, either. I wonder briefly what they might be, and I continue my hacking and pulling. Carson watches with interest, busily slurping on the sports drink he brought for break time, which begins as soon as we get there and lasts until he bails out; why does he think he needs work gloves anyhow? I consider persuading him to give me his, but surely he would take this as permission to give up the pretense that he is somehow contributing to the project at hand.
The weeds’ owner appears next to me on the sidewalk ̶ sheepish, do I detect? ̶ and says he has decided he wants to use the weed-eater and Round-up after all. I’m not sure of this process, linking it in my mind to weapons of mass destruction, so I talk confidently of discussing it with Chuck and promise to get back with him. Glad to be relieved of my self-imposed weed-pulling obligations, I pile the tools in the car and evilly consider the possibility of Carson and Andrew getting lost as they walk home. They don’t suspect a thing, or they might not set off so trustingly. I beat them home.
Sitting on the couch tonight, I’m scratching the ant bites and trying to sedate myself with Court TV, which has nothing soporific to offer except Jack Kevorkian’s lawyer whose unfailing arrogance infuriates me and keeps me awake. I resort to watching Rockford Files reruns, which I consider a great alternative because I can admire James Garner’s former hairline and his ingenuous brown eyes, and that’s when I figure it all out. It’s not ant bites. It’s poison ivy.