Existential Housekeeping, or L'ennui de l'hiver.
By Kelley Cunningham
It’s the kids’ eighth snow day of the year, and it’s only February. I think I may be going slightly mad. I find myself pondering things I’ve never noticed. Wrestling with demons heretofore unseen. And wondering why a mere 10 hours of dim daylight feels like 1000.
I suppose it’s because in winter, everything moves more slowly, especially time. And sometimes, things don’t move at all.
I’m talking about my vacuum cleaner.
I vaguely remember removing it from the utility closet and parking it in the foyer hallway. I did this because I intended to vacuum the house at some point.
Here it is:
And here it is, three weeks later:
Then, sometime in the next week or two, I moved it. Only about three feet back towards the corner, so I would stop crashing into it and breaking my little toes as I chased the cat into the basement for the night. After I moved it, I was pleased with the nice little dents the vacuum’s wheels had left in the carpeting. I thought, that’s a good way to achieve the effect of a luxurious textured carpet at a fraction of the price!
I still have not vacuumed, and I think it’s going on six weeks now. A week or so ago, after the vacuum cleaner had become invisible to me, one of my children observed that it had lost its original purpose.
That’s a glove on there. The radiators had run out of space for wet gloves, so he resourcefully stuck it on the vacuum cleaner. This action of his had the effect of making me really “see” the vacuum cleaner again, as in really “see” something in the way I was forced to back in art school. It’s like Christo wrapping a building and suddenly you see it in a new way.
So now that the vacuum cleaner has become visible once again, I think I’ll try using it to vacuum. Or not.
Meanwhile, around the rest of my house, I find myself seeing other things anew, in the shimmering, out-of-body way you see things when you have a high fever. The odd juxtaposition of disparate items has suddenly become noticeable.
Strange things accumulate, seemingly on their own, in the most unexpected of places. I find myself staring dully at my kitchen windowsill, at items that must have been there for months but noticed only today.
What is the meaning of the placement of these items? Why are they grouped in this way? Would it look neater if they were all bunched up together in one corner of the sill?
Other considerations abound. How long will that woody supermarket tomato last? Will it ever actually ripen, or will its insides merely achieve a tasteless shade of light pink that will last into eternity? How many Tylenols are left in that little travel-sized bottle? When did I ever buy a travel-sized anything, considering I have three sons who are consuming machines? So who put it there?
Why is that seashell lurking in that vaguely sinister way? Why is it even there at all, considering it’s the dead of winter and we live nowhere near the ocean? What is the meaning of that? Has it been there since last summer? Did we even make it to the beach last summer? Who remembers?
After pondering these questions, I do nothing. I don’t even shake the Tylenol bottle to see if there are any EZ-Swallow CapletsTM left inside. I have no answers, and nothing means anything.
I leave the objects where they are. I figure it’s better that way. Clearly, there are bigger forces at play here, intricate layers of universal intelligent design or something that I cannot understand, and was not meant to.
Backing away slowly, I turn to the laundry.
Much has been written about laundry being a huge metaphor for life in general. And all of it is true. Like, how you think it will never end, and then one day it does. Or, wash each load like it’s your last, and one of these days you’ll be right.
What was really strange here is that there was a load going already (see red light), but I didn’t remember starting it. That was unsettling. It was as unsettling as the menacing, unexplainable seashell on the windowsill. Am I starting to lose it? Should I start shopping for my nursing home now while I still possess a shred of awareness? How much longer does that load have to go? Should I do a dark next, or a light, or just throw it all in together and wash it on cold?
Completely befuddled by my laundry experience, I retreat to the kitchen once again. And there it is on my kitchen counter:
If any of you have a boy of around the age of ten, you know what this insidious object is. It’s a Tech Deck skateboard. Luckily there was a pen next to it so if you are a girl mom I can give you a size reference.
The reason these appeal so strongly to young boys I can’t pretend to know. And the way they propagate, at odds with the laws of nature, confounds me and makes me blush. Last week we had two. This week there seem to be hundreds, and they are everywhere, like so many cockroaches with tiny wheels.
They appear on the kitchen counter like this, and then, they’re gone, just as suddenly. I turn on the light in the bathroom so I can put some towels in the linen closet, and out of the corner of my eye I see one in the sink. But then I look and it’s gone.
At breakfast my youngest “grinds” his Tech Deck against the side of the countertop in between bites of Eggos. He secures the wheels with tiny wrenches. The wrenches are just as slutty as the tiny skateboards and reproduce just as quickly. They are everywhere: in the soap dish, next to the tomato soup when I open the pantry, in the ceramic pinch pot brought home years ago from one of their kindergartens that now collects change and dust. They seem to mock me. Do I hear laughter?
They are everywhere around you, as are the vagaries of beauty and love and clarity, and they disappear in the same way, the moment you try to hold fast to them, the moment you cease to just “be” in their presence. Some time ago, I seem to remember either a skateboard or a tiny wrench appearing on my windowsill, next to the shell. It is no longer there, but the shell is. That must mean... something.
Mad, you say? What is madness? If I am mad, then all mankind be mad! Hahahahaha!
Well, what better way to use my madness than to vacuum?
Now, where did I leave the vacuum cleaner? Why isn’t it in the utility closet?
Maybe it’s in the living room.
Now here is where the metaphysical world intersects with chaos theory: my coffee table.
Most coffee tables have coffee table books on them. Or coffee. Mine has this collection of weirdness. Yet it’s arranged in a curiously geometric way. Some would say there is a plan involved, a pattern. The universe’s constant yearning for order amid chaos.
Some thoughts: a black iPod with a white earbud cord, along with both black and white Nintendo DS’s. Black and white, yin and yang…what’s THAT all about??
One, just one, magic marker out of the box, placed far away. Why? And why the green one? Why not the red one? I would have chosen the red one.
When was the last time anyone played Monopoly?
My son started reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy after he begged for it for Christmas. He got two pages into it, and it’s been sitting there since. Will he ever pick it up again? If I move it, will he notice?
Which remote goes to the DVD player and which one goes to the TV? Why can’t I get either of them to work? How come other people seem to have remotes that work?
Is this random? Or does this chaos have rigid rules and patterns that we cannot understand?
None of these questions will ever have an answer. Or, maybe they will. Maybe if someone could explain it to me these snow days wouldn’t seem so long, so full of vexing questions.
Well, the one thing I DO know is that nature abhors a vacuum. And so do I.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
All original content © 2002 - 2013 Imperfect Parent®. Imperfect Parent and Mominatrix are registered trademarks.
The views, opinions and information expressed in articles and blog posts published on imperfectparent.com and all subdomains are those of the authors alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Imperfect Parent or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of any entity of, or affiliated with, Imperfect Parent. The Imperfect Parent is designed for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for medical, health, legal, or financial advice from a professional.
Reproduction of material from any of Imperfect Parent's pages without written permission is strictly prohibited.