How a Big Life Change Taught Me to Embrace Mess (And Play Nice With My Neighbors)

published May 29, 2019
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Of all the things a new mother has to do, yard work probably isn’t high on the list of priorities.

Taking care of my yard was the last thing on my mind when I had my son, Ben, in the summer of 2017. Those first few months at our Jersey Shore ranch were busy enough without having to keep up with the turf. My husband used to mow in the warmer months; I handled everything else, including raking and bagging about 50 tall yard bags of leaves each autumn.

When the leaves returned just weeks after my C-section, they came back in full force. Both of us were too busy caring for an infant who had silent reflux. He didn’t sleep well, so we didn’t sleep well.  

Part of me wanted to go out and rake and get back to “normal” life. But when I buckled Ben into an over-the-shoulder baby-wearing contraption, he would still scream. Every spare moment I wasn’t with him, I was trying to get back to work, which was piling up like the maple leaves.  

In October, our property looked worse than normal because both of our adjacent neighbors keep their yards pristine.

When I did see them, they smiled but glared at our lawn.

“We’re going to clean up the yard soon. Been a bit busy,” I’d say, pointing to the baby carrier I was lugging on my arm. I couldn’t tell if it was the dark circles under my eyes or the rug of acorns and leaves slathered across my lawn that seemed to appall them more.

When I emerged from the house one day in November, I was shocked to find that my neighbor had put up a two-foot tall chicken wire fence, dividing the lawn that separated our properties. About a week later, the other neighbor informed me that she blew leaves off the border to her yard into ours to “help us out.” That only infuriated my husband, who was pulling double shifts at work and handling the baby at night. Reluctantly, he went out the next day to bag up the pile before it blew back on her spotless driveway.

There was only one thing to do, and it was a hard choice due to financial reasons and the fact that I’m a hands-on lawn care kind of gal.

We hired a landscaper to clean up the entire yard.

I hated spending the money on something I could otherwise do myself. I wanted to wait until everything fell in December, but apparently the clock was ticking before Thanksgiving. When leaf season was over, we were elated.

The chicken-wire Berlin Wall, however, never came down. I was still in the penalty box.

This past fall, I dreaded the inevitable pile-up that would engulf our yard. Our house is on a main road, and the front yard isn’t fenced in like the backyard. Now Ben was walking, and I couldn’t possibly take him out front with me to rake.

When I had help caring for him, the last thing I wanted to do was spend my time on leaves because I was still struggling to find time to work.

I decided to use the Berlin Wall to my advantage. I let the leaves blow against it and form a pile. I bagged them when I had time instead of rushing outside to rake like the year before.

Again, I hired the landscaper in November.

By spring, it was time to head into the backyard and work on the rest myself. Neglected seedlings had turned into small trees. My beds, left unmulched for two years now, were covered in a carpet of weeds. Ben, now a very active toddler, refused to play on the gated deck packed with toys. He wanted only to be pulled around in a wagon and would fuss if left untethered. I didn’t want to think about what the neighbors would do if I left him yelling and crying too long, so I cleaned up the yard and catered to him in short spurts.

So there I was, lugging around a red wagon and bending over every 20 seconds to pick up sticks… but at least I got them up on my own. There were now thousands of maple helicopter seedlings to contend with, too. The leaf-blower would have wrangled the mess up in no time, but its loud motor sent Ben into a fury of fearful tears. I could only rake and sweep, which barely helped.

I filled bags little by little. Getting them over to the recycling center meant restructuring the back of my Jeep and driving a vehicle full of pollen-laden yard scraps around with a toddler in tow. That wasn’t fun, either.

While there’s still more to do, at least I am back to managing the yard work on my own—albeit in five-minute increments. I give up on being able to power-wash my patio until he enters full-day kindergarten, but I’ve made peace with it.

In the fall, Ben goes into part-time preschool. I’ll give up a few afternoons to rake leaves in an effort to keep the peace in our neighborhood. And as for the backyard, I’m hoping Ben’s new playhouse will keep him occupied enough so I can handle yard work… at least in 10-minute stretches.

One thing is for sure: I don’t mind if he lets the leaves pile up around his playhouse. After all, nobody’s perfect.