Monday, January 14, 2008

Roomba: Friend, Scholar; Brother, Mother

Back in January of '04, with the help of an Amazon sale and some gift certificates, I purchased a robotic floor vacuum which, when I type it out, makes me feel like kind of an ass. The main floor of our home is approximately 12 square feet, so I didn't really need a Roomba, but, man, did I want a Roomba. And, other than mutilating the fringe on one of my rugs, Roomba served me and my 12 square feet of hardwood floors well. I could lock Roomba in the kitchen or a bedroom before I left the house, or set him on "Clean" before I took a nap with my baby girl, and expect any rouge herds of dust bunnies to be drastically thinned in no time.

Then one day, maybe one and half years ago, Roomba mysteriously stopped working, and I stashed him in a closet so that I could focus on other things, like whitening grout and lining drawers and alphabetizing underwear and obsessively labeling all the contents of our medicine cabinet before I delivered yet another baby. In the back of the closet, the Roomba, no longer shiny and new, was forgotten, like so many Velveteen Rabbits.

But, just last week, in a fit of (non-pregnancy related) purging and organizing, I rediscovered Roomba and decided to try my own hand at repairing him. I dismantled his little red body, pulled horrifying amounts of tangled hair from all his brushes, dusted all his nooks and crannies with a paintbrush. And guess what? He's running! I can fix robots, people.

So Roomba is back in action and just in time because, boy, was I tired of cleaning up that one spot under the high chair 3,129 times a day. And not only is Roomba way, way more enthusiastic about doing floors than I will ever be, but he has proven to have limitless potential as an entertainer and care-giver.

Behold Roomba's successful re-integration into our family:

The children, though initially wary, were entranced. "What IS it?" Ellie asked.

"He's a vacuum, a robot vacuum, and his name is Roomba," I replied.

"A Woomba?"

"Yes. Close enough."

James likes to frantically follow Roomba around the room, squealing with joy and disbelief as if to say, "Finally! You let me get a dog!"

Here, James attempts to feed a Christmas ornament to Roomba but, no, no: Roomba has a little thing called Artificial Intelligence, which means that he's smarter than the average human one-year-old and will not be eating the ornament. In fact, Roomba will not eat most things the children try to feed him, but, if something valuable or wedding-ring-shaped should pass through, it can be easily retrieved from Roomba's handy removable dust bin. Well done, Roomba!

Here, Roomba bumps into James, but don't worry: neither party is in danger. Roomba never tries to eat the baby, which is yet another reason why, technically, Roomba is a better mother than I am. The children love to follow Roomba around the house, laughing at him, tripping on him, and pushing his buttons, while Roomba teaches them valuable lessons about housekeeping and tenacity in the face of obstacles. (The same cannot be said of their mother.)

In fact, I just found Ellie lying in the middle of the rug, flailing her limbs around and rubbing her hands and feet across the floor. "What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm trying to sweep up like Roomba," she said.

I smiled wisely and thought, Yes, you are, little one, and we should all be trying to sweep up, just like Roomba. You know, it's funny: that little red robot sure does have a lot to teach us about being big fleshy humans, doesn't he?

Which brings me to my favorite thing about Roomba: sometimes, when all the housework is done and the baby is tucked snugly in his crib, Roomba and I like to sit down and have a cup of herbal tea, just the two of us, crazy woman and robot vacuum.

I always tell Roomba, "You know, I don't object to the post-feminist social construct of 'the housewife' per se, it's that I prefer the emphasis being placed on the value of child-rearing and early individualized education, rather than menial domestic maintenance which, let's be honest, so often feels like abject slavery to a collective patriarchy."

And Roomba always says, sadly, "BEEP boop."


Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

Now I can be sassy; all the words were spared and there for the taking.

(Earlier I thought your Roomba and computer were conspiring against you, after your husband.)

You are such a funny, delightful writer. I think I need you to write a novel.

Could you and the Roomba conspire to write a wee little book? said...


"I can fix robots, people."

You are an amazing woman.

We have a Roomba, but he's beyond fixing. I do miss him, though, But he's tired...not so much cleaning and just a lot of beep-booping.

My kids do like to watch the clothes whirl round in the front loader washing machine. crack me up. This is another ROFL award post if you ask me. But if I keep nominating you, people will begin to talk.

Mrs. G. said...

I'm going to honest and tell you that I didn't take you for the Roomba type (see: sucker) but I can see that I underestimated this little robot and its powers. The entertainment value alone would be worth the cost.

Loving this post. File it under greatest hits.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

I wish I'd known you when my dust buster died. It was devastating. We were so close.

Nora said...

I love it! And I totally get how you need a Roomba for 12 square feet. Totally.

stephanie said...

Wow, that was some kick-ass writing there. I laughed much and, more importantly, felt compelled to read it aloud to my husband who didn't really want to care but still got a good chuckle. Well done :)

My bff begged for a Roomba (even in the midst of my disdain) and then found it to be less than satisfying. Maybe you should have a class on finding the joy that is Roomba. BEEP boop.

Family Adventure said...

Melanie, you crack me up! I want a Roomba now -- if only for some good tea chats :)


Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...


Very Mary said...

Melanie, I will be your real life friend when you're tired of bonding with your robots (which, after reading this post, may be never).

