Before we had kids, nobody warned me that I’d end up with an unpaid part-time job sweeping floors for 18 years. Children generate flotsam and jetsam in the form of food, tiny pieces of paper, bits of plastic toys, candy wrappers, and materials that cannot be identified by scientists. The floors in our house are a prairie of hardwood, tile, and rugs, and keeping these diverse surfaces clean drives me nuts.
My struggle to keep them neat reminds me of my 6th-grade Civics teacher at Sierra Intermediate School in Santa Ana, California (go Rangers!). Maj. “Rocky” Gillis (Ret.) was a towering, highly decorated fighter pilot in WWII and Korea. He distinguished himself for being the first “ace” in Korea, downing three Russian Migs — two in one day (top that, Maverick). But the only thing he told my class about his service was that he once accidentally landed on the wrong aircraft carrier. Mr. Gillis hated dirty floors. When Mr. Gillis gave students detention, they had to crawl on their hands and knees and pick up the little tiny pieces of paper that had collected on the classroom’s utility carpet that day. I think he gave me detention because I was so thorough.
I didn’t know it, but Mr. Gillis was training me for parenthood. All of this is to explain my sheer joy when my wife gave me a new vacuum for my 49th birthday. Our new Shark vacuum is like a state-of-the-art F-25 jet. With the flick of the thumb, I can change the surface I’m cleaning. “I’m switching from carpet to hardwood, Goose,” I say above the hum of turbines. My floors now look like my wife and I still live alone, eat dinner at 9 p.m., and have conversations without getting interrupted.
My domesticity is a point of amusement as my wife points out that last year she got me an Instant Pot for Christmas. For our anniversary it was a fancy Nespresso coffee maker. Add my recent acquisition of a gently used air fryer and there’s no pretending I’m not a sucker for the latest convenience. You might call me Johnny Homemaker, but I declare that these are manly gifts. When Johnny comes marching home again to two kids, a dog, and a cat, it’s a war keeping our floors clean. Perhaps not on the scale of the wars Mr. Gillis fought, but a teeny tiny battle against the forces of gravity.
Although I cling to my George Foreman Grill, I know that the Instant Pot and the air fryer are destined to join the breadmaker, the hot-air popcorn popper, and the Veg-o-matic in the Cemetery of Small Appliances, but the vacuum will endure. Just as my dad has a closet full of old vacuums that belong in the Smithsonian, I’ll retire my old 30-pound Bissel upright to our garage, in case it gets called back to active duty.
What could possibly be under the Christmas tree for me this year?