The lawn defeated me

Two weeks after my first lawn mowing adventure, the grass had become another hairy-hairy, and it was time to repeat. I’d meant to do it during the week, but the schedule never permitted it. On Sunday, after church and church-breakfast, I applied sunblock and mosquito repellent, my New York Yankees cap and my sunglasses, and went to mow the lawn.

I wondered, does mosquito repellent plus sunblock produce some kind of noxious gas? Well, too late for it now…

Out came the lawn mower from the shed. I looked it over, noticed some grass residue in the engine housing but thought nothing of it. Then I had a thought: do I need to add gasoline? I fetched my Patient Husband, he of the black-belt in lawn mowing, and asked. He said he’d check.

He too noticed the grass in the engine housing and said, “That’s no good, having dry grass on the parts that get hot.” He said that had never happened before. I pointed out how deep the grass had been when I’d mowed last, so while he checked the gas tank, I started pulling grass from the engine housing where it stuck out. Eventually I got a stick and began digging it out.

If you know where this is going, please don’t think I’m an idiot. I am, but more to the point, this can be chalked up to lack of experience. Because the next thing that happened was  I screamed.

It wasn’t fear: it was horror. Baby mice. First one, then a second baby mouse fell out with the grass bits on to the lawn-mower base. That wasn’t dried grass from the last lawn-mowing adventure: that was a nest!

The two of them were about an inch and a half long. They had their ears flat and their eyes shut. And they emitted these pitiful squeaks. I kept thinking, oh my God. Oh my God.

They were going to die. I couldn’t put them back with their mother. I couldn’t feed them with an eye-dropper, could I? Should I? They were only field mice, but still. And I certainly couldn’t start the lawn mower now.

I could see the mother mouse running around the inside of the engine housing now. She could hear the babies, but she couldn’t get to them.

My Patient Husband and I went into high gear. I found a tiny box, put the dried grass into it,and tried to put the baby mice into the box. By the time I did that, though, one of the baby mice was already gone.

It was a relief to know the mother mouse could get the baby and carry it. But I wasn’t sure what else to do. I had the one baby in the makeshift nest in the box, but the mother wouldn’t go into the box to get it. And once she did, what would I do with her?

My Patient Husband was an ace. We took the top off the lawnmower. (He adds, “And why did it take three different size nut-drivers to remove three nuts?”) and he tried to catch the mother, but she escaped. We removed the remains of the nest (with three more baby mice) and finally I was able to get to the one the mother had fetched off the lawn mower base. Now all five were in the box. Of course, there was also oil all over the base of the lawn mower.

I knew where the mother had run, and I set the box with the baby mice beneath that bush. She stared at me as I set it beneath the bush with her. I backed off.

The mother mouse came into the box, picked up a baby, and darted beneath the shed.

That’s the point where I started to sob. I don’t know why then, when I should have been pleased that the baby mice would survive with no help from me and an eye dropper. My Patient Husband held me while I bawled, and the mother mouse retrieved each of the five babies, then made one last pass to make sure she’d gotten everyone.

My Patient Husband called, “Good work, Mrs. Frisby!”

We proceeded to clean up the lawn mower. We’ll take it to a small engine repair shop to make sure they didn’t chew through the wiring.

“You know,” he said as we returned inside, “if you didn’t want to mow the lawn, you just had to say so.”

Thank God I didn’t try mowing during the week. Thank God.


  1. Memphis Aggie

    Mosquito repellent and sunblock are potentially dangerous together because the combination allows DEET and the sunblocking chemicals to be absorbed by the skin and into the bloodstream. There are only a couple of studies on this topic, so it’s too soon to properly evaluate the risk. That said, I avoid combination products and dose my kids with only one product or the other.

  2. Memphis Aggie

    I should say the combination synergistically increases the absorption of both chemicals – you absorb them normally to some degree. I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is.

  3. philangelus

    I should clarify that the mosquito repellent I’m using is an herbal lavender spray. I don’t like to use OFF or any of the insecticide types because I”m not sure if Emily wasn’t killed by an insecticide.

    Since it’s using the smell of lavender to make the bugs think I’m inedible, I’m hoping that’s at least slightly better.

    Thank you for giving me another reason to avoid the real DEET type stuff. I’ve been in crowds of preschoolers where parents had applied so much repellent that I was beginning to get lightheaded.

    1. Memphis Aggie

      insect sprays inside the house have been linked to increased risk of childhood leukemia – but not to any other illness, as far as I know anyway.

  4. Ivy

    This is one of those moments where I don’t understand you at all. Rodents. Gross. Icky. Must die. My reaction would have been to run screaming for someone to kill them, and if I had to deal with them myself, the solution would have started with turning on the mower to see how many the blades would shred.

    1. philangelus

      If I’d turned on the mower, the motor housing would have heated up and they’d have baked, or else the grass would have burned and they’d have burned to death, then set my mower on fire and possibly taken out the lawn and the house.

      Sometimes compassion pays for itself. 🙂 I do live in the middle of the woods, you know. It’s not as if these five mice constitute the entirety of the rodent population.

      1. Ivy

        I never said my first response would be a smart one. I know myself enough to know I’d panic and try to destroy the scary thing.

        Five mice certainly don’t constitute the entirety of the rodent population here either. You do remember the subways, yes?

        1. philangelus

          I’ve generally figured that outdoors, they’re Creatures Of God. And indoors, they’re Fair Game.

          1. Ivy

            Outdoors, they’re usually scary things I can run away from. This didn’t sound like fleeing in terror was an option. We haven’t had any indoors, thank G-d, but if we did, they’d be prey for the cats.

          2. philangelus

            Even I wouldn’t flee in terror from something blind and 3/2 inches long. 🙂

          3. Ivy

            I’m terrified of them when they’re road kill. Shudder. Eep. Insert high pitched girly scream here. Mice scare me senseless.

  5. cricketB

    Mother mammals are awesome at retrieving their babies. This is the second time this month I’ve seen / heard of it in action.

    As for the lawn? This was a message that you can hire someone for the year. I’m jealous.

    1. philangelus

      We’ve got a mower coming on an emergency basis this week. The mower should be back from the repair place a week after I bring it (which hasn’t happened yet.)

  6. Wendy

    My condolences. I know mice are considered vermin, but mothers identify with mothers and babies, no matter what the species.

    It flashes me back to a time in Japan when I found a newborn kitten on the doorstep of a neighbor’s house. The poor thing was three quarters dead and cold when I put it under my shirt, I had no idea what to do with it, there wasn’t a veterinary hospital to my knowledge anywhere I could recall (this was before the “pet boom”). There was no sign of the mother.

    I let the poor thing die. I didn’t know what else to do.

    To this day, the memory still hurts.

    1. philangelus

      Oh, wow. I’m so sorry. The poor thing. :’-( I can imagine it hurt to make that decision, but at least it was comforted by being with you at the end.

  7. Alicia

    You know, I don’t even like mice (well, I love them outdoors, I just don’t like it when they sneak into my apartment) and I think I would have been bawling as well. I’m so grateful that the momma-mouse was able to retrieve her babies.

  8. Promise

    Okay, I almost started crying just reading that story! Glad to know the babies and momma are safe!

  9. Lane in PA

    Jane, I certainly understand your tears over this. Wendy’s thoughts reflect my feelings as well. And I guess I am the real odd ball here because my first pet was a fancy rat — he was a very smart and affectionate creature and I cried like crazy when he finally died. They have short life spans of around 2 years. Mice, rats, bats are amazing creations of God and they are all here for a purpose.

    Sadly, they do sometimes get sidetracked in their living the purposeful life and nest where they are not wanted. Last week one particular mouse family made the unhappy decision to start a family in the air conditioning unit of my hubby’s new car. I do not know what they died of, but I can pinpoint the exact moment of the discovery of their demise — when we started the car Sunday afternoon to go to the Carnegie Mellon Museum. I can’t begin to describe the smell when the AC came on.

    So here’s two pieces of eco-friendly advice I would like to impart:

    1) Mice do not like mothballs so we placed mesh bags filled with mothballs under the hood (after having our entire AC system repaired at the dealership for mucho $$$$) and did the same where I store the dog and cat food.

    2) The best mosquito repellent is Avon’s Skin So Soft. It is not an urban legend that this stuff works. And not only will the skeeters leave you alone, you will smell wonderful and your skin will thank you for keeping is oh so soft. 🙂

  10. Illya

    What a wonderful story. You ade my day! …and your tears were quite understandable. Some people forget their own emotionsin a crisis, and act swiftly and correctly. After it is over, then the emotons well up. You did great!

  11. Ken Rolph

    When we have mice plagues in Australia we protect anything we don’t want chewed by wrapping it in steel wool. The little critters don’t like to chew through that. This becomes particularly necessary in the Big Dry. Mice need water, so will chew through the plastic pipes under your sink. Dishwasher pipes are often soft plastic. You often only know when your dishwasher refuses to work (if smart) or floods the kitchen (if dumb).

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