Magpie said...

Huh. Maybe I need one of those.

JessTrev said...

Oh my, that was HILLarious. Love the rant at the end...sigh. And I always *wanted* a Roomba, but, well, we may have less than 12 square feet of living space. I am so glad I persevered in loading/reloading your blog! Google Reader really didn't want me to read this post (I think she was jealous of Roomba -- much cooler nonsense name coinage, freed from the confines of the computer...)

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! I'm sure one batch of the dog hair tumbleweeds here would kill poor Roomba.

Awesome post!

Anonymous said...

I once owned a one-half stake in a Roomba. His name was Sebastian and he cleaned filth of all manner with ferver and zeal.

Sadly, Sebastian fell prey to one of the many Pabst Blue Ribbon puddles in my then skeevy San Diego bachelor pad. He was never the same.

I donated his parts to science and unwittingly thrust him into this life.

Farewell Sebastian, farewell.

Anonymous said...

It's good to have someone to talk to.

K said...

Ok, now I want a Roomba, and I don't even have a HOUSE.

By the way, no, I haven't seen "The Uninvited Guest," but I'm Netflixing it posthaste. I'll keep you posted.

Melanie said...

Lisa: My Roomba loves you.

Jozet: Send me your Roomba! I will lay my healing hands upon your robot.

G: You just called me a sucker, I think. Snap, G-ster!

Tootsie: I wish I had been able to save your cherished DustBuster.

Nora: You feel me on the tiny house front, I know.

Stephanie: I'll be doing a traveling faith-healing Roomba show in the coming months. Your friend is invited, of course.

Heidi: Roomba likes lattes, too.

Cheri: Thanks! And bravo to you, too, for stopping by!

Melanie said...

Mary Ann: When I show up at your doorstep, all expectant and hopeful, you're going to regret those words.

Magpie: You do. The Roomba can pick up fruitcake crumbs, too.

Mamabird: I must confess...I broke your Google reader. Sorry.

Amy: I'll raise him from the dead just as fast as your dog hair can kill him.

Dickie: Oh, sweet brother. Your tales of marginal bachelor living never fail to amuse me.

Jenn: Beep boop.

K: Even though you don't have a house, Roomba could keep you company during the night shift.

Anonymous said...

Melanie, if Roomba ever gets sassy, I have boxes and boxes of tea to share. Mary Ann, you come too! We can all sit around my dining room table while the dust hippos build themselves shelters with all the unswept pine needles from my Christmas tree.

iCarrie said...

I may need your healing hands for my poor Roomba. I miss him so much. He's in the basement cooling off as he has taken to humping the cat house, getting stuck and then dying with such a sad beep.

Loved this post, amongst all your others.

Rima said...

This post has it all: humor, wit, housekeeping tips, and ruminations of a philosophical nature between woman and robot.


Minnesota Matron said...

Ha! As someone who's dabbled in those post-feminist deconstructions or redeterminations of 'housewife,' I appreciate our relationship with Roomba on many levels. Great writing!

Claire B. said...

Great post. I am doing the "I'm not worthy" thing here.

Anonymous said...

I, too, always wanted a roomba. I think I did a bit of research, realized that it wouldn't pass the MechanicalMan test of things that we absolutely need in this house, and gave it up. I am glad to enjoy vicariously through you.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Besides being HILARIOUS. Your photos? Amazing! I fantasize about a Roomba, right now I'm still dating the Dyson. :)

Christina.B said...

What an invention! I never heard of a roomba till now...I so want one.

Anonymous said...

Since my tendencies incline particularly toward the anthropomorphic, I love this post. Well done.

I have always wondered about Roombas, and similar robotic beings, but have never actually purchased one. Now I'm thinking about it - especially for those days of unsolicited isolation and want of adult companionship, when I need a friend and confidant to converse with, and perhaps share a cup o' joe. Roomba is practical and pithy all at once. Bleep, bloop. Yes, Roomba. Yes.

ewe are here said...

This is very entertaining.

I've always wanted one of those robot vacuum cleaners, and now I want one even more. The child entertainment aspect seems priceless.

And your wee ones are adorable.

(Oh, and 'hi'. Came over from Toddled Dredge.)

lapoflux said...

Oh thank you for this witty post (and to Mama Milton for helping me find it).
Forget that second wife I was thinking of getting my husband, I need a Roomba. Gotta google them now.

Laura/CenterDownHome said...

People really buy those things?

Tell me the truth -- I'd be spending more time digging pet hair out of the wheel wells than having tea and conversation, wouldn't I?

Jane said...

Roomba is the Rosie the Robot the Jetsons promised us. After a few years, mine was not feeling at all like himself, so we bought him a new battery, and now he's running even better than he did five years ago, because iRobot has vastly improved the battery life. Our son is majoring in robotics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute -- the first undergraduate major of its kind in the world, btw -- and he says the more you know about robots, the more amazing the Roomba really is. I'm amazed that I can vacuum the floors with the big vacuum, and really get up a lot of dirt, but the next day when I run the Roomba, he picks up even more. This is a really good vacuum cleaner for so many reasons, cuteness being the most important, of course.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post so much I featured it on my blog. Your post has made me desperately want a Roomba for myself! It was funny and I enjoyed it so much I saved it so I can read it again later...really!