A small boy and a marathon.

Yesterday around three o’clock I heard two cannons go off. It was Marathon Monday and the finish line is just a few blocks from our apartment, so it made perfect sense to me that someone would be firing off celebratory cannons. (I recognize that in the aftermath of the last 24 hours you could be wondering what special breed of idiot I am to think that, but in my defense, it’s a historic city and for some reasons I always associate cannons with something exciting happening.) 

But then things got weird. Through the open windows that welcome the sounds of the south-side of the city, came sounds like thundering cattle. Within ten minutes I could detect a concerning number of ambulances and sirens. My cannon theory was coming unraveled. Then the hubs texted, “Caroline. Turn on the news.”

Definitely not celebratory cannons. 

I’m not here to wax poetic or compare tragedies, but I will say this: the last time that someone said those exact words to me I was a senior in high school. My dad walked into my bedroom early on a September morning, pulled the covers back from my head, and said, “Caroline. Turn on the news.” 

There were no celebratory cannons that day either. 

In 2001 I lived so far away from New York that my mourning was little more than shock-induced patriotism. To this day I do not think any of us can fathom what truly took place on those city streets except those who were there. Then it was 3500 miles away. Yesterday it was three blocks. The tragedies incomparable, but the understanding that one brings to the other is invaluable. 

Twelve years later and I’m almost thirty. I’m five months pregnant with a small boy. Another small boy, an eight year old, is killed three blocks from my house while cheering on his dad at the Boston Marathon. My small boy is snug as a bug in a uterus, bouncing up and down on my bladder like it’s a trampoline. Another small boy was waving a sign and bouncing up and down to get a glimpse of the finish over the taller crowd. My small boy is just learning how to live. Another small boy is dead. 

The hubs texts again. This time it’s an expected stage of disbelief and grief. “Who the fuck sets off a bomb at the marathon?” I don’t have an answer. Then it’s his first paternal declaration, “Our small boy is never going to a public event. Ever.” Again, I don’t have an answer. 

But I do have an answer. Our small boy will go. Because fear of tragedy will only breed in him a fear of life. 

I don’t know how to raise a small boy into a grown man. I haven’t been given my parental membership card and I’m fairly certain that whomever is responsible for issuing them realizes I probably don’t deserve one. But I know that our small boy has to be given a chance to see the world as good, even if we’re standing in the wings, sick with worry. When he asks to climb higher, I know we need to respond with an emphatic “yes!” and try not to follow it up with a million caveats.

“Climb higher, small boy, and tell us what you see.” 

And one day, a day I know will come sooner than it should, something terrible will happen. A single moment of bad will create a thick cloud of uncertainty and our small boy will look to us to tell him what it means. And while we may not be card-carrying parents, I know we have a responsibility to give him an answer. And though we’ll remember other small boys, like the one who died cheering on his dad at the marathon, we’ll also remember the grown men who rushed forward to right all the wrong, to clear the cloud of uncertainty. 

“It’s a reminder that bad things happen. And then good things kick their asses.” 

Dear, Electrolux.

You may chalk this up to the crazy rantings of a pregnant lady, but I advise you to take heart. Deep inside this whale-like form is a struggling housewife, desperate for answers. 

Why does my vacuum suck so bad? I mean that both figuratively a literally. Why am I forced to go over and over every surface innumerable times only to watch the same string of fur or crumb stay exactly where I– or Stuart– left it? Why do I diligently buy those hard-to-find S bags on Amazon.com month after month when I know that they are doing nothing but trapping invisible particles from an invisible place in my apartment, not the real particles from the rug or hard wood floors? 

I’ve done a lot of soul searching on this topic. I’ve applied my analytical and strategic brain to the task, devising a system for rating the vacuum difficulty of an apartment and I’ve rated ours as a two. Out of ten. There are no plush rugs hiding unknown specimens between their fibers, no crevices in which small items can cling to avoid the suction that has come to claim them. Only shiny hardwoods and the occasional close cropped rug. Essentially what it would otherwise take to vacuum this apartment would be a swift wind in a focused direction. 

Admittedly we have a cat. That’s why I gave the apartment a two on the difficulty scale instead of a one. He does have fur, but as my husband pointed out, it really shouldn’t rival that of some of our more masculine friends. I personally have the hair of a cancer-ridden fairy and the husband doesn’t ever disrobe so I’m fairly certain any shedding he does is confined to his garments. But, yes, we do have Stuart and he does shed fur. Which is actually why we have a vacuum, rather than a Swifter. 

Before you start down your twenty questions to prove this girl is stupid path, let me review some of the things I’ve checked about my vacuum: all the filters are clean and intact, there does not appear to be anything clogging the hoses (though that’s only because I have to stick my hand into the vacuum with alarming frequency to dislodge NORMAL VACUUM SPECIMENS and send them along their merry way), and I change the bag very regularly (even though the little light on the vacuum has never told me to). Additionally, I’ve never tried to vacuum an animal directly, pick up large pieces of cloth or clothing, mix cement in the hose, or do anything crazier than vacuum my living room. And yet. And yet. And yet. 

What hurts the most is how much I believed in you. I wanted a Dyson. I’ve wanted a Dyson since that snively British man showed me the light and made me feel like a total asshole for not thinking of ball technology myself. But instead I bought an Electrolux. I bought it because it was supposed to be reliable. It was the vacuum my parents and grandparents used. I remember when they bought one from a door-to-door salesman. I believed in my Electrolux because I wanted to believe in America. I wanted to feel the loving arms of tradition wrap around my skepticism and show those snooty Brits that  I don’t need a ball or it’s fucking technology! I have a piece of vacuuming history in my house. 

And you proved to me that I should have clung to that man and his ball as if they were the last great hope for cleanliness. Because now here I am sweating like a coal laborer after attempting to vacuum a sum total of 400 square feet and finally giving up. My vacuum, the vacuum I saved for, invested in, and hoped would be my friend for many years, is a piece of shit. And I’m angry about it. 

I took some time while going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth over the same spot on the rug to think about all the things I’d rather do than have to keep vacuuming with my Electrolux Harmony vacuum cleaner. I’ve compiled a short list for you: 

• Be a prisoner of war

• Give birth to my baby through my nose

• Clean my apartment with tweezers

• Take a group of special education children to a water park

• Show up at a tent revival dressed like a whore

• Get a prison tattoo 

• Model for Sports Illustrated

• Buy a better fucking vacuum

I suppose at this point there’s nothing I can do. I made my choice and that’s what life is, right? Making the best decision you can based on the information you have and then living to regret the fact that you didn’t just buy the most expensive one to begin with. But now I’m staring down the barrel of parenthood and I don’t have a choice. I have to live with my crap-tastic suckless vacuum cleaner. At least I know I wont accidentally vacuum up a pacifier. Or a kid. 

I hope you’ll take this to heart. I hope you’ll take the next Harmony prototype into a room and vacuum with it before you put it on the market. You’re welcome to borrow Stuart if you want to add some kitty fur to the test cell. (I’d take him out before you start actually vacuuming, though, he doesn’t react well to machinery.) 

I wish you all the best. Even though I got the worst vacuum ever.