By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
About two years ago, I bought a robotic vacuum cleaner. Like millions of other people, I fell in love with the idea of pushing a button and having a robot roam around the house cleaning the floors while I did something else.
Because robot vacuum cleaners aren’t cheap, I spent a long time researching different models and asking friends who’d already bought one if it was worth it. Finally, an online sale and glowing reviews seduced me into clicking “add to cart.”
A few of my friends had mentioned that they’d given their robot vacuum cleaners cute names like “Dirty Harry” or “Rosie.” So when my new vacuum arrived, I unboxed it and admired its sleek circular design, low profile, glossy black finish and the large power button that made the machine look like a giant hockey puck with one blinking blue eye on top. I named my new vacuum “Dustin,” to honor his role in the family.
Because Dustin had been somewhat expensive and I was too cheap to buy the optional warranty, I was careful to prep the whole house before I turned him loose to do his job. I crawled around the living room floor making sure there wasn’t anything sharp or dangerous lurking under the sofa. I tucked away cords that might cause entanglement.
The process took a while and reminded me of babyproofing the house when the kids were little. I had to get down on floor-level and look at everything from a robot vacuum cleaner’s point of view to see what might hurt him.
Finally, I set Dustin free to take his maiden trip around the house – an exciting milestone moment. But as liberating as it was to leave the vacuuming to Dustin while I went back to my computer, I felt compelled to protect him. I was constantly listening for him from the other room, wondering if his mechanical whirring sounded normal or if it sounded like he might be choking on something that was sure to ruin my domestic investment.
If I couldn’t hear him, I’d get up and search, worried he might have gotten himself stuck in a bad situation. In short, it felt like having an unpredictable toddler in the house who might need saving at any moment.
Because I was an overprotective robot vacuum mother, Dustin hasn’t had nearly as much use as he should have. For far too long, he has sat on his charging base in a corner of the kitchen, waiting for a chance to set out on an adventure.
One day last week, I looked over at him and decided he wasn’t a new, expensive baby anymore. It was time for Dustin to do his share of the work. I wouldn’t coddle him any longer. So, without moving a single thing or checking under the beds or sofa, I pushed the power button and turned him loose on my hairy, crumb-strewn floors.
“He’ll be fine,” I told myself. Then I went back to work on my laptop. Twenty minutes later, I heard Dustin’s mechanical hum get louder as he approached my office door. I glanced over to see him pass by and noticed that, wrapped around and trailing behind him, was an extension cord.
Springing out of my chair, I chased him down and retrieved the cord before it got into his mouth. “Geez, Dustin. I look away for a few minutes and you nearly strangle yourself,” I muttered as I scanned the kitchen floor. He’d done a good job picking up crumbs, but he still hadn’t touched the living room carpets.
So, I took him to the living room and hit the “go” button, watching as he coasted a few paces before ramming into the fireplace hearth. Undeterred, he spun and took off again. Bump. Spin. Coast. Bump. Spin. Coast.
I tried to understand the mechanical mind managing his movements, but it didn’t make sense. Even when Dustin has a wide-open area, he goes straight ahead for only five seconds before spinning a quarter-turn or more and then taking off again for another five seconds. Instead of those long, straight vacuum marks I’d wanted, Dustin was spinning donuts into the carpet like a drunk toddler.
Shaking my head, I went back to my desk determined not to hover. I’d let Dustin figure things out on his own. I’d shielded him from real work for far too long.
The next time I got up from my desk, the house was quiet again. I found an exhausted, dizzy Dustin motionless under the sofa. I pulled him out and set him back on his charging base so he could juice up and take a nap. After two long years, he’d finally earned it.