Spring break down

battery spring breakdownIt’s spring break, and because I have a day job that only pays when I work, and because Ben’s dad had his spring break two weeks ago, Ben is splitting his time between my two days off, and his dad’s three days off-campus classes.
Tonight Ben had rugby practice and would go to his dad’s in the morning so his dad suggested he spend the night an extra time. Sweet Ben, always trying to keep everything even and everyone happy, wanted to spend the night so he didn’t have to get up and ride in to town with me in the morning, but didn’t want to hurt my feelings by taking away from our night together.

“This is a time when you get to be entirely selfish.” I told him. “It’s spring break and we were together all day, so if you want to spend the night with your dad so you can sleep late in the morning, you won’t hurt my feelings.” He weighed all the pros and cons.

“I wouldn’t have to get up, but it’s my night with you, and I don’t want to miss our night together because we always hang out,” he said. But I hate getting up early and being late like I was this morning.”

He went back and forth like this for several minutes while I drove past the rugby fields, (deciding we had enough time to run to the hardware store before practice), while I picked out my new mower blades and paid for them, and while we drove the quarter-mile back to the rugby fields.

Finally, it was decided he would spend the night with his dad. “Does that feel like the right decision?” I asked. “Yes, Ben said with a smile.”

To me it felt awful. We said goodbye three times at the rugby field when I dropped him off. Driving away, I had that empty feeling I always had on Thursday night, his regular night with his dad, and I wanted it to go away. So I went home and did what I always do. I took it out on some lawn equipment and various items for the trash collectors.

Why do these things have headlights if your’re not supposed to mow in the dark?

Last night, I was mowing the yard way past time when critically thinking home owners would be mowing. It was getting dark and cold, but I knew my time was limited getting the early spring patchy weeds and clumps of grass cut. The unusually warm March weather had everything growing profusely. No one knew this year whether to use pre-emergent or step two—weed and feed. Everyone seemed confused about what to do. So, one by one, we just started up the sleepy mowers and cut down the tall grass and thick patches of weeds left by last summer’s late drought. I think we stopped mowing about mid July and just went out once or twice in September some time to cut off the tops of the occasional weed that sprung up. I remember because my riding mower was really running poorly and I was thankful I didn’t have to fix it before I put it away for the season.

But guess what. Spring was early this year and that mower was still running poorly. At least I thought it probably was, but at first it didn’t start at all, so I couldn’t really be sure. So last night, I jumped the battery with my 2009 Honda Civic, which was a bit of a challenge because this mower shuts off automatically if you get up off the seat—a safety feature—but the problem with that is, the battery is under the seat, which has to be flipped up if you want to jump it. So how are you supposed to sit on the seat and start the engine when you have battery cables attached underneath?

I’m sure there is a real way, but this is how I did it. I stood in the driveway next to the mower with my Honda running and attached the cables to both the car and the mower. Me, with one foot on the break that has to be depressed for it to start—another safety feature. So I had to stand there with both running because there was no way to shut my car off and let the mower run long enough to charge the battery. Twice, I shut off the mower, ran to shut off the car and disconnect the battery cables, only to get back to start the mower and find the battery just as dead as the day before.

It went like this: Hook up the cables to the car. Hook up the cables to the mower. Start the car. Jump out. Stand next to the mower. Put foot on break. Turn the ignition key. Stand there for a very long time with everything running. Then, lift foot off break to kill the mower. Disconnect the cables from the car. Turn off the car. Disconnect the cables from the mower. Jump on the mower—still dead.

I did this more than once in slightly different ways, including once where I nearly electrocuted myself with the battery cables, which apparently are not supposed to touch while one end is still attached to a live battery. The outcome was repeatedly the same.

I don’t know how it happened but eventually I managed to get enough of a spark from my car to the mower to finally start it. So I mowed away until dark. Discontent with getting only the front yard cut in the dark, I moved to the side yard around garden. The grass was very long and, well I guess I forgot about the tree stump left from when I cut down the little spruce that died last summer, because I was mowing a particularly tricky area where you have to watch out for the guide wire for the power line pole and squeeze between the garden border and the old wellhead sticking up–and apparently that tree stump–and well, something terrible happened.

I chopped right into that tree stump with the mower. A horrible sound came from under the mowing deck and sparks flew about , which has happened before when I chopped the sewer cap in the front yard, but I just pretended that everything was fine and it was. This time, though, the mower did not recover. It made a jingling sound and began to throw dirt around and I think it might have been smoking and saying curse words. But anyway, there was no pretending it was okay this time. I know because tried. I lifted the blades and drove over to another part of the yard with fewer hazards, and tried again. When I lowered the blades this time, another worse sound came from under the mowing deck. It sounded like OWWWWW. Then scrape, scrape. Then cha chung. Then that jingling sound again. So I put her to bed and pretended it would be okay if I just gave ‘er some rest.

Today I got it back out and tried to see if my idea about a little rest was a good one. It started fine. I backed out of the garage and moved into the front yard, so far so good, then moved forward and lowered blades. But that OWWWW followed by the scrape, scrape happened again. So I lifted the blades and looked back. Behind me was about a 3 foot long deep gash of  where grass and weeds once grew. ‘Hmmmm. That looks funny,’ I thought.

So I jumped off and got on my knees saying a silent prayer while I was down there peering under the mowing deck. And you know how sometimes God gives you the answer you want? Well, like a beam of light from heaven I saw the answer I didn’t want. One blade of that mower was bent so badly that it was sideways and covered with mud. So I rolled her back into the garage and slammed the door down. That’s what led to my trip to the hardware store tonight.

Never too late to break something on purpose

By the time I got home, it was too late to replace the blades. I’ve learned a lot about what not to do after dark. Determined not to let the evening go to complete waste, and still feeling that hole in my chest from having left my heart at the rugby field, I decided to lay my hands on the last couple of crappy old pieces of office furniture in the garage that needed to be either broken up with a hammer (an option I had chosen many times over the last few years) or be dragged out to the street for my awesome trash guys.

Hammering those last pieces of crappy old office furniture apart didn’t work out so good. I pounded and pounded on them but they would not come apart. They were some well made pieces of crappy office furniture. So dragging them out for my awesome trash guys was all I could do. I’m learning so much lately. One thing learned tonight is that well-made crappy office furniture is heavy.

It took me a long time to push them end over end out to the street. Walking back toward the garage I glanced up at the sky. The stars were amazingly bright, and there was Jupiter and Venus and Mars and Orion just as they were last week when Mr S let us look through his telescope with him. Since that night, Ben has set up star-gazing blankets on the deck for us a couple of times so we could lie back and look up while we listened to the frogs behind the house. He retold the constellations that Mr S has taught him, scolding me for not knowing the difference between the Taurus and the Seven Sisters.

I grabbed my binoculars from the glove box of my car and gazed up. Hello seven sisters and that yellow star that I always forget the name of. I wished Ben were with me, but being with his dad tonight, he is probably learning things I cannot teach him, things about history, or the NCAA tournament, or how to get the ball out of a scrum. And it occurred to me for the first time that ending our marriage may have been exactly the best of both worlds for Ben. No more name calling and ugly fights. No more family vacations, to be sure, but no more competition about what Ben should learn from whom either. Just two people who love him more than anything calling a truce and offering him the best they each have to offer, even if it’s only every other night on Spring break.

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