Most kids turn the corner into toddlerhood and start to become a little obsessed - be it with cars or mermaids or playing chef. My son however? He was obsessed with vacuum cleaners. Not some particularly cool toy vacuum that he was gifted, but just the plain old dirty vacuum that sat in my hall closet. It was the weirdest kid obsession I had ever heard of, but man, nothing could beat out a good carpet cleaning day for my son.
He knew where to find the vacuum in my mother’s garage, his aunt’s closet, or his great grandmother’s back room. He knew where every family member kept their vacuum, and he would beeline for it as soon as we arrived at their house. Family affairs involved carpet cleaning, that was simply understood.
“Vacuum” was among one of his first words. He would help me clean the house, eventually taking over the job of vacuuming entirely. He was meticulous in his work, making sure to use every attachment to clean every nook and cranny. He would watch The Brave Little Toaster in complete rapture, loving the heroic vacuum cleaner more and more with each viewing.
“You’ll miss this stage when it’s over,” people would tell me.
“Send him over to my house to clean,” others joked.
I would laugh and offer up his services, only half joking because it was the most exciting thing ever for him to get to use a “new” vacuum at a different house - and I would love to get him to leave my vacuum cleaner alone for a change.
The truth was, I was “over” the vacuum obsession. I hated that I was never able to put away my vacuum cleaner, or that I couldn’t go to a friend’s house without my kid rummaging through their closet trying to find what make and model of cleaning devices they owned. I figured he would outgrow it quick enough, but he only seemed to become more enamored as time went on.
The older he got the more his obsession grew. He wanted multiple vacuums in the house. He wanted toy vacuums, real vacuums, shop vacs, hand-held vacuums. If it was suction powered and it cleaned things, he wanted it. He told me when he had his own house he wanted a whole room filled with vacuums. Nay, an entire separate building just for vacuums. We DVR’ed a whole Shark infomercial, and he would watch that instead of cartoons. I was so sick of vacuums I wished I could eschew house cleaning altogether.
What is my kid’s deal? I would think. When is this weird phase ever going to end?
The obsession came to a head when, for his fourth birthday, he decided to have a vacuum themed party. I made him a shop vac cake and lined all his vacuum cleaners up in the middle of the living room for all his guests to see. He beamed as he showed friends and family all the different parts. We set out messes for him to clean like he was starring in his very own vacuum infomercial. Even as I write this, I am blown away by the weirdness of it.
But the truth was, watching him that day as he reveled in his childhood obsession was something I will never forget. It is something I wish I had enjoyed more, if only I had realized sooner how special it was. There is such an earnestness to the obsessions of the toddler and preschool years. I didn’t know how much I would miss it until it was over.
Soon after his fourth birthday, he started to develop new interests. He decided he didn’t need so many vacuums, and has now gifted his last remaining toy one to his younger brother. He is by all accounts, a perfectly normal kid. But I will always remember his vacuum stage - the weird mark of his childhood - and miss it terribly, even though I swore I never would